With one last festival to partake in in Kanpur involving colourful powdered paint, it was time for my second visit to Kolkata.
I arrived at the beginning of April, and spent the next 2 months living in a sauna, sweating constantly, as temperatures soared into the 40s, and cafes started discounting cold drinks proportional to this increase. I read reports of hail, ice and rain back home, with the sound of air conditioning units growling beside me as I tried to work or sleep (not so easy)… A lizard crawled into one once and electrocuted himself, we found out from the smell the next day…
Walking through this humble city, with its tumble down old colonial charm, the sun bleached damp stained walls, balconies and shutters looked as if they themselves were perspiring, droplets of moisture rolling down their sides. The streets were filled with bobbing umbrellas protecting their owners from the sun’s power beneath a canopy of lush green trees peering out between the buildings.
So Micha came back, and this time we spent his first half day in the country sweating our way around Lucknow on a cycle tour. We discovered a great city full of culture and heritage, as we fought our way amongst wild traffic and cows, squeezed our way between the maze of narrow alleyways, backstreets and hidden entrances of the crazy old town.
The designer of the IIT Kanpur campus has created a magical place. Very different from being at a university in the city, surrounded by a bustling metro environment fighting over every inch of space, it has a village feel, peaceful and surrounded my nature. My friend described it as living in a zoo, and I can’t help but agree with her as I lie in bed listening to the peacocks crying out in the night, or the early morning air filled with gossiping birds and the flapping of wings. The former of these great creatures strut past my balcony on a regular basis (and sometimes try to flirt – see photo), kestrels perch in nearby branches, flocks of pearly white egrets pass overhead and monkeys swing into view, sending me scampering back inside to save my breakfast. And on special occasions we are treated with the presence of the “mystical cow”, otherwise known as the Nilgai (asian antelope).
At the end of a whirlwind trip (Lucknow -> Mumbai -> Dubai -> London -> Italy -> Austria -> Germany -> Saudi -> Lucknow) to Europe for my friend’s wedding (with some snowboarding tagged on the end), I found myself to be the only female passenger on my final flight from Saudi (where I’d spent 8 hours overnight in the airport lounge listening to amplified prayers). I was sat next to a friendly Indian doctor working in Saudi who talked nonstop, kept asking the hostess for more food and insisting I eat half of it. This continued until I was so full I had to refuse at which point we almost had a fight and the talking stopped. Indians love to talk and find it hard to eat alone.
And so I was back in Kanpur to my new home in the jungle, just awakening from it’s brief cold spell, dotted with bright pink orange and green flowers opening themselves up to the increasing warmth of the sun. This was a beautiful time to be in the campus, full of blooming tropical vegetation, and I was continually enraptured by my surroundings as I roamed beneath great trees with branches spiraling and twisting overhead. The creators of this beauty were still hard at work, crouching on their haunches weeding flower beds, creating protection for freshly planted trees or standing around discussing how to arranging new pot plants to flank the neatly trimmed pathways.
There had again been changes whilst I was away, this time it was the introduction of electricity meters (along with their bills) for “each and everyone” (a well loved phrase over here). Previously these had be subsidised by the government, but there has been a decrease in funds to the ever expanding IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) which are still multiplying in number throughout India (one of which I am in). These institutes were originally set up to create world-leading engineers for India, but unfortunately most top graduates are snatched up by companies like Google and Microsoft to work abroad. Coincidentally, the CEO of both these companies are IIT-ians.
This time round I threw myself into campus life and took art classes, Hindi classes, writing classes and even signed up for “conditioning” with “adventure club”. The latter equated to sprinting around a sports field and up and down giant stairs every morning at 6am until we were recreating the Ganges delta with our sweat. The training is for the group to go on a trek in the mountains in the holidays, but sadly I won’t have time to join them this year, so I am just torturing myself for the fun of it.
I had tried yoga, but found the big hall filled with people mostly dozing on their mats, whilst the teacher recited halfhearted instructions in Hindi sat on a chair in a woolly hat, less than inspiring, and rarely enough to break a sweat. I have never been a morning person, but I am used to exercising regularly, and it looks like the heat will give me little alternatives. The best bit is the walk home through the lanes just as the first light is glimmering through the trees, spreading its warmth over the new day, and catching sight of a peacock heaving its heavy form off a nearby perch and taking flight, its long busy tail quivering behind.
Work was also progressing, my colleague from Bristol and I finally finished a paper we’d begun working on before I left for India and I was half way through another with collaborators from Kanpur. So there was hope.
Giant skyscrapers rose up between the dust clouds accumulating under the midday heat out of my plane window as we began our descent into Mumbai airport. Here I was meeting Geo, a friend from home who was in Mumbai for a conference, and together we were off to Nashik for the weekend, a town 3 hours outside Mumbai where another friend Kalpesh lived. I met Kalpesh 8 years ago whilst we were both doing a summer internship at the University of Hokkaido in Sapporo (the north most island of Japan), and we hadn’t seen each other since!
I arrived back at the IIT in Kanpur at the beginning of February, to find that the temperature had dropped dramatically, giving me more use for the winter boots and thermals acquired in the mountains! None of the buildings have heating (since the cold period is pretty short) so I began wearing a fleece in bed at night.
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.