Wednesday, March 24, 2004

A Letter from India - March 24, 2004

24 March 2004

Dear Family and Friends,

Hello all! My parents visited India for two weeks last month. In honor of their visit, I’ve moved into a two bedroom apartment off campus. I’m high on the fourth floor of a middle class neighborhood. With my very few furnishings, the cement walls and floors echo. The screenless windows stay open and the fans stay on to keep the rooms cool. Built in cupboard doors, too high for me to reach, hang open in the bedrooms. Pigeons come in the open windows to nest in the vacant storage space. I’m living in luxury.

There is something reassuring in having my parents, so familiar and close, in a land that, though my temporary home, is still foreign and insecure to me. While they visited I took time off class to relax and see India through a newcomer’s eyes again. Maybe I can become so wrapped up in India that I forget how to see India anymore. My parents and I visited Rajasthan – India’s desert area with limber camels and incredible forts.

At the end of my parents’ visit we were joined by my sister, Christina, who extended her Spring Break in order to see India. Together we all went to visit Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. Christina still had a week and a half in India after my parents left. We both were interested in seeing Kolkata (Calcutta’s name was changed to Kolkata in 2000) so we traveled to West Bengal.

As grace would have it, as opposed to great foresight on my part, my sister and parents visited India in the best weather of the year. The temperatures were like a breezy summer day in Ohio. To my surprise, within two days of Christina’s leaving the heat moved in. Now I remember my first impressions of India eight months ago: heat accented by the sound of peacocks hidden in the trees of JNU’s jungle. It’s too hot to sit in class. We lean forward off the backs of the benches so that the sweat does not collect and moisten the backs of our shirts. We try to concentrate while our sub-conscious reasons that now it would be best to sleep. Then, as if to remind us that things could be worse, we hear the outdoor generator conk. The six overhead fans slowly whirl to a stop. This is a daily event now that the heat has returned. Time slows when the electricity is off as if the turning of the clock is generated by the turning of the fan. More likely it’s just the assault of the heat that slows the time. I kid you not, my battery operated alarm clock, sitting on my windowsill, keeps time just fine through the night, but slows during the heat of the day. At 8pm it still reads 5:15. I know the cooler nights are a lingering relief that will disappear soon. And so it is that I’m back in Delhi. The comfortable weather lasted much longer then I’d expected (nearly 5 months!) which has been a blessing.

Tonight is the India/Pakistan Final. As has been the case with the other four cricket matches leading to tonight’s play off, streets and shops will be quiet. Taxi drivers will be hard to find. In order to draw business, restaurants, cyber-cafes and even some shops bring out televisions. Those who cannot afford the goods in the shops or restaurants still gather around the windows to watch the match. Many bets are placed, whether based on skill or loyalty I don’t know. The jovial conversation on the subject masks the depth of the competition. India and Pakistan have been on improved terms since agreeing on the cease fire in honor of Eid last November. Now newspapers carry confidence building stories of how well Indians have been treated by Pakistanis when attending the games. This is very encouraging, considering the high stakes game of 'Chicken' the nuclear armed brother nations have been facing against each other over the years.

I’m aware my letters are often long so I’m keeping this one shorter. I’ve cut a good deal out of this message. There is so much to share. I particularly want to tell you about Christina’s and my trip to West Bengal. But that will have to wait until the next letter. For now I’m well and will write again soon!

love and peace,


follow up - 10:20pm - alone in my apartment: India must have won. You should hear the fireworks!