I was just remarking that Mumbai would be a crazy place for parkour. I wouldn’t suggest involving a train though.
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I’ve been in India for two months now. Long enough to feel fairly comfortable and normal here, but also a milestone for homesickness to creep in. I can rationalize away the everyday niceties and norms that I’m missing, those are easily traded for all of the new experiences, but it’s the changing of the seasons that’s gnawing at me. Not the end of monsoon here in Mumbai mind you, but from summer to autumn back in the mid-west. It’s my favorite season, and September is my favorite month. I’ve been away from home for two Septembers in a row (in San Francisco last year) so I’m making a vow not to travel in 9/2012.
No regrets, and it’s certainly not a chronic sickness, but if I could chose some medicine right now it would look a lot like apple cider, a cardigan, trees with tinges of color, fields of corn being harvested, bike rides with scarves, and maybe even a county fair. If there is any season that anchors me to a place and a home it’s this one. Midwest is best in the Fall.
In the last two weeks I’ve been to 8 cities in 7 different Indian states: Panaji (Goa), Bangalore (Karnataka), Madura and Sivakasi (Tamil Nadu), Amritsar (Punjab), New Delhi (Delhi), Ahmedabad (Gujarat), and Mumbai (Maharashtra). The trip spanned the north-south axis of the country, from the southern tip near Sri Lanka to the northwestern edge only 25 miles from Pakistan. It was fascinating to see how each area was different, with one of the major differences being language. In Mumbai most things are written in Hindi and English, with just a few signs in Marathi. This contrasted with the smaller cities where signs were much more likely to also include the local language.
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I tried to make the most of the trip, kicking it off with a 3 day vacation to Goa and staying an extra day in Madauri to see the temples there. I’m glad I did, because all the other cities were nothing more than a blur. Moving around in India can be difficult and frustrating, spending 3 hours in a car to fight your way across town for a 45 minute interview. Outside the car my time was spent in homes, hotels, and hospitals. The medical facilities we did research in ranged wildly, from fancy corporate centers that looked passably sterile to extremely dirty and sad government hospitals providing free care to the poor. It’s been a whirlwind fortnight that exposed me to so much, but was also just brutal at times with 15 hour days being the norm and always spending them with an entourage of 7 or 8, including 3 clients.
One of the crazier things I was exposed to during research was watching a live surgery, a bi-lateral (both knees) total knee replacement . I stood on the side of the operating theatre in my scrubs, taking photos and notes and trying not to get in the way. Before going in I was worried about passing out or getting nauseous, but it turned out to be less gross than I expected. It is amazing what surgeons do, and at the same time scary how straight-forward it is, almost like carpentry on the human body. It’s not uncommon for the patients in India to be only partially anesthetized, usually with an epidural. That means they can hear the cut of their bones, the smell of their flesh cauterizing, the sound of a hammer pounding an implant into their femur, and the doctors saying “Oh fuck!” when something goes wrong. I can’t imagine what that must be like.
The intensity of the last two weeks has wiped me out, to the point that I’m laying low and staying mostly inside my apartment this weekend. I needed a couple of a days without the jostling of travel and the stress of constantly new encounters. I love doing and seeing so many new things, but I’m physically and mentally spent.
I always picture myself on a map, whether I’m travelling across a city or relating myself to the world. I’ve been in India long enough now that I picture myself here, and I find myself mentally centering the world map around India. For so long my mental image of a map has been centered on the US, so it’s interesting to feel the weight of the Middle East just to the west and China to the north.
It’s very humbling to constantly encounter new things, or familiar things that work in different ways. Normal actions like standing in line need to be approached with a different attitude. There are lots of new systems to learn the rules for, and a lack of any kind of system where I’m used to having one. I’m not able to operate on auto-pilot here, I have to keep my observation skills on high alert.
I’ve noticed that there are ads and billboards for very basic products here that I’m not used to seeing. Prime ad space is often showcasing things like cement, pipes, or steel. My in-flight magazines had a full-page ad for motors. That reminded me of the ads from the early 1900s in American where they would sell motors that you could hook up to attachments in a multi-purpose way — which was cheaper and more flexible than specific devices that only did one task. Of course there are also tons of ads for 3G cards, computers, and luxury goods.
Apartment’s here are very modular, with very little built into the infrastructure of the building itself. There is rarely central air; each room has a separate A/C unit mounted on the wall with a remote control. Washing machines are hooked up to water, but the drain is a just a standard one in the floor that you have to put the tube into each time and remove afterwards. Cooking gas is bought in cylinders that are delivered to your house instead of a permanent gas line hookup. All of this leads to cheaper construction and the choice of not having those luxuries if you can’t afford them.
I keep noticing people doing things in a very difficult manner because they lack the proper tool. This makes sense when people just can’t afford good equipment. There are however some everyday actions which seem unnecessarily difficult given extremely inexpensive solutions that could make them easier. One is sweeping — I see so many people hunched over sweeping with what are basically broom heads; I’ve never seen brooms with handles on them.
The second is drying clothes, which are draped over all manner of items from cars to roofs to fences. I even see people drying their clothes by just laying them on the pavement. What I rarely see is a clothes line; just a simple piece of twine or rope would seem to make the whole process much easier.
Does anyone have any cultural understanding about these two examples in particular?
I’m in Goa a long weekend, a tiny state south of Mumbai on the west coast of India. I’m staying in Panaji, the capital, which is precisely like transitioning from New York City to Savannah, Georgia. It’s a small city, situated on a large river that feeds into the sea. It’s the off season, due to the monsoons, so it’s not very populated right now. Contributing to the slower pace is the fact that the Ganesh Chaturthi holiday is happening now, so many shops have been closed since Thursday.
Goa is beautiful and unique. The influence of the Portuguese, who occupied until 1961, is still strongly evident in the architecture. I’m staying near the old quarter, which feels like a transplanted European city in a tropical landscape. The streets are narrow, the houses are quaint, and scooters are the primary form of transportation. Many of the buildings have balconies overlooking the street, including Cafe Venite, which has quickly become my favorite restaurant here. I’ve really enjoyed sitting on the tiny balcony overlooking the street and trying out traditional Goan food like fish curry and chicken xacuti.
Goa has an amazing number of old churches, from impressive landmarks like Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church to tiny neighborhood chapels that fill up after a dozen people. The most famous churches are in Old Goa, about 5 miles outside of the Panaji, which used to be the capital during the 1500s. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site now and a handful of original churches have been well preserved. I went there today, and it was both striking and odd to experience architecture that feels so foreign to it’s location. At times I honestly felt like I was in Europe until I exited into lush tropical foliage.
Besides churches, Goa is famous for it’s beaches. These are pretty sparse this time of year due to the aforementioned monsoon, which sprung up multiple times today. At one point I was crouched on the sand, maybe 30 feet from the waves, with my umbrella acting as a insufficient roof for my huddled body. My only goal was to keep my camera and phone dry, and that minmum accomplishment was all I managed as the rest of me was thoroughly waterlogged. The rains struck numerous times today with that kind of intensity, but there were enough clear skys in-between to give me a serious sunburn.
I have one more day here to relax before beginning an intense round of fieldwork that will keep me on the road for the next two weeks. I fly to Bangalore very early on Monday to kick it off. It’s likely that the work travel will leave little time for sightseeing, but I’m excited to get even a basic feel for some different cities. So far Goa has been fantastic, and India is living up to what I’ve heard about each area being unique.
I have a lot of images to add to Flickr once I get back from research travel, but here are a few quick-and-dirty photos.