Studying in India reminds me a lot of my semester in Barcelona. In some places the architecture is very Arabic, the people are generally beautiful, and I am on a 50% rice consumption diet. The silliest difference I look at on a daily basis is how badly the girls in Spain dreamed of riding on the back of a Spanish man’s Vespa. Here, the idea is so horrifying we almost lose a leg just considering it. These people drive like maniacs. Rather than using the lines on the road as a lane guide, they use the lines to follow between lanes. I think I have ground my teeth down from looking out our bus window with so much stress for the people around us.
I have also decided that if I was in India for a full semester, I would not get a scooter. I would get a camel. The travel might be slower but think of the sheer awesomeness of riding a camel to class! That’s the most rural, Indian mode of transportation. According to Google, it only costs 18,000 Rupees to purchase a camel here. That’s roughly $285. I’m about to send one home to my dad’s doorstep. He said no rugs but nothing about a camel! The shipping might be crazy and I don’t really know where I would put it, but what a good story that would be.
On Saturday, we went to the Taj Mahal. Ahh… The great Taj. I was surprised how many people had no idea what it really was. Taj Mahal literally means “Crown Palace” and is a final resting place for Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal. It’s not a temple, it’s not a mosque- it’s a tomb. This dude loved his wife SO MUCH he built an enormous burial structure for her that became an UNESCO World Heritage site. Get you a man who worships you even when you are rotting away. He did a beautiful job envisioning this construction project, but it wasn’t of the best end result for his workers who had their hands chopped off so that another Mahal could never be created like that one.
The Taj Mahal was quite miraculous, but still not quite the giant wonder I had expected. However, we did end up seeing another giant wonder. Kevin Durant. My friend Amanda and I were walking through security when I saw a very tall, African American man walking out in a blue shirt. There weren’t many people around him but it was striking enough that I looked at Amanda and said “wow that guy could play pro ball.” Sure enough, we later discovered the NBA has been spending lots of money to spread basketball to the Indian sports market. The man in the blue shirt was, in fact, KD. This special sighting was wasted on my lack-of-sports-knowledge self.
On our three hour bus ride home from Agra, we quizzed our guide on all things India. What was your arranged marriage like? Are there tornados here? Do Indian people like Americans? The most interesting and sickening story he told us about was from the early 2000’s about “Suicide Seeds.” Back in my agricultural Indiana, GMO’s are fairly controversial but common. After traveling across India and seeing the extreme poverty and hunger in this country, I truly believe they need GMO’s to feed their people. The population is so huge they can’t keep up. Just two decades ago, Indian farmers were borrowing money to get booming Monsanto seed from the USA to help with the dilemma. While Monsanto’s monopoly generally works in the US, it can’t work in a country with limited resources. Indians did not have the ongoing resources it would require to make these crops work. There were no fancy pesticides or reliable sources of irrigation. When the crops failed, farmers had nothing and were in debt from loans at 25% interest or higher. The following year it happened again. The farmers had to borrow more money to plant these seeds and once again, the crops failed. Farmers were so ashamed that they killed their families in an effort to release them from their horrible situation. In some cases, the farmer would kill only himself and leave the wife to decide if/when she should end the children’s suffering. Monsanto never aided these people. While I don’t necessarily know what they should have done ethically or financially, many people were led astray and ultimately lost their lives from buying in to this American Corporation.
On a happier note, we flew to Hyderabad on Sunday and arrived at our university for the next two weeks. The only orientation information we received was “stay away from the feral pigs. They will kill you. They will rip you apart. And kill you.” The University of Hyderabad also serves as a protected reservation and there so lots of animals, including water buffalo, are wandering campus. At night we can hear screeching through the windows from unknown terrors outside. Going to the bathroom at night is a little spooky. We also have a 10 inch rat running around that I have not yet seen and I’m not actively seeking out.
I have noticed in Hyderabad that there are many more women in traditional burkas and less in tunics or saris than I have seen in the north. Some of the ladies in my group want to take home just the hijab but we have yet to find them for sale anywhere. We were taking a gamble that maybe they make them themselves since it is just black, unfitted clothe, but if you examine one closer there are quite a few details. In the US if we see a woman in a burka, we typically aren’t close enough to get a good look. Many have little rhinestones around the cuffs or embroidered pieces with sparkly black gloves. They really are kind of beautiful. I wouldn’t mind trying one for a day (especially because the blonde hair/blue eye combo gets me pushed around) but the worst part is that when I smile at these women, I can never tell if they are smiling back. In general, I think they are very misleading outfits. I understand why it can be alarming to see one in America, but being in a city where most women have donned them, feels like I am the one in the wrong. It’s hard to make judgements until you are on their turf. I’m sure they think my long tunic with hot pink leggings is promiscuous, but they don’t mind me in the least.
Sometimes the electricity goes out here and that’s just a normal part of life. They are very conservative with resources and we have funny switches on the outside of our door that we thought were doorbells, but actually are very handy. The switches turn off all the lights inside the room instead of us having to go around the room and flip all the switches off when we leave. As you can probably imagine, since the switches are outside the room, we have had a lot of fun with them. I often walk by our group’s rooms and flip people’s lights off because I’m a hellion and it’s hilarious. Now when the lights go out, we poke our heads out of our rooms like “bitch, who done it!” because we don’t know if it’s a joke or if we will be in the dark until the generator kicks in.
There is only one guy in our group and he kind of does his own thing so us girls have been creating a lot of fun together when we have down time. We decided to check out Tinder, an online dating app, to see what the young social life is like. Oh boy. This is one of the more enlightening things we have experienced. In arranged marriages, astrological signs are HUGE. Men here put their sign along with their Meyers-Briggs results for the ultimate compatibility check with young ladies. I don’t really know what their end goal is with online dating apps because many families do still decide who their children will be with.
We tried to walk off campus one day but it is blazing hot here in the afternoons and the sight of one pig scared us out of being too adventurous. Two of our Indian-born professors from the states discovered a nice indoor mall that we were able to spend a cool afternoon in. Shopping here is very different than anywhere in the states but it’s terribly difficult to convert rupees to dollars in our minds. I pretty much have my calculator out for everything. There are some American stores with jeans and semi-scandalous clothing for the culture but we never see people wearing it so we can’t imagine who is buying it. Some of my favorite things to try around the world are McFlurry’s from McDonald’s. McDonald’s is a very good reference point for comparing the strength of the dollar around the world and seeing the alternate options to fit certain diets. Here in India, since people don’t consume beef, Big Macs are made with chicken. The signature McFlurry is banana, carmel, and Oreo all rolled into one. It is quite divine but I will always love Poland’s Bounty McFlurry the best.
The next adventure we are after is some corn. You can separate the girl from Indiana but not from her corn! India farms a lot of corn and people roast it on the side of the road over little coal pyres. We aren’t supposed to eat the street food but we figure since we are no longer traveling every day, getting sick will be manageable. Being stationed in one place has made me a little riskier and I have even started brushing my teeth with the water and had no problems. It’s a pain to use a water bottle to do such a regular task and I finally gave up. I will say the one thing I am dying to have is some ice. Nothing is very cold in this hot monsoon season and a cup of ice sounds like heaven.
Let the adventures continue!