Tag Archives: a bit foolish

Note to Self

When you sweat here, the morning layers dry and stratify with the afternoon build-up. You slip through the streets this way. Mango juice drips from your hands. You have bargained down the price of bangles from a vendor after the Indian woman nearby scoffed as his inflated quotes. You will quote this back to whomever receives these as a gift to avoid looking cheap.

For dinner, you have eaten a ravvi masala dosa without a napkin and now and the spices are draining from all of your sinuses. You shower with the faithful bucket, refreshed but not for long in the un-air-conditioned room. You cannot tell if you are damp with clean water of a fresh grease of sweat. Do not take out your left eye contact before hand-washing. The masala is still there. The masala is always there.

And don’t remove the right, either.

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Camp

The first metaphor lesson I received discussed houses. They come to represent their inhabitants, I learned, their architecture and mood reflections of the individual, internal dramas of the characters. At this time I was reading a lot of Dark Romantics ,though, so there were a lot of internal dramas and excessive number of people to be prone to them. These things just tend to happen when you marry your cousin and you are a bastard child and you also contract TB.

But if I myself was ever suffering the torment of buildings, it was upon my arrival in Hyderabad. I experienced a very negative, visceral reaction to this place once we slept off the fatigues. We are cloistered here in this university, away from main campus and even further from the city. I hadn’t come to like this city yet because I hadn’t had the opportunity to hate it. I am not fond of it in the way I am fond of Delhi, and I am only fond of Delhi because I survived it. I hated the raw sores of human suffering that it exposed to me, but I don’t regret my time there.  Hyderabad, however, felt like a wasteland for new reasons, and just like camp.

Our hostel is the newest building in a future student housing complex. It contains all the passivity of a place not taken in any memories. The road in front is unpaved.  Outside no foliage yet adorns the natural red rock and dirt, except one median of electric green grass. In the middle a small sapling reigns with its diminutive shadow. I imagine this is maintained with a kind of insane maintenance.

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Inside, generic thin-framed drawings slouch on the wall. The recreation room has the charm of a dentist’s waiting room – full of singular chairs and an end table I use as a footrest. I pad down the slate grey concrete tiles in the middle of the night to use the restroom, where I wash with usually cold bucket water in the mornings.

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There are only 16 of us in the whole big marrow of this place. When it rains, the roof leaks near the staircase, and the locks of doors rattle when you walk past. “It is like a mental hospital!” Anne said the first evening right before we turned out the light to go to bed.

We put up mosquito nets the second night after a rainstorm ushered in insects of every shape, size, color, and crunch into the hostel. They covered the walls and floor of the lobby. In the morning, thousands of insect corpses littered the floor having died from their brief lifespans or in a blazing glory encounter with the Pest-o-Matic in the corner.

We saw one lone mosquito in our room the whole night, but we have kept the nets up anyway. The gauzy divide provides false fortification. Siphoning off personal space in a building full of it seems foolish, reclusive. Yet, it etches relief out of the biting solitude of this huge building – this space is mine, my retreat, a self-imposed confine.

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On my provided bulletin board I have tacked the only three reminders of home I managed to shove in my backpack that weren’t prevention for tropical diseases. They’re all short notes, one placed surreptitiously in my journal by my mom, two given to me by my friends Brenna and Paul. My computer troubles cut me off regularly form the people who could give me the most reassurance in my homesickness. The monsoon rains cut us all off completely with the power. In the still nights without A/C I sweat sleeping fitfully, pushing off the covers, tangling myself in the mosquito net.

In the first days, I took bike-rides to quell the restless deracination. I rented a bike from the hostel for 1000 rupees. Mine is a brambling oleo of parts attempting to hide it behind an absurdly cursive script on the side that says Miss India Emerald. It has no gears, barely brakes, and the tires are bound to blow before I leave. But, it gets me to and from campus with a little breeze and little effort.

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Eventually, my indirection transformed from distraction to a deflated false solitude. As punctuation, when I rode back up the desreted hill in the pregnant twilight on evening, I saw bats as huge as a hawk twirling through the sky as if tethered to steady pendulums. C’mon metaphor, I thought. Really, now? The giant terrors swooped so low I seriously thought one might carry me off, which is premium motivation to pedal faster, even if it is back to an empty, dark concrete block resisting attachment.

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whoops

no iPod juice

phone charged to one bar

6:11 a.m

2 hrs sleep

too much stuff

but who thought it was a good idea to not bring a hair dryer?

bye America!

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Americana

I don’t leave the country for two days, but today marked my last stationary day of the summer. Tomorrow transit to the airport begins, and some last goodbyes with friends and family. I have spent the majority of the week shuffling aimlessly through the aforementioned superstores, trying to decide which travel-sized shampoo would be most compact yet conditioning. I didn’t want dandruff protection to dictate my lasting memory of America.

So, I took a drive.

I jumped in my dad’s beat-up gray Nissan truck and chugged along until I hit the countryside. And by “beat-up,” I mean it is so old and dilapidated that when a couple of teenagers once stole it from the curb outside of our house they abandoned it by parking it around the corner. I had been brambling around town all week in it. In the city, we fight over who has to drive it. The shiny Lexuses and hybrids make the ripped upholstery and busted bumpers even more apparent. The oily engine gargle attracts attention that the rusted exterior does not deserve. It’s a lemon through-and-through. Those who might have recognized me from high school would never suspect my education or soon-to-be world travels.

But while I drove with my elbow hanging out the manual roll-down window, blowing past fields soaked green from the rain that falling every night in the summer, it didn’t matter if the cloud billowing from the rear was from the road or a flat tire or a rotten engine. I felt as if I were living an Aaron Copeland soundtrack, which could have been playing if the radio wasn’t busted. Just as the 29th street turned to dirt, I saw an eagle on a telephone wire. At least it was a hawk or some other large fowl that looked enough like an eagle for my city eye to fit it as a sign of my immanent American-ness in the moment. Then at one intersection, a man in a large tractor nearly flattened me, so perhaps I should have searched for a less folksy aesthetic.

I was traveling with only a general knowledge of my location to the city. I found the small town of St. Mark’s. I had never been there, but it couldn’t have been more than eight miles from my house. I passed through and onward. I wasn’t paying any attention to my speed, although the speedometer gives an Olympic-sized ballpark estimate to be of much use anyway.

In one wheat field, small white egrets were tiptoeing through the stubble stalks. The birds aren’t rare in Kansas. They flock along subdivision lakes and in Sedgwick County Park. But the egrets always seem foreign to me. Their angular creeping looks exotic imposed upon the typical flat fields and big sky. Beyond them in the distance another storm bruised the open blue. I could see a line of rain falling on Goddard. I could see some people very close having a much different day than my sun-saturated evening.

The air cooled as I drove on, and I could see the storms edges reaching those the suburbs’ developing skeletons. In the bright sun I could even predict its landing. My windshield flattening cotton wisps as I drove home, missing that certainty already.

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Namaste

It is appropriate that I begin this chronicle with the one and only Hindi word in my lexicon. My preparations have assembled along the way from singular cogs of information – names of towns I can neither pronounce nor locate, professional contacts of the same nature, foods to avoid. Sometimes the entire trip seems like a sham, or a kluge just waiting to malfunction. I am leaving in 18 days, and I feel less prepared than I did last year when this whole enterprise nucleated. My callow sense of travel romanticism is gone with my bank account; my sympathetic nervous system is operating on all cylinders – I am fighting final exams but flighting from the country.

The question most often asked of me is how India became my ideal travel location. “Why India?” I answer at least once a week. Typical explanations suffice: Instruction is in English; I like curry; I wanted adventure; I have done multiple research projects on some aspect of the country. But if I were more frank and a better story-teller I would say the honest moment, which is such:

Throughout high school I spent most evenings doing homework while lying across my bed and listening to the radio, mostly NPR. Later at night on weekdays a show called The World Café played for two hours. Among the commercial FMs on the Wichita airwaves, this show was the jewel in the crown of public broadcasting. When I heard a song I liked, I waited for the next announcement and wrote down the name of the band on . This was pre-iTunes days, so I would go to Borders every week and listen to the sample songs on the band’s cds. The list of music I discovered and still enjoy as a result of the tenacity contains multitudes: Wilco, Camera Obscura, Wolf Parade, Andrew Bird, Neko Case, M. Ward, and the like.

One night, a song broke through the haze and glaze of reading. A milky voice drenched my room. It spanned octaves, succulently scoring stringy instrumentation below. I didn’t understand any of the words, which only captivated more. I couldn’t stop listening. I stayed completely attentive for the next three songs until David Dye returned at the next air break. The artist’s name was Asha Bhosle, and then it was onto the next song sequence.

The next day it took me nearly an hour to find her through an internet search, partly because I had written her name down incorrectly, partly because dial-up internet had yet to antiquate. Finally, after enduring the static connection chorus and minute-long page loads, I found the name of the song, which was created in collaboration with the Kronos Quartet -“Chua Liya Hai Tum Ne.” If I couldn’t say Asha’s Bhosle’s name, my mouth was far too proud to attempt this title. She was a famous Bollywood singer but retained a neotonous voice even in old age. I didn’t even know what Bollywood was, or what really what India meant, except a kite-shaped fill-in-the blank on geography tests. Yet, from then on I was enchanted. I would like to say my two-month trip resulted from careful contemplation and responsibility, and there were of course other steps. Truthfully though, the visa, the vaccinations, the train tickets all originated from a three-minute song distracting me from algebra assignments.

Now, my journey across the world is an oleo of geographic and academic landings. My schedule is packed yet unpredictable. I am already leaving with a taste for chai. I will carry everything on my back. I know one Sanskrit character but forget its phonemic twin. I anticipate Delhi belly afflictions.

But every time I listen to this song, I remember the original mystery and textured charm of the country that I enjoyed alone one night. Every decision towards the scheme since has also been my own. I have agency in the chaos. I hope this translates across continents once I am landed, steeped in it all.

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