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!