Reflections…

My last few days in India, and I have very mixed feelings about leaving.  Of course, I’m anxious to get back to my family and my work.  I know that, regardless of how I feel when leaving here, it has changed me – and may take years for me to fully integrate all I have learned and to emotionally, socially and intellectually resolve all of the contradictions I have witnessed here for myself.  In this I know that I was immediately hit with the desire to bring Ben and the children here – it’s something every human being should be made to experience and feel.  Not just being the minority here (and sometimes feeling like a tourist attraction), but smelling, feeling, tasting, living India.  I’m also interested in returning some day to experience more of the rural India, and to visit additional urban areas as a basis for comparison to my experience in Hyderabad.  The people of India have been overwhelmingly friendly and accommodating.  It is clear in their interactions that they delight in working with not only their colleagues, but outsiders as well.  This kind of hospitality I have never experienced – and could not easily be outdone! 

This week we visited the Birla Archaeological Museum, Planetarium, the Birla Temple (Hindu) and took a boat ride to view the famous Buddha statue from the Hussain Sagar (Lake in the middle of the city).  Last evening we had the opportunity to attend a cultural evening on campus, where an economics faculty member expertly played the sitar in a classical hindustani style, accompanied by a colleague on the tabla (drum).  The music was moving, to say the least, and was also the most sensual music I’ve ever heard.  It inspired me to write a poem…more on that later.

Yesterday, I also had the opportunity to be introduced to the entire library staff at the Univ. Of Hyderabad’s library.  They are leaps and bounds ahead of us in terms of their digitization efforts.  I was also fascinated to discover that the majority of librarians in India are male…..quite a turn from the profession dominated by women in the USA.  The staff, following Indian tradition, was extremely welcoming and curious about how we do things at Briggs.  We enjoyed conversing with them and comparing our infrastructure as well as services and materials. 

I’m off to lunch at the Study India Program Library.   

Thank you, Ganesh!

What tales to tell from my first week in India…The faculty seminar lectures at the University of Hyderabad have been so thought-provoking and informative.  Our small group of 10 faculty from various institutions around the U.S. has quickly bonded and formed what I’m sure will be lifelong friendships, not to mention the endless potential for collaborative projects!  Every weekday morning we attend a lecture given for us by a faculty member at the University of Hyderabad.  The lecture topics are all focused on India (of course!) and range from agricultural sustainability, gender issues, economic and political history, all the way to folk and culture studies.  Following each lecture we have tea (of course, it’s left over from the British), and then resume an hour of discussion on the lecture.  Then, we head to a delicious lunch on campus at the Study in India Program guest house.  Have I mentioned how much I adore Indian food?!  Everything is amazing, and the majority of meals are dominated by a veg selection, which is healthy and appreciated.  Of course, in a country populated mainly by veg-eaters, it makes sense. 

The afternoon field trips have varied.  Last week we visited Charminar (Google it!) and the Laad Bazaar.  This is a place where you can buy ANYTHING from glass bangles (bracelets) and pearls (a specialty in Hyderabad), to wooden spoons, clothing, and skinned chickens.  We actually climbed the stairs up to the top of Charminar, and I took some great pics from the top of the traffic situation.  You’ll have to wait until I return to see them, though, as my computer time/connection is very limited.  Sorry!

Saturday morning we ventured out for a weekend trip to Nagarjunasagar http://www.nagarjunasagar.com/ , about a three-hour drive from Hyderabad.  The drivers for our two six-passenger SUV’s were absolutely insane, and we were all afraid for our lives!  Thanks to some luck from Ganesh  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ganesha), however, we survived.   We stayed in a state-funded resort, and my third floor room had a picture-perfect view of the reservoir and dam.  We also visited the 3rd century Buddhist civilization ruins pictured on the website above.  When the dam was constructed (and the reservoir flooded) the Buddhist ruins were moved and rebuilt exactly as they were at a site away from the reservoir.  Imagine standing next to, touching, these ancient structures.  

Saturday afternoon we also visited the Andrah Pradesh Residential Junior College (Sagar College).  This is a government-funded undergraduate college, at which some 250-300 male students from extremely rural areas in India attend free of charge.  We met in small groups with the students and then as a larger assembly, to answer their questions regarding higher education in the United States.   Imagine staring into a sea of 250 faces, most of whom barely speak English, and whose families somehow survive on less that $10/month income.  Then imagine how to explain to them the entrance requirements at a U.S. institution for a graduate degree in engineering.  These young men were so gracious and eager to communicate with us.  This was probably the most touching and emotionally wrenching experience I’ve ever had.  The last question asked was if we had an American dollar bill we could show.  We left a dollar bill for them to keep in their administrative office. 

Sunday we visited a local Hindu temple, at which I was taken through many rituals, ate the prasad and thanked the local priests profusely.  It was an hour filled with smiling, bowing, incense, and rice.  We also visited the local waterfall (Ettiopala waterfall).  At the falls, a monkey family (parents and two babies) were huddling on a fencepost.  Although the Falls were beautiful, the monkeys ended up being the primary focus of my photos for the day.  

Have I mentioned the other wildlife sightings while here?  Water buffalo, cows, wild boars, wild pigs, dogs and cats roam the CITY streets of Hyderabad.  In fact, each morning it’s a routine for our taxi, while bumper-to-bumper in traffic with rickshaws and mopeds, to have to dodge the occasional water buffalo mother and calf.  After all, (as one local tells me), they’re our mothers, what can we do??  

Modernity?

Modernity?

The first two days in India have been a mix of emotion for me.  Sadness, outrage – yes, mostly negative feelings.  The lecture we heard Monday focused on the history of higher education in India.  Today, Tuesday, the lecture centered around a history and present assessment of the Indian economy.  One of our speakers emphasized their perceived need to show the visiting faculty the powerful combination of modernity and tradition India represents.  Modernity?  Really?  India is hardly the super power the American media portrays it to be.  In fact, our Indian economy lecturer said it is mostly, if not all, an illusion.  The drive from our guest house to the university passes through main city streets, by businesses, residences, and ends at the university toward the western edge of the city.  The drive is not long (10-15 minutes, and we are taken by cab).  During that drive, daily, we pass the most extreme display of the contradiction that is so called “modernity” in India.  People, families, children, living in mud, stick and tarpaulin houses on the side of major freeways.  Men urinating on the street side, packs of wild dogs, water buffalo, wild pigs and other animals freely roaming the streets.  Children begging for money, food.  Piles of trash, the most deplorable conditions you can possibly imagine.  Staged in front of newly constructed apartments, condominiums, etc.  The gap between India’s rich and poor is widening.  Clearly, the government here, whether national or at the city level, cannot even take care of its own people.  A Democratic Society – and are they outraged? It remains to be seen.  Modernity?  Really?

During our lecture in the Social Sciences building on campus yesterday, I took a bathroom break during the ‘tea break’.  The guest house we are staying in has American style toilets.  Of course, prior to going to India, I’d read up on the “Indian Style” toilet and knew what to expect.  However, the bathroom I encountered on the campus were enough to sadden and sicken me for quite a time following.  A hold in the floor, surrounded by tile.  Excrement, urine, coating the surrounding tile.  One is to squat, do his/her business, and continue on.  I have nothing against holes in the ground, or using them for toileting purposes, where allowed/designated.  However, the lack of cleaning of this space, and general presentation were enough to make me sick for the entire university.  How can these students possibly focus on their education, when they cannot even count on basic sanitary conditions?  Modernity?  Really? 

How can a country consider itself modern when it has apparently left so many of its people behind?

I’ll leave you with that thought for today.  If you were hoping for the more ‘touristy’ version of what I’ve seen, I posted that information to the HM Briggs Library Blog site at:  http://bloggingatbriggs.wordpress.com/2008/08/05/greetings-from-hyderabad-india/ 

Immersed in India

I’m headed to Hyderabad, India this Friday as part of a faculty seminar program through the Univ. of Hyderabad.  I was invited to go a little over a month ago, expenses paid by our University office of International Affairs.  India has always topped my list of places to visit – however, I figured limited funds and munchkins at home would prohibit that until at least my early 40’s.   So now you know my age (or at least how old I’m not), AND one of the things on my top ten list to do’s before I die.  To say I’m excited beyond belief is a gross understatement.  I’m craving India.

Yesterday I went to the salon and demanded the shortest haircut the stylist would willingly give, short of bic’n it.  I’m flexible, and it grows back, and I must, MUST not have to worry about hair – period.  Not that I’m much of a hair maintenance type, anyway.  The stylist patted my shoulder and offered all kinds of reassurance on my way out of the salon:  “It’s SO flattering!  Very feminine!  Oh, I just adore it!”  By the time I reached my car it dawned on me that for one of the first times in my life, my appearance means nothing.   I’m not vain or self-centered enough to count myself as anything above average.  But, like the average citizen I do fix my hair daily and take into account my attire, presentation, etc.  In India, I want to BE in India – soaking up the sounds, food, culture, dust, whatever comes my way.  I don’t really see any other way to do it.  The damn hair had to go to clean the slate, launder out the dirt, ball up the clay.

So, to be cliche, let’s just say that the shorn hair represents the shedding of my concern with how our American society has dictated I should look, as well as all my previous assumptions about foreign cultures, international travel, etc.  However you want to put it, I’m ready to be immersed.

Love affairs with the land…

If your intense passion for the land or for librarianship makes you feel you ought to report your unfaithful activity to your significant other, then this is the blog for you.    This blog is for those who crave wide open spaces, the smell of an impending thunderstorm moving across the prairie, and the feel of dirt under under our fingernails.  It’s also for library folks who want to keep up with technology, improve service and teaching, and just plain reflect on this incredible jack-of-all-trades profession we’re lucky enough to be a part of every day.  Your additions and comments are appreciated.  Let me know if you’d like to guest blog by sharing your own bit of news, poetry, whatever.  Long as it is somehow connected to terra firma or the library, you’re good to go.