Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Much tired.

Well, this started off as a pretty lame day, but in the past hour or two I think maybe I managed to turn it around to at least only a *kind of* lame day.

I couldn't sleep last night because my brain was trying to pointlessly solve a couple of problems with my dissertation. One part of my brain was trying to figure out how to work around a problem with the first chapter of my dissertation, and another part was trying to figure out if I really needed to do research in Jaipur, and if so, when? A third part of my brain was yelling, WTF! GO TO SLEEP! I don't lose sleep often to thoughts about my research, so I guess I should be glad it was only one night.

Anyway, I woke up this morning tired and cranky, and that wasn't helped too much by having to eat another parantha for breakfast. I miss the days when they were being slightly lazy by giving me toast and jam for breakfast. Ate breakfast, tidied my room, discovered my autorickshawallah was not waiting for me as he should have been. Ordinarily, Mr. Host would just take me to work in this type of situation, but he's in Delhi, so I had to walk out to the main road to catch a lift. Not a horrible hardship, but it is 107 out right now (on its way to 113), and walking outside is not SO much fun.

And you know what? I only lasted two hours at the archives. I really needed a bathroom, and there is no working bathroom for women there. I wasn't having much fun, anyway, so I came home after two hours only just so I could use my bathroom.

Pretty lame, right?

I came home, sat down in front of my computer, and thought: "JR, you are so lame. You are in Bikaner to do research, not play computer games. Quit being so lame." So, I took a deep breath, brought up the web page with the phone number for the City Palace in Jaipur, and proceeded to try and call the director of the archives there. I don't know if you've ever tried to make a phone call in Hindi, but it can be pretty stressful. The first man I talked to was really nice and helpful, and gave me a second phone number. At that point, things went down hill, because the guy who answered the second phone call started laughing hysterically at my Hindi and passed the phone around to all his friends so they, too, could have a good laugh. Eventually, I got angry (long distance, yaar!), and they finally put me through to the director of the archives. Who was really nice, by the way.

To get permission to do research in Jaipur, I have to write a letter to the director explaining my research agenda, and then he will forward it to the princess, who will either approve it or not. If she does approve it, I guess then I write to SSRC and ask if I can go to Jaipur for a couple of weeks instead of spending my last three months here in Bhopal.

Speaking of SSRC, I spent some time working on the rough draft of my second field report after I calmed down from the phone call. It's not due until 15 May, so I think between that and the phone call (and two hours at the archives), I can say that I have been at least a little productive today. At least productive enough to upgrade my day to only *kind of* lame, don't you think?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Friday, April 24, 2009

Okay, not all people.

You might remember my first trip to India, and how miserable I was living with a host family in Jaipur. Or, you might not, because I didn't blog about it. Let's just say that at 39 years old, I was too old to have a host mother, especially a mother who didn't understand the concept of "allergic to milk."* I mention this now, because my experience living with, or at least near, families this time around has been much better. I really liked the place I was living in Delhi. My room was located in the front of the house, off the sitting room, I had a lot of privacy, and although I'm sure they would have fed me more, I only ate breakfast at home. I enjoyed my freedom, but I also liked it that there were other people in the house. The boys in the house were hilarious, and Mr. and Mrs. Host took very good care of me.

I like this place in Bikaner even better. I am living in a family hotel, so not with the family, but I eat my two meals a day in the main house, and I see and talk with the family members quite a bit. I have a lot of privacy and solitude, but I can also go down to the sitting room whenever I am bored and watch TV (but I have a TV in my room).

Nice things my host family has done for me:

Mr. Host was driving me to work every day, but then he arranged for a local autorickshawallah to take me there and pick me up in the afternoon. This is nice, because I don't have to walk out to the main road and try to flag down a ride in the afternoon.

I asked Mrs. Host if the local store would have soap (both Dettol and Pears), and she instantly called Mr. Host on the cell phone and told him to go to the store and get me soap. When he brought me the soap, he said I couldn't give him money for it, because family doesn't charge family for soap.

Mr. Host has been bringing me boxes of bottled water. Usually, I try to avoid bottled water because the empty bottles are bad for the environment, but I run out of clean water pretty quickly if I rely on the Aero water from the house. I am paying for the boxes of water, but only the marked price, not the "guest price" of 20 Rs. a bottle (which is how it is marked in my monthly budget).

Mrs. Host thinks that I shouldn't do my sightseeing in an autorickshaw, so she has volunteered Mr. Host as a chauffeur. He has taken me to the fort, already, and maybe this weekend we will go to the palace.

Mr. Host sent me a plate of grapes last night, and when dinner was slightly delayed today, he sent me a box of Tropicana orange juice.

Generally speaking, they are just very nice people. I'm trying to focus on this, because it is easy to get so irritated with all the unwanted attention on the streets and work myself into such a fury that I use twitter to declare that I hate all people except Roger Ebert. I often end up in my room at the end of the day just staring at the mattress (because I am flat on my face), praying no one else talks to me for the rest of the week. But, really, Mr. and Mrs. Host are being really nice to me, and it is good to know that I have friendly, helpful people just down the hall from me.

*In order to avoid this during my second trip to India, I stayed in a hotel, but not a family hotel. I really liked that experience, too, as my room became the "happening pad" where we all hung out, but I kind of like having a family nearby, too.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Feed Me, Seymour

At the risk of demonstrating that I am complete and total loser, I think I'll share the list I wrote up today at the archives. There's no AC at the archives, and we sometimes don't have electricity. In the mornings, there are frequently-scheduled power cuts from 9:00 to 12:00. In the afternoons, the power often cuts out for 5-15 minutes, just because. This afternoon, about 30 minutes before my day was scheduled to end, the power cut out. I was already hot, tired, and thirsty, and the loss of electricity just emphasized all those things. Instead of bursting into tears, I started to write a few encouraging words to myself in my notebook: "I can do this!" However, somewhere in between the first and second words, my brain switched off, and I ended up writing "I will do this:" instead. And my brain continued to shut down while my hand kept writing, and by the time the power came on 15 minutes later, I had entire list of things I will do, none of which had anything to do with my research or dissertation.

I'm going to share the list, not because I'm proud of it, but because I'm amazed by how quickly I went from "chin up" to "I'm hungry." Without any changes, here's what I wrote.

I will do this:

visit Washington
eat Nachos
go to Nashville
watch Food Network
pet the kitties
drink lots and lots of really cold water
sleep in my own bed
enjoy doing nothing but looking out at the landscape
have a bowl of popcorn with butter
make one batch of cookies
eat a big salad at Panera
eat another big salad at Outback
have an egg salad sandwich
try Alton Brown's recipe for deviled eggs
ask Catherine to make me some potato salad
ask my mom to make a phyllo tomato tart
watch random sporting events on television
grill salmon and vegetables
shoot baskets every day!
ride Catherine's bike
order a BBQ pizza with onions, thin crust, well done
go to Valpo for Thanksgiving
make grilled pineapple salsa and eat Nachos again
go on a hike

And then the lights came on, and I pretended to work while I studied my list in horror. Those are all things that I *will* do at some point, but nothing on that list is something I will do between now and mid-September (except possibly drink lots and lots of cold water). When I stop controlling my mind, it stops living in the moment and fast forwards to a point where this is all over. I'm not actively unhappy, and I'm learning stuff and doing things, but I think other people enjoy India a lot more than I do. Plus, I'm really, really hungry, all the time, so if you love me, send food.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Grad School Killed the Internets.

You know, I used to have a lot of internet friends. And by "a lot," I mean, "A LOT." In the early 1990s, my online friends outnumbered my friends from school and work by about 50 to 1. Maybe something closer to 75 to 1. Even after I stormed off Usenet, and IRC turned into an ugly monster, I had friends from a bunch of online interest groups: stamp collecting, model rocket building, drumming, sports. My e-mail address book is full of names of people with whom I used to correspond on a daily basis. Well past the year 2000, I could have written up a long list of friends that I'd met on the internet, some of which I'd since met in person, but most of which were strictly online friendships.

I bring this up because facebook recently drew my attention to the fact that I no longer have internet friends. My friends list consists almost entirely of people I met in person before establishing internet contact. Since leaving the U.S. my facebook friends list has finally become long enough that I had to create categories for my friends so I could keep up with them with as little cognitive dissonance as possible: "relatives," "Tonasket," "Seattle," "Western," "Oregon," "Bloomington," "Illinois," "Poulsbo," "Los Angeles," "India," and finally, "Internet." I can now see updates from all my friends in Bloomington at one time. (Mostly, this means I read about the weather in Bloomington from five different people, all simultaneously telling facebook that it is windy outside.)

Anyway, my point is, out of 100 friends, only 4 fall into the category"Internet," and only two of the four really belong in that category. I've had enough face time with the other two that I don't really consider "Internet" to be the right category for them, but I can't figure out where to move them. They don't fit into the geography onto which I've mapped the history of my social life.

How did this happen? I think some people would think this is a good thing, having more "real" friends and fewer "internet" friends, but I think it's not so great. I used to talk to people from all over the place, and now it seems I talk to people who are standing only in the same place I am at the moment. I think grad school had a lot to do with my internet fall off. I don't like to talk about my work, so I didn't, and that probably slowed some friendships down. I didn't have internet access in my first apartment in Illinois, and that probably had something to do with it. Using all my free time to commute during the school year, then going to India where internet access is unreliable at best, well, that probably had something to do with it. And then the big reason: I gave up all my hobbies when I went back to grad school, so reading about tin whistles or woodworking online is just a form of torture, since I never have the time to do it.*

It's really a shame. I used to talk to the most interesting people. I mean, not that the other 96 peope on my friends list aren't interesting, they definitely are. I just miss having the opportunity to cultivate online friendships. But maybe people don't do that anymore? After all, it's not 1991 anymore.

*If you want time to work on your hobbies, and they are portable, I recommend moving to Bikaner. When it is 105 degrees out, you can stay in your room and practice to your heart's content.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Three Days Only.

The last three nights have been spent over in Sadul Colony, attending the wedding of a complete stranger. Well, now that I've spent three nights with the family, I can't say that we are strangers, but still, this is not something that you would see happen in the U.S. "Hi, complete stranger, please come to three days of my son's wedding, including the family prayers. Oh, and have some whiskey."

When I was starting to make my research plans, one of my committee members gave me the e-mail address of a senior scholar at another university and told me to e-mail her and ask her for research advice for my stay in Bhopal. I did that, but said senior scholar replied that she had no helpful advice, but that I should e-mail another scholar in the U.K. and ask for her advice. So, I did that, and we made tentative plans to meet while I was in London, but that didn't happen. A month or so ago, I sent a follow-up e-mail asking if she could share her advice through e-mail. She didn't send me any advice, but she did do something better: she sent me the e-mail of an archivist in Bhopal and suggested I ask him for advice (are you following this? That's at least three e-mail addresses).

This wonderful archivist replied with many useful suggestions, but more than that, he responded with an invitation to his son's wedding, which was coincidentally in Bikaner this last weekend. Even more coincidentally, the U.K. scholar, who I've never met, also was coming to Bikaner for the wedding. So, Sunday night, I met U.K scholar and Bhopal archivist at a wedding of a handsome young man I'd never met before. Good times.

It was good times (whiskey aside). Two nights of essentially just hanging out, doing prayers, listening to music, doing more prayers, eating, taking photos. One night of walking (well, dancing) through the streets of Bikaner. I've only ever been on the bride's side of an Indian wedding, so walking with the barat was a new adventure.

I can say with some authority that it is very difficult to do a full day of archival work the morning after the third night of an Indian wedding. I thought I was going to fall out my chair this afternoon. No lie.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Can I take a nap now?

Quite suddenly, I'm exhausted. I don't know if it is just the move from Delhi to the desert catching up with me, or the fact that I'm not eating enough, or maybe I'm using my brain way more than I would like, but something is completely wearing me out. I felt it coming on a bit yesterday, and today it just overwhelmed me in earnest. I couldn't stay alert at the archives, and I finally called it a day at 3:00, about an hour earlier than I usually do. There is no AC there, and only one window, so the room gets pretty stuffy by late afternoon. I'm sure the lack of oxygen surely wasn't helping. Anyway, I am deeply weary, and wish I could just go to bed and sleep for a few days straight.

In regards to not getting enough to eat, I'm trying, I really am. There's nothing wrong with the food, and the hotel owner makes sure it's not super spicy. But after 2-3 mouthfuls, I feel like I just want to stop eating. At breakfast, if it is plain parantha, I force myself to eat two, otherwise, I let myself stop after one aloo parantha or sandwich. I have been forcing myself to eat two chapati every dinner, and along with that, forcing myself to eat something with every bite of chapati. That is, every bite has to have either veg or rice with it, I can't just dip it in the dal and pretend to eat more food that way. That is the Jaipur way of getting through a meal, but it's really not healthy. The food here doesn't taste bad (although you really have to like jeera to eat it), I just don't want it. Thinking about 8 more weeks of force feeding myself isn't very pleasant, but since that seems to be the only down side to living in Bikaner, I guess I can't complain.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Where I live.

The hotel in which I'm living has a website. More importantly it has links to photos of my bedroom, and the room in which I eat breakfast and dinner. Now you can imagine me in my space.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

When even the cows are staring.

The first year I lived in Jaipur, there was this stray dog that lived along Big Shopper Road in Rajapark. He was a special stray dog, in that every time I walked by, he totally lost his mind, racing after me, barking and snarling. The locals thought that was hilarious, and the other Americans didn't believe me when I told them about it, until one day a friend saw it happen. I don't know what that dog had against me, but he meant it.

Fast forward just about three years, and look for me in Bikaner. I will be easy to spot, not just because I'm the only white person on the streets, but because all the dogs and cows are staring at me. I am used to avoiding the human gaze*, but not so accustomed to bringing all of animal kind to a dead halt every time I walk by. It's as if the cows had never seen a foreigner before. This can't really be true, because I'm staying in a hotel listed in The Rough Guide to India, so surely other backpackers have walked these streets. Still, I seem to startle everyone every time I go outside, which is--let's face it--not all that often.

I did go out Junagarh Fort yesterday (my photos here), and I walked two blocks to buy some Bisleri this morning. The hotel owner gives me a lift to the archives every morning, and I go out after dark and walk in the park. That is enough outside time for me. It is already getting warm (98 degrees this afternoon, but dramatically cooling off with an evening thunderstorm), and that combined with the attentive fauna makes me want to stay inside. When I feel like being productive, I work on my Hindi vocabulary. When I feel like relaxing, I play the tin whistle or drum (thanks to Catherine, who brought me a set of Susato whistles and a pair of drumsticks when she visited me in Delhi).

So, that's the exciting life of a foreign researcher in Bikaner. Next weekend maybe I will go out to Lallgarh Palace, or maybe to the Camel Breeding Station. Tune in for more exciting news in a few days.

*I think we were at Purana Qila when Claire looked up and said, "Wow, I totally forget that everyone is staring at me. It's only when I deliberately look around that I notice that everyone is looking directly at me." You learn how to walk with your chin up but your gaze pointed off to the right or left so you don't have to actually acknowledge the fact that everyone is staring into your face.