Catch up.

Thursday, February 21, 2013
At the Hotel Empires, Bhubaneswar, India

So I know that I haven’t posted anything substantial in a long time. I apologize. A lot has happened in my life lately. I have been in Bhubaneswar for over twenty days now; I have been in India for over twenty days now. While I don’t feel comfortable yet, I am beginning to feel settled. I certainly know why I wanted to come back. This realization has been rewarding and reaffirming. I have never felt so motivated to throw myself into my work and produce. Writing this blog has been a part of this. I admit that I could be doing a better job of conveying my everyday experiences, but I have taken to keeping a daily journal and at the end of the day I am simply out of things to say. I promise to do better. Let me catch everyone up on my situation.

First, my illness. Around February fourth or fifth I woke up feeling terrible. I’ll spare you the details but I went to Apollo Hospital with three other sicklings: Nihal, Kena, and Nirmani. I met with Dr. Amitav Mohanty. My initial diagnosis: jaundice with potential Hepatitis A infection. He prescribed some medication and arranged for 5 different blood tests and a urine sample. I left the doctors office, went down the hall to pay for the tests. After about thirty minutes, I finished paying (total cost: 2,740 Rupees. About $54) and before I knew it I was getting my blood drawn. Along with the blood tests, Dr. Mohanty prescribed some medications until the results came back. After getting my blood drawn and providing a urine sample I walked down the hall, out the main lobby, around the corner to the pharmacy and bought what the good doctor prescribed: two, ten capsule medications and a digestive formula (total cost: 203 Rupees. About $4). I returned to the hospital three days later and followed up on my blood tests. It appears that I do have Hepatitis A. The doctor said it was mild and was surprised that I wasn’t feeling worse. But it is clear, due to the timing that I got infected in the states, not here in India because I was only in country for one week, not long enough for symptoms to show. It may have been something I got aboard the Amtrak but it’s impossible to know for sure (although it wouldn’t surprise me). Upon the results of the blood tests Dr. Mohanty prescribed more medication. This time I got a month’s worth of capsules and tablets and liquids (total cost: 1,342.50 Rupees. About $27). When all was said and done I was probably inside the hospital for maybe three to four hours (counting both days). The system is certainly not perfect, but I was extremely impressed by my first experience at a local hospital. Given Dr. Mohanty’s wall of diplomas and impeccable English I am willing to bet he’s the go-to physician for foreigners. Thus I’m sure my experience was a bit tilted in favor of the best possible encounter with Indian healthcare, but regardless the care, attention, and affordability was striking.

Anyway that’s the scoop. I have several prescriptions now and a follow-up scheduled for tomorrow (February 22nd). No need to be concerned. My appetite is back, my spirits are up, and my dizziness is gone. I had a slight fever for a while following my visit to the doctor, but it has since past. I’ve been trying to get a lot of rest and doing my best to stick to my medications.It has given me a lot of time to read and write, which is sorely needed.

Second, my opportunities. As most of you know I passed the first round of the Fulbright. I am growing more confident, as I wait for the results of the second round, that I will get it (for anyone that’s interested you can scroll down and read my “Statement of Grant Purpose” which is the main proposal narrative for the Fulbright). I recently arranged for my official transcripts to be sent to the Fulbright screening committee in New York and Washington D.C. Eventually, I will also have to submit a full medical examination. Going through the process of sending this material, while annoying, makes it feel more real. Meanwhile, I have reconnected with several brilliant scholars here in India. Most significantly, I have reconnected with Dr. Ganesh Devy. I am working on a blog post dedicated just to his writings, practices and philosophy, but needless to say the man is an enormous source of inspiration for me and the, albeit vague, future I have mapped out for myself. Dr. Devy is trained as a linguist and has worked tirelessly on issues related to linguistics in the subcontinent. Additionally, he is a literary critic and developed a provocative idea, in relation to the development of literature and literary criticism in India, that he terms “amnesia” (I’ll dedicate more space to this idea later). Above all he is an extraordinary writer. And, if all this wasn’t enough he has given himself to the cause of protecting endangered languages and advancing an awareness, understanding and appreciation of them to a wider, global audience. In the late 1990s, Dr. Devy left his professorship in order to work for the “development” of adivasi (indigenous) communities in Gujarat. Usually I would say: any time the word “development” is mentioned, either check your wallet or head for the exit. But his commitment to advancing adivasi development eventually led him to a small village resting on the foot of Koraj Hill. For three years he listened to villagers in order to ascertain what “development” means to them. By 1998 a small academy began to form. Today it is a library, Muse (a living museum, as opposed to a stuffy building where cultures go to die), formal school, health clinic, cafeteria, and the only source for filtered water in the area. Suffice to say there is a lot I can learn from this man which is why I have applied for a Fulbright to study under him and learn how and why he (and his collaborators) formed the Adivasi Academy in Tejgadh, Gujarat.
I’ve begun to arrange my research schedule.

Currently, I am working with the CapAsiaVII (study abroad) students from Ball State here in Bhubaneswar. This is the only reason why I am here. Bhubaneswar is an ancient temple city, but it was dramatically reshaped following India’s independence when a team led by prominent German planner Otto Koenigsberger was invited to plan a new capital close to the old city. This city is a very interesting case in that Koenigsberger had extraordinarily progressive views for a planner during the era of “high modernism”. He adhered to a concept called “action planning”, which is very different than “comprehensive or master planning”. Comprehensive planning is an approach to urban development and change that attempts to fix growth for the next 15-30 years. Koenigsberger noticed that this approach requires population projects in which to rationally base their strategies of growth. However, he also noticed that by population projects are flimsy and are almost always out of date by the time the plan is implemented. Instead, Koenigsberger proposed “action planning” which approaches planning as a continual and never-ending process of planning, revision, implementation, and revision. Plans are made every year.

CapAsiaVII is exploring how Koenigsberger’s idea of “action planning” was carried out and how Bhubaneswar has developed in relation. In order to explore this thirteen students have split into five different groups: government housing, middle-class housing, slums, transportation, and heritage. The design of the study is rather thematic and for that reason I think somewhat limited. But there is only so much thirteen students can do in seven weeks. I have worked closest with the slum and government housing groups. We have collected several interesting stories. Now is not the time for conclusions, but being involved with this CapAsia, on an academic level, has demonstrated the uniqueness of this place and the perspective of this program.

In between these two opportunities I still have a graduate thesis to finish. My thesis investigates the “incidental” relocations of slums and an ancient market along the banks of the Sabarmati River in Ahmedabad, India due to the ambitious Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project (SRFDP). I have begun to arrange my research schedule in Ahmedabad after I leave the CapAsia group. I will be in Bhubaneswar till February 26th. Then we will move on to New Delhi until March 2nd. After this the CapAsia group will move on to Kathmandu, Nepal and I will fly to Ahmedabad. Hopefully, if I get the Fulbright then I will have four solid months of research and writing before I have to shift my focus to my Fulbright research, which is a different avenue entirely…but not necessarily unrelated.

On top of all this I have been involved in a bidding process for a planning contract with the state government of Orissa (Odisha). We were initially told that we received the contract to plan 3 cities in southern Orissa. However, we were required to attend financial renegotiations but these did not go well and the renegotiations seemed to have stalled. If we get the project I will most likely be selected as interim project manager (due to the flexibility required because of the Fulbright).

Third, my bike. I have decided to buy a motorcycle, especially if I get the Fulbright. I am going to buy a Royal Enfield “Bullet” 350. I have extra ears out looking for second-hand “Bullets”. I am sure I’ll be able to get one under 60,000 Rupees, which is about $1,200. I am an inexperienced rider, but my good friend Utkarsh and Charanjeet have been teaching me. Charanjeet owns a “Bullet” and I’ve been practicing. I have committed myself, when I feel comfortable with driving, to an Indian road trip. I am planning a trip up to Ladakh via Kashmir. I also want to take a cross-country trip from Ahmedabad to Bhubaneswar.

Anyway this entry is already long enough as it is. There is plenty more to fill you in on, but more on that later. For now, enjoy the pictures!

The famous Mukteshwar temple here in Bhubaneswar.
The famous Mukteshwar temple here in Bhubaneswar.
A community meeting at the "slum" (SatyaKali) that students have been working in.
A community meeting at the “slum” (SatyaKali) that students have been working in.
The oldest woman in Satyakali.
The oldest woman in Satyakali.
Overview of the Satyakali Basti.
Overview of the Satyakali Basti.
Awesome kids at Satyakali. Kajole is the girl in the middle...always has a smile on her face.
Awesome kids at Satyakali. Kajole is the girl in the middle…always has a smile on her face.
Non-Hindus are not allowed in Lingaraj. This is a picture of the temple complex from the viewing platform.
Non-Hindus are not allowed in Lingaraj. This is a picture of the temple complex from the viewing platform.
My night hanging out with Tiffany, Kevin and Chris and our friend Sujit, a Brahmin priest at the largest temple in Bhubaneswar--Lingaraj.
My night hanging out with Tiffany, Kevin and Chris and our friend Sujit, a Brahmin priest at the largest temple in Bhubaneswar–Lingaraj.
All my medications.
All my medications.
My day at the Unit 1 market.
My day at the Unit 1 market.
More from the market.
More from the market.
My bike. Pretty awesome...right?
My bike. Pretty awesome…right?
Roxy, from Chharanagar (who we collaborated with on my CapAsia), came to visit us in Bhubaneswar. So great to see him.
Roxy, from Chharanagar (who we collaborated with on my CapAsia), came to visit us in Bhubaneswar. So great to see him.
Cool shot from inside our hotel corridor.
Cool shot from inside our hotel corridor.
Randomly stumbled into this artist studio. Beautiful work.
Randomly stumbled into this artist studio. Beautiful work.
Advertisements

The Sneeze

Went with my good friends Utkarsh (the sneezer) and Nirmani (the singer) to the Bhubaneswar Municipal Commission (BMC) to meet with the man in charge of slum improvements. While waiting I randomly started recorded and captured a good, funny moment. Enjoy!

My Work.

I am a corn-fed boy from Indiana with a romantic desire to be a part of something more than ordinary. I am a graduate student of international development and planning, the social production of space, and cultural anthropology. I recently graduated from Ball State University’s College of Architecture and Planning. I returned last year to continue a Master’s degree in Urban & Regional Planning. My academic work focuses on the development journeys of ordinary people in India, particularly Ahmedabad (in Gujarat state, Western India). I explore how people or communities marginalized by schemes of urban development sometimes take what is given, sometimes contest them and sometimes negotiate between, but always familiarize them as instruments for their processes. With such overt and everyday social negotiations ‘on the ground’, India provides a rich backdrop in which to explore this avenue of research and methodology. My assumptions, approach, and methodology borrows heavily from critical cultural studies, particularly critical anthropology, post-colonial scholars and both subaltern and feminist historians. My current research project is my graduate thesis based in Ahmedabad. I am exploring incidental “relocations” or displacements that occurred (are occurring) due to Ahmedabad’s impressively ambitious Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project that is one of (if not) the first comprehensive urban riverfront redevelopment and urban design projects in India. My research approach is ethnographic in nature and attempts to build criticality from the ground-up. This aligns with my conviction for engaging in planning and development processes that catalyze small changes and proceed bottom-up, not top-down.

Remorse…

I remember reading a philosopher once who said of all human emotions, anxiety was the most pure. I am beginning to think this is true. It seems to me that love and hate are inspired from the same passion, but what inspires anxiety; what inspires feelings of dread? Anxiety is so debilitating and yet so common. It motivates an aimless restlessness. I feel enormous dread and anxiety for someone else’s remorse.

Láska.

My first welcome to India. Yay!
My first welcome to India. Yay!
Waiting in line in India is very different from waiting in line in the states. What's more, this was waiting in line in India at the customs desk. Arghhh!
Waiting in line in India is very different from waiting in line in the states. What’s more, this was waiting in line in India at the customs desk. Arghhh!
Anyone that knows my proposed Fulbright study will appreciate this wall painting in the canteen at the School of Social Sciences at JNU.
Anyone that knows my proposed Fulbright study will appreciate this wall painting in the canteen at the School of Social Sciences at JNU.
My first meal in India. 85 rupees..less than $2.
My first meal in India. 85 rupees..less than $2.
Made me think of someone special. Had to snap a picture. Tried to ask them what this was all about but I soon realized that I was standing in their private home with no one around. Very awkward. Needless to say I left quickly.
Made me think of someone special. Had to snap a picture. Tried to ask them what this was all about but I soon realized that I was standing in their private home with no one around. Very awkward. Needless to say I left quickly.
My visit to Qutub Minar in Delhi.
My visit to Qutub Minar in Delhi.
Located close to Qutub Minar is this solid iron pillar placed by Chandragupta Maurya II who is a very famous ancient king here in India. This pillar is 1,600 years old and has never rusted. Many researchers come here to study the iron content of this pillar.
Located close to Qutub Minar is this solid iron pillar placed by Chandragupta Maurya II who is a very famous ancient king here in India. This pillar is 1,600 years old and has never rusted. Many researchers come here to study the iron content of this pillar.

2013-01-31 12.45.56

This pillar is almost 1,000 years old. This pillar uses no motar or concrete.
This pillar is almost 1,000 years old. This pillar uses no motar or concrete.
This one's for Grace & Jaren!!
This one’s for Grace & Jaren!!
This promotion was done by Indigo airlines (a domestic airline in India) advocating a greater voice for women in contemporary Indian society. Not surprising considering the recent and horrific case of a 23 year old woman in Delhi who was gang-raped on a metro bus in South Delhi. This is partly how cultures change, but change takes time.
This promotion was done by Indigo airlines (a domestic airline in India) advocating a greater voice for women in contemporary Indian society. Not surprising considering the recent and horrific case of a 23 year old woman in Delhi who was gang-raped on a metro bus in South Delhi. This is partly how cultures change, but change takes time.

Thursday, January 31, 2013.
Started at the Comfort Point, New Delhi, India
Finished at the Empires Hotel, Bhubaneswar, India

I finally made it to India. After so many days of travel it is satisfying to finally call a place home, even if for a day. Through a friend and professor at Ball State I was eventually connected to Ishita, a student at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi. She was an extraordinary help and arranged accommodations for me under my budget. JNU is one of my dream schools, so I wanted a place close to campus. She set me up at the Comfort Point, located in the Safdarjung Enclave. Safdarjung is located on the south side of Delhi, an area that made news recently because of the woman who was gang-raped on a metro bus close to here. What’s strange, however, is that this area of Delhi is coated in middle class paranoia (not to say that paranoia isn’t justified–it is not my intention to judge). Homes are complexes, many complete with high walls, gates and guards. This kind of city and accompanying mentality is not an India I am familiar with and one I need to leave quickly. Consequently, I did not spend much time in New Delhi. I spent one night and two days exploring the city. On my first day I went on a self guided tour of JNU. It was certainly not the world-class intellectual campus I pictured in my head. When I first drove through it and got lost, along with my rickshaw driver, I thought it was a forest preserve. The campus is very dispersed and laid out along what appears to be one arterial street. Eventually, we found the School of Social Sciences, which houses the department of anthropology (or sociology as its called here). I walked in a started snooping around. No classes in session otherwise I would have attended. On the third floor I found the canteen (we know them as cafeterias) and took my first meal in India since being back. Admittedly, canteen food is not the most desired first meal, but it was satisfying, more importantly it was cheap: 85 rupees, less than $2 for a full meal, chai (tea) and a bottle of water. After my lunch I found a quite place in a garden and began to write a letter to someone very special…
Just before leaving for India I reconnected with a woman back home and she has changed everything. I will go into detail about her later. I want to give her the space in an entry she deserves, but naturally I was nervous even writing a two or three page letter to her. I obsessed over it and before I knew it I was in that garden for over three hours. Since I still had a ways back to the hotel I decided to find a stopping point and head home.

I should admit that from the moment I left the airport and argued with my first taxi driver I knew this experience with India would be different. The little cultural shocks didn’t do anything anymore…at least the surface, cliché ones. I didn’t have the same wide eyes and turning head I remember last time. The boring, mundane, everyday image came rushing in instead of the exotic, romantic, and Orientalist one. It seems clear that my journey in India will be an endless confrontation with this.
I am assaulted by mundane, everyday life without the comfort of an exalted or exotic India. The experience this time around seems not as magical, not as compelling, and not as awe-inspiring. I have been away for two years and I realize now that I built a newer, perhaps more romantic image replacing the meta-cultural one I had lost. True this one is more personal, but perhaps it is for this reason more dangerous, more limited. My previous encounter with the mundane was productive because it acted to chip away at the exotic, Orientalist and albeit simplistic image of India. It deconstructed a cultural effigy (a crude, inaccurate model) and opened up my affection for this country and its people. But I believe that although that exotic image of India is false it offered an extraordinary comfort. For instance, it led me to believe India was one graspable, knowable, and understandable place. I would not be honest with my reader or myself if I didn’t say: I ache for that again. But maybe I am still in the death pangs of my romance and perhaps things will be as they once were. The Buddha liked to say: before one can gain anything, one must loose everything. I’m not sure I know what this means, but I don’t want to dwell on this too much. There is still a lot I need to sort out and explore along these lines. But I can say with some confidence that this trip will be my last encounter with India.

I want a greasy cheeseburger!