Friday, March 06, 2009


Just back from a Fulbright conference in Kolkata (Calcutta). The plus side: the conference itself was really great. An unusual opportunity to spend time with 77 other Fulbrighters and listen to them talk about their work and life. A good mix of senior scholars, grad students, Ph.D. students, at-large researchers; fascinating to talk with those doing their research in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan right now. It would seem as if India is at the center of a burning ring of fire right now. The food was good, meals were a good opportunity to talk to new friends and old, the conference hotel was comfortable and served us well. The beds were *great*. The negative side: a lot of people seemed to be more focused on hooking up than they were on their work. Don't get me wrong, I think it's fine if they want to hook up. I just don't want to be part of that hooking up conversation, okay?

Most of my time was spent in the hotel, as they scheduled us quite tightly from Sunday eve-Wednesday afternoon. But on Wednesday, a few of us went out to do some touring (took a few photos, of course). It is in the 90s now in Kolkata, hot and bright and a bit humid. The heat felt particularly sharp as we wandered around the Victoria Memorial gardens. Somehow, we (accidentally) ended up down at a river dock. Since we were there, we went ahead and took a nice, breezy ferry ride on the Hooghly. We also spent a good chunk of time at the Park Street Cemetery, where we got a good feel for the colonial era (jungly, hot, dead at a young age), and wrapped it up with a trip to St. John's Church (not quite as successful as St. Martin's in the Field, is it?). A bit of a colonial-focused afternoon, but I didn't organize the tour. I feel like I've done enough organizing for one friendship, let the burden fall on the other person (people) for once. Next time (when??), I'll visit Tagore House. Plese count the parenthetical expressions for me.

Going to Calcutta was like going to the Punjab in the sense that in both places, I cannot speak the language most commonly associated with the area. The signs might as well have been in Panjabi for all I could read them. At one point, Claire and I thought we had deciphered a sign, but then the driver read it out loud for us. Turns out what we were taking for an I was actually an N. So much for our linguistical talents. Luckily, every single person I talked to spoke Hindi as well as Bangla. There is a large population from Bihar in Calcutta, so Hindi is the second language of the city.

Calcutta feels a lot more dense than Delhi. In terms of population, Greater Delhi and Greater Calcutta are almost equivalents: 14,000,000 for the first, 13,200,000 for the second. But Calcutta is a taller city, and although Delhi is full of what we might consider ancient monuments, popping up like happy surprises here and there, the urban fabric of Calcutta is quite a bit older than that of Delhi. Classicism was the architectural language of choice by the "Britishers," and even though many of the buildings have been heavily water damaged, or at least stripped of their colors, the columns and arches of streetside buildings make it clear that the base form is Neoclassical.

Arrived in Delhi to discover summer had beat me home by a day. Pradeepji is recommending I give the AC a try, but I think I can live without it for a few more days. It is going to be scorching hot in Bikaner--not looking forward to that. However, in Calcutta, I met another Fulbrighter who has been doing his research at the Camel Breeding Center outside of Bikaner, so hopefully he will be able to give me a few tips to make life in the desert more bearable.

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