Soon enough it was time to say goodbye to Micha and reduce our relationship to Facebook chat once more. It had been great having an ally to share the experience with, the amusement and confusion, to laugh with, and to vent at! It could be hard work at times, not knowing if it’s safe to drink the tea, or how much to pay things, to know if we are allowed to go into the national parks on foot, or whether it was possible to get private transport between certain places. Probably we should have read more (or at least something!)) but some things can only be learnt by experience.
Micha had a nice way of interacting with people, he would help push rickshaw drivers with heavy loads, or buy lottery tickets for people in the local tea stalls, and offered taxi drivers bonus tips if they managed the entire journey without using the horn! He was always fascinated by the engineering (which is probably the polar opposite of German style), and he brought my attention to details I would have otherwise overlooked…
The day after Micha left, I had my first big seminar, during which half the audience fell asleep. The awake half made up for their companions by hounding me with so many questions I almost forgot my nerves. I have witnessed this animated interactive routine in most seminars I’ve attended in India so far at either institute and prefer it to the more reserved sedate style I’m used to at home. I find it increases the chances of remaining engaged and informed rather than getting lost on the second slide.
The questioning continued into lunch and plunged me back into the depths of my mathematical pursuits, gasping for breath. There were only a few weeks left in Kolkata before I was due to return to Kanpur and I fell back into my office routine interspersed with a few extracurriculars. The highlights were a music concert from quite a famous indian folk band during which several senior professors began dancing wildly in their seats (another behaviour pattern I couldn’t imagine occurring in Bristol). The other, was a group outing to the country, during which we took a local regional train decorated with legs, arms and heads dangling out from the windows. During this trip I took a lone walk (between some rubbish) beside a lake and listened to the birds and crickets chirping, the water gently lapping at the shore and the leaves rustling softly, and in distance the horns of the incessant traffic and Hindi music blaring out of broken speakers… and everywhere dogs were barking. This is the sound of India.