2 weeks in India! The country of no toilet roll or alcohol, where the time difference involves fractions and you can get murdered for eating beef.
I’ve spent the first 2 weeks at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur which is a campus university just outside the city of Kanpur. The campus is a self contained bubble, a kind of oasis away from the city – which by all accounts is a tough one with a lot of pollution and poverty. It is a big campus, consisting of about 1000acres and has something like 5000 people living here so it’s like a village, with everything needed within it; shops, restaurants, sports facilities, hairdressers, accommodation for everyone and schools for their children. Most people ride around on bikes, and faculty members are allowed scooters. Only certain cars are allowed in (thus limited honking), so it is probably one of the most tranquil places I will find in India. At home I would probably not be so keen on being in such a closed environment, but here it feels like the prefect place to find my feet, especially as the surrounding area and the city Kanpur don’t sound like an easy place for a foreigner.
The campus grounds are lush, green, full of tropical plants and have PEACOCKS everywhere – apparently they are good for eating snakes. I am starting a feather collection to make a headdress. I’ve also been told tales of a mystical creature which is half cow half deer and also lives on the campus, though I’ve not seen it yet, this is apparently because they are scared of humans and mostly seen at night. I’m told they are erratic and have been warned that they will probably chase me.
For the first week my host booked a room for me at the guest hostel whilst I organised stuff for my permanent accommodation. From the start I was never alone, sharing my room with a friendly gecko and angry mosquitos which kept me up all night. I had bright green parrots for neighbours and dogs howling at my window at 3am.
I have two (human) friends; Poulami and Utso, who are like my guardian angels, and without whom I would probably have been arrested by now. They stop me from picking up a sacred centre pieces from the middle of holy shrines (we were in a shop and I thought ganesh was for sale) and appear behind me just as I’ve taken a wrong turn and am about to find myself in the middle of the city in complete darkness. They have solved all my problems, from finding me a mattress, helping me fight mosquitos, to aiding my recovery from “loose motion”. They’ve helped translate everything and everyone and have been a massive help with registering me with the university, the police, the bank, the computer department, my new accommodation and the wine tasting society (in my dreams). They’ve also showed me Bollywood films (which I loved), let me set off fireworks for Diwali festival last week and taught me how to eat with my fingers (you would be forgiven for thinking I could already do this).
I’ve also spent a lot of time riding on the back of Utso’s bike, sometimes with arms piled high with bedding, pillows, buckets, brooms etc for my new room, we almost had a mattress for a moment too. And I finally moved into my new accommodation last week, ordered a kettle and am beginning to feel quite settled. It’s a kind of studio room in a halls of residence for researchers. I have two beds (for anyone that wants to visit!!!), but no hot water… I’ve been placed in the family area with a balcony which backs onto a court yard that acts as an amplifier for the children screams. And I have a bed full of elephant covered bedding leaving me am in pattern heaven when I go to bed at night.
I haven’t met any other non indians here, not everyone speaks english and outside the campus this number drops dramatically. So life is very different for me socially (as well as all the other ways). Some days my communication is limited to smiling at the bubbly girls behind the counter in the coffee shop, waves to the adorable 5year old who lives opposite me and rides a plastic car bumping up and down the corridor, or to thank the guy who makes the tea in our office. The people are as you might imagine, kind and genuine, with sparkling eyes and a really great sense of humour, which I feel is closer to ours than many other nations.
They are also obsessed with forms, I have spent a large party of the last 2 weeks filling in forms, waiting for forms, walking in-between form filling in places, obtaining new forms, talking about forms and dreaming about forms. Every form requires several other forms to be obtained and filled in before the current form can be completed and my passport has been photocopied so many times, everyone in India has probably had a photocopy pushed under their door! But you’ve got to love their resourcefulness… when they didn’t have sim cards small enough to fit in my phone, they simply cut a big sim card to the right size – genius!
Till now both the weather and the food have been spectacular and neither too hot. I have yet to see a cloud and dinner costs about 50p/meal.
Another great thing I’m appreciating at the moment is time. I am really very free to spend my days as I wish. There is no schedule or plan, my phone doesn’t beep and I have no to-do list, so it doesn’t matter if I finish things or not, there is always tomorrow. I can take each day, each hour as it comes, which is a refreshing reality and one I hope I can sustain for a while. At times being out here can feel similar to being on an ocean or up a mountain, I feel quite detached from my usual reality and from the all consuming life admin!
I am also finding myself surprisingly excited about work, and this is the prefect environment for it. Being a postdoc is great as you have no stress from assessments or deadlines and are completely free to work on what you want, an opportunity I am really enjoying in this environment free from distractions. Looks like a lack of toilet roll or alcohol might be having a good effect.