Bright Lights, Pink City (Part I)

Earlier this month, a young family friend left for India for the first time. In talking with him prior to his departure, I was inspired to dig up the emails I sent to friends and family while studying Hindi in India back in the summer of 2004. Blogging had just started to catch on at the time and it didn’t occur to me to start one then, but I thought it might be entertaining to post these now. Excerpts are mostly unedited, except to remove boring pleasantries and preserve the privacy of those involved; also, links to relevant sites have been inserted for your enjoyment/edification/distraction.

Date: June 15, 2004
Subject: “of rickshaws, camels, and iced mochas”

It has been almost a week now since I arrived in India, and it has been interesting to say the least. I and another student were met at the airport by someone from the institute where I’ll be studying this summer, and taken to a guest house in Gurgaon, which is a booming suburb of Delhi… it’s the epitome of the India Shining that brought down the BJP government in the latest elections: huge futuristic glass corporate buildings (Citibank, etc) with shantytowns huddled in their shadows. The trip to the guest house was my first taste of the Indian national pastime, namely, attempting to seriously injure people with motor vehicles. I had heard plenty of stories about how crazy the roads in India are, but nothing could have prepared me for the reality. Think New York’s congestion with Boston’s speed and disregard for human life, then throw a few cows into the middle of the street for fun. All of the trucks have beautiful paintings in on the back adorning the words “Blow Horn” (apparently the rearview mirror has yet to catch on here, so at least you are looking at something nice when you drive into it at forty miles an hour). They should make a video game out of this — “Delhi Death Rally,” maybe. It occurred to me that this must be why people find India to be such a spiritual place — when you are in a rickshaw driven by a fifteen year-old, there is little else you can do besides pray.

Anyway, we had an orientation for a day in Gurgaon (complete with a 20-minute revisionist eulogy for Ronald Reagan’s “humanity and compassion” from a low-level American diplomat — something I had hoped to avoid by being halfway across the world, to no avail), then took the four-hour Shatabdi Express train to Jaipur. We spent one night in a hotel here, then moved in with our host families on Sunday.

I managed to wind up with the most luxurious of all of the homes, a full on middle-class flat complete with microwave (which seems to be used mainly for storing dry goods) and a servant — this will definitely take some getting used to. I have a nice, fairly cool room (no a/c, but a “cooler” and ceiling fan… it’s been hot, around 110 F, but it doesn’t bother me that much, and the monsoon is coming at the end of the month) with its own large bathroom and (thank god!) a western-style toilet. The family I’m staying with is very nice and have welcomed me into their family. The father’s Hindi is hard for me to understand, but the mother and son (he’s 26) both speak very good English, so they can explain something if I don’t understand their Hindi. They also have a daughter around my age who is working out of town, but luckily I don’t think they will try to marry her off to me…

Our house, and the institute where I’ll be studying are in the southeast of the city, in a neighborhood called Raja Park. Besides the cows, there are tons of wild pigs roaming around, and also lots of camel carts hauling goods. Some friends and I went into the old part of the city today to soak up some local
flavor in the bazaars, and I got to see my first monkeys — I was very pleased with that. Then we went to the Barista coffee shop for iced mochas — one of the great benefits of globalization, in my opinion. Tomorrow classes will start, and things will get very hectic — 4-5 hours of class a day, and a couple of hours of homework. We will also be doing some field trips in and around Jaipur, which should be fun.

– Aaron

(to be continued…)

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