Final Post: Kolkata is Not a Dying City

14 May

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I departed Kolkata on May 8th. As I left India and Kolkata, I thought of two things: Rabindranath Tagore, and Kolkata’s livelihood. Tagore’s birthday is celebrated between May 7th and 9th. This year marked his 152nd. Tagore is Bengal’s Renaissance man—the first Nobel Prize winner in Asia. The writer, painter, composer, and public intellectual gave life to Bengal and India through his poems and essays at the turn of the century. There is no figure whose influence on any culture compares to Tagore’s influence on Bengalis. Perhaps Shakespeare comes close. Tagore’s legacy is carried on in every part of Bengali culture. His songs are sung by every class, his poems and paintings can be found on streets and in galleries.

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On his birthday as I was reading some quotations of his, I came across one which struck a resonant chord with my particular position in that moment:

“So in the streets of Calcutta I sometimes imagine myself a foreigner, and only then do I discover how much is to be seen, which is lost so long as its full value in attention is not paid. It is the hunger to really see which drives people to travel to strange places.”

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I was, of course, a foreigner for my entire time in Calcutta. The guide on the Jane Jacobs walk I went on last Sunday talked about how he prefers not just showing the city as a guide, but seeing it for himself too. The intentionality with which I viewed Kolkata painted my perception of it with both awe and criticism. As the months in Kolkata came to a close I became to feel less of a foreigner—to the city, at least. I came and I saw. I continued to see, but I also merged into life there with an electric flow.

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Some may claim Kolkata to be dead. But I claim it to be alive-or at least having some sort of energy and power to breathe life into individuals who are dying—not physically, but spiritually. The city reenergized my tired mind and kicked me back into life when I came to see. No doubt, Tagore is correct—it was my hunger to see that drove me to this strange place that is sometimes awful and other times awe-full.

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* * *

I sat in the front of the Ambassador taxi cab with a water bottle and notebook between my knees. We crawled up Gariahat Road and through Park Circus. It was rush hour and the traffic was packed. I peacefully waited in the front passenger seat, left arm out the window, watching things like Birla Mandir, Park Circus Maidan, and other landmarks pass for the last time in a while. Sujoy and Vinayak rode in the rear seat, quietly at first.  Vinayak had this running joke that for the last 24 hours, he would say annoyingly specific things like “That’s the last time you’ll ever eat breakfast  in that chair reading The Telegraph while I stand over you waving a cricket bat .” We pulled up aside another taxi on Gariahat Road, and as the drivers bickered he said, “This is the last time you’ll be sitting on Gariahat in the back of a taxi hearing two drivers fight in Bengali.”

“Somehow I’m not so sure that’s true.” I responded, with glazed eyes and a smirk.

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* * *

I have every intention of returning to Bengal—to Kolkata. This city was my “first.” The first time I have ever really experienced urban life and independence, and it came at a perfect time when I was itching to get into a dense, intense city. I had recently been reading a lot of economic development and urban studies literature which prepared me to confront India and Kolkata from a perspective considering development, economies, and history. After spending three and half months in the city, experiencing its busy streets, congested traffic, raw livelihood, structural violence, and raging commerce, I was excited to read Calcutta: Two Years in the City by Amit Chaudhuri but found his memoir patronizing and presumptuous. Speaking to Chaudhuri confirmed this about his take on the city and the life there. As one of the elite journalistic class and only a part-time resident, Chaudhuri views Kolkata as the death of Calcutta.Image

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Chaudhuri talked about a need for engagement with the past as a way to bring on a living history. He feels that Bengalis have put persons like Rabindranath Tagore on a pedestal and refused to interact with his works in a modern way, instead preserving his works as if holy and sacred. I agree with his criticism of over-attached preservation of tradition rather than interaction with living art. Nonetheless , new art and subject for art is still present in the city.

His memoir is filled with nostalgia for a Calcutta that existed only in his mind and the minds of the young elite of the 1970s and 1980s. Like others I encountered during my stay, Chaudhuri was nostalgic for something that never really existed: a Calcutta that was at peace with its imperial past and encouraged in its new freedom to move forward. Those with that nostalgia forget the struggles of those forgotten times. This is true around the world. They never recognize their rose-colored glasses and instead blame everything on this “new generation.” That is a discussion for another time, though.

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Kolkata is not a dying city. Parts of Calcutta are dead and parts of Kolkata are dying. But the city is not dying or dead. Surely, Calcutta has been in some sort of decline ever since the British moved the center of the Raj to Delhi in 1912. Businesses have left. The young are not moving to Kolkata like they could be. History and art seem somewhat stagnant. The booms are in Bangalore and Chennai and Mumbai. Delhi and Kolkata are still the busts.

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I think that is going to change soon. Kolkata’s population still lives. It still works. The city has an undeniable flow. Life is challenging, but perfectly so. The challenge of Kolkata and its deep history are going to start drawing people back. As the young, affluent class grows bored of Bangalore start-ups & silicone and Mumbai glitz & glam, people will find things to love again in Kolkata—a city made for people, by people. Kolkata’s time will come again. Affluent, entrepreneurial young people in the western hemisphere are moving back into cities like Kolkata. It will happen there too with a few shifts in the business and political winds. Kolkata is not dead. It is in need of pruning and maturing.

* * *

As we passed Park Circus Wednesday evening, I sat in the front seat, watching the city roll by for the last time on this visit. Sujoy pointed out the places he used to play tennis and cricket as a young man and where his high school was. We rolled into the older, central Kolkata, passing busy streets of mosques, temples, and markets. The sounds of car horns, rumbles of trucks, rattles of the tram, loud calls of the chaiwallas and fat Bengali women, filled my ears while diesel, shit, and chickens filled my nostrils. That’s life in Kolkata: the liveliest dead city on earth.

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Amidst the forced smorgasbord of senses ranging from pleasurable and offense, suddenly one voice stood out. Sujoy’s impeccable English and James Earl Jones pitch resonated inside the cab like a narrator’s track over a documentary.

“Calcutta when it was the seat of the British Raj was poised to become one of the greatest cities in the world: Rich with high culture and folk culture; full of commerce and life and opportunity. Since 1912, and since independence, Kolkata has declined. The growth is not here and people have slowed down.

“The culture is still rich here with imperial hangover and the Bengali obsession with Tagore and his legacy. Always there has been great poverty and inequality. We lag behind India in our infrastructure, living standards, and health.

“But despite its struggles, this city continues to thrive and live. In spite of all our struggles and this city’s struggles, life goes on…One way or another we keep living.” Image

Amsterdam: Begin the Culture Shock

10 May

I felt the slightest bit unsettled and insecure walking around the Amesterdam airport. Couldn’t figure out why, and then I realized… Everyone (well, not all, but the majority) is white. And tall.

Shit. I’m in the lower half of the height distribution again.

It’s subtle, but it’s there. Some sort of reverse culture shock as soon as I get off the plane in Europe. With this strange, not-uncomfortable but not-comfortable feeling, I went to grab some food. So many options lay before me: veal cutlets? A beef burger? Ooh. So tempted. I passed instead for a green salad—it was heavenly, a cup of real BLACK coffee, a small bag of stroop waffles, and a fresh banana. The coffee and the salad were damn good and made even better by my four-month absence from them.

Some other great things in Amsterdam:

  • GREAT people-watching. The best, in fact. So many strange, strange people there.
  • Laughing at American accents. Seeing a motorcycle gang/blues band headed back home to Detroit. Meeting Americans when getting ready to head back was so weird. The Midwestern accent definitely is a thing. Met a man from Appleton, Wisconsin and we chatted it up while we got on the plane.
  • The flight attendants on this Delta flight have been great. They do a good job of hamming it up with passengers and joking around. I don’t think they realize how much I appreciate being able to do that. It’s just great to hear them exchanging the pleasantries I grew up with.
  • Also, Delta’s new safety video is HILARIOUS. Humor that’s only really popular in America—gratuitous ridiculous antics over the serious message. I was trying not to make a fool out of myself laughing while no one else paid attention.
  • I’m feeling warm and happy and I’m going to stay up reading and writing for this whole 8.5 hour flight I think. 
  • The MN State House of Representatives debated and voted on a bill legalizing gay marriage while I was in the air. Happy to hear on arrival that it passed!
  • In the airport in Detroit, waiting around with some people heading back to Madison, a group of middle aged couples traveling together near me, one guy gets up and goes around asking everyone if they want to grab a beer before departing. YES WISCONSIN YOU ARE SO CLOSE!

Democratic Resolution to Heterodoxy What Diversity, Disparity, and Significance Mean to Individuals, India, and the Globe

10 May

Democratic Resolution to Heterodoxy

What Diversity, Disparity, and Significance Mean to Individuals, India, and the Globe

(final paper for SAB II)

Introduction

Let me then begin with the disclaimer that my writing is conscious of the fact that 1) my exposure to India is highly urban, 2) my experience and reading is mostly limited to Bengal, and 3) India’s significance to me is overshadowed by the magnitude of my insignificance to India. That insignificance is the crux of heterodoxy. India is significant to individuals, communities, and the globe, but this significance is nothing more than the product of a billion disparate and diverse individual insignificances. The significant locus of this heterogeneity is India’s identity. This essay explains how significance, disparity, and diversity are related and establishes how the discourse of diversity affects individuals and communities. It goes on to develop an understanding of India’s role in the global sphere and how heterodoxy impacts this role. Following this, it zooms in to examine Indian democracy and policy to unveil its relationship with global, national, and individual lives and events.

Significance, Diversity, and Disparity

Together, insignificance and diversity dominate large portions of my journal. In Delhi and our first week in Kolkata, I noted how I modified the absorption of stimuli in the presence of density. Despite a sharp awareness of my foreignness in January, I also felt insignificance. In a journal from mid-January, my awareness was clear: “Where some try to process and understand every detail of the day, I acknowledge the disparities and differences, and I move on with the attitude that, ‘that’s diversity, and that’s India.’ We have to go about in naked anonymity” (Hovel 2013). Diversity and density simultaneously make individuals more significant and more insignificant. Disparity also contributes heterodoxy because divisions in individual equity are divisions in national identity. Each individual is a marginal addition to a dense fabric but also brings a new color and texture to the fabric.

Each insignificant opinion in a nation of 1.2 billion becomes significant because heterodoxy calls for persistent public dialogue. Kelly put it best that “nothing in India is weird.” That is not because things are not out-of-the-ordinary, but because there are so many differences that nothing can be out-of-the-ordinary. As Sen states, heterodoxy is “the natural state of affairs in India” (Sen 2005, 12). This natural state permeates interactions at different levels of social existence.

Individuals and Communities: The Extent

At an individual level, the natural state of heterodoxy is manifested in a multiplicity of opinions, occupations, and actions. In my “Expectations” essay in December, I asked myself whether my perception of “thriving individuals in a deprived place” will be more or less apparent when I interact with it daily (Hovel 2012a). There are thriving individuals in deprived places and deprived individuals living in thriving places. I picked up on this and the nature of personal heterodoxy within a couple days. In a blog about the volume of people from late December, I wrote:

“[People] all smell different, look different, sound different and yet are all neighbors…. They laugh, cry, sit, stand, pray, shag…trade, drive, bike, ignore, and engage. They are wealthy—donning Gucci, driving Mercedes; they are homeless—wearing grubby cotton and sleeping on sidewalks” (Hovel 2012b).

Ice-Candy Man illustrates how individuals are also concerned with interactions of greater magnitude and significance. Throughout the novel individuals of many different creeds and cultures discuss and act on the future of the subcontinent and the situation of Lahore (Sidhwa 1988). Sidhwa humanizes the colossal heterodoxy of India[1] through these human-scale interactions.

My familiarity with rural India is limited mostly to textbooks, but I would also be wrong not to address the rural-urban divide that is a major source of heterodoxy. Indeed, the majority of the population remains in rural areas. Besides the urban-rural disparity itself and the impact of immigrants on heterodoxy in urban centers, I can see heterodoxy displayed in some of the folk arts with rural roots. The evolution of patachitra from an art by rural Hindus for their worship to one in which Muslims and lower-caste Hindus produce art for middle-class Hindu communities (Hauser 2002) demonstrates how different classes and cultures interact to influence each other’s culture in interactions between urban and rural communities.

Global and National India

A pioneer in confronting heterodoxy, Emperor Akbar the Great recognized India’s religious diversity and created a platform for public acceptance and dialogue which promoted diversity and unity in the Mughal Empire. Later, Rammohan Roy viewed the variances in religions as creations of man but believed unification of India and the world could occur through global acceptance of monotheism over political divides. Roy applied the lens of heterodoxy to a global scale. Foreseeing globalization, he believed modernity lay in recognition of diversities and acceptance of human similarities[2]. For others after him, the message was less religious and advocated embracing similarity in identities rather than emphasizing petty political differences. Sen encourages people today to distinguish between historical-political activism identified with religion and actual religious tension “in which the contents of religious beliefs themselves are material” (Sen 2005, 69-70).

After the groundwork of Roy, Rabindranath Tagore also confronted Indian heterodoxy and its global effects, beyond the religious, in Nationalism. Tagore comments on how individual and community tendencies to either self-interest or common-interest will find a place in a modern world: “Those who are gifted with the moral power of love…will be the fittest to take their permanent place in the age lying before us…and those who [develop] their instinct of… intolerance… will be eliminated” (Tagore 1917, 99-102). Raylling “moral power” within India, let alone the rest of the world, has been difficult enough..  The differences within a nation complicate the way that nation relates to outsiders, not only its own citizens.

A nation’s position in the global sphere cannot be separated from its internal identity. For India, heterodoxy is definitive in both international and national domains as a result of centuries of dialogue and transfusion. Sen writes about the distinction between self-images and outside-images that create the identity of India. Western imaginations created orientalist images of India that often contradict themselves and reduce India’s identity in an attempt to simplify and oppress the subcontinent for the benefit of the West (Sen 2005). Here the discourse of diversity and insignificance is apparent in the attempt of the West to downplay significant sources of diversity in India and make India’s cultural achievements insignificant in global history.

Reduction of identity retards the ability to embrace differences and creates conflict from disparity. Acting as the British Governor-General at the Simla conference, “dividing and conquering” seemed the easiest solution at times. In our simulation, India found a way to unify against the common enemy of Britain. Alas, this unity is not lasting and also complicates the idea of “significance” for each concerned party. A question that I wished to ask at the end of the simulation was: “Once unified, how significant is each interest group within the nation?” In another way: how do heterodoxy and democracy work together to protect (or not protect) India and its diverse population.

Indian Democracy

                Sen emphasizes that voice, “through arguments and agitations… advance[s] the cause of equality in different spheres of life” and is essential for positive outcomes from heterodoxy (Sen 2005, 36). The source of these arguments and agitations is the competition of diverse opinions, disparities, and varying significances. In this final section I inspect democracy and heterodoxy from this lens at the global, national, community, and individual level. I point out that democracy and heterodoxy are not compatible for all issues, that democratic agency must meet certain standards to succeed in a heterodox environment, and that attention to specific needs of communities is the best way for democracy to recognize diversity and give citizens significance.

            To again examine a global scale, India and Pakistan possess great significance in development and security. The history of international diversities is rooted in the heterodoxy of the subcontinent. Despite a democratic system in India, the voices of some hold more significance than others. The influence of the Hindu right in India and the Islamic right in Pakistan have brought India and Pakistan to global significance through constant conflict and nuclear antics. Dr. Sen’s Democratic Cure-All is not likely to be a solution in the near future. Sen indicates that India’s spending on nuclearization could greatly reduce illiteracy through elementary education (Sen 2005, 259). The motivation for Indian nuclearization is threat specifically to Pakistan, not global deterrence[3]. Transborder heterodoxy will not be solved through democratic process when agitators remain powerful on either side of the border.

            In my time in and studies of Indian politics and development, I became aware of the disparities across states in achievements, law, and capacity. Literacy rates, agricultural production, religious intolerance, and many other developmental indicators vary widely across the 38 states. This is a perturbing form of heterodoxy. I noted in my study of Indian taxation how states hold very different business and taxation laws, making supply chains difficult to develop and business growth geographically varied. India attempts to deal with heterodoxy by providing geographic autonomy. This was also my solution as Governor-General. Unfortunately, this entrenches regional identities and development patterns, reducing the significance of nationalism for individuals, and erecting barriers for federal policy formation. For democracy to succeed in a heterogeneous environment, it must be educated, unified, and enable each stakeholder with a significant voice.

            My walks through Kolkata recognized intensely free markets whose inefficiencies typically came, in my perception, from misplaced government regulation and spending. Inefficiencies in markets appear as the result of lack of information and lack of proper infrastructure. Greater organization and information provided through government initiatives could benefit society through increasing market access rather than subsidies and tax exemptions which often benefit wealthy capitalists more often than struggling farmers or consumers (Bhalla & Singh 2009). Disparities such as this might be better resolved through civic education and democracy. Democratic engagement by impoverished consumers and struggling small business operators could expand opportunities.

            Class remains one of the most difficult dimensions of heterodoxy. The defined lines of the caste system are still apparent and play a major role in policy and democracy affecting individual livelihood. Democracy, Sen believes, is the best way to protect the interests of those who lead a “thoroughly vulnerable life” (Sen 2005, 209). Sen points out that there have been concurrent times of hunger and surplus in India.  This indicates that there are distributional barriers or inefficiencies (213); inefficiencies which democratic agency could eliminate. A recent article from The Hindu explored movements to encourage free and safe arenas for Dalit persons to express their struggles and oppression through art and music (Patwardhan 2013). Expression feeds significance and makes the value of diversity apparent. Democracy enables citizens to overcome insignificance and call for change when it is most needed in their lives, thereby bridging divides in development.  Only in this way is heterodoxy confronted adequately.

Conclusion

I arrived in India at the peak of demonstrations following the Delhi rape. Here, Indian democracy was at its finest, confronting issues that affected individuals and communities, both urban and rural, as well as dealing with national justice and global image and influence. Responses to the rape and it’s [mis]handling were, in a word, heterogeneous. While fingers were pointed every which way, including at western influence and globalization, most recognized sexual violence as a problem within India and throughout India for Indians to confront. Indians from every background—Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, Parsee, Dalit, Brahmin, woman, man, gay, straight, literate, illiterate—found reason to be engaged. Global media had reduced India’s identity to a red flag of sexual violence; national leaders were being challenged; villages and cities were in uproar; and a young woman had been murdered and raped. Public dialogue prevailed and made clear that India was a single nation, no matter the geographic, class, linguistic, or religious barriers that separate its citizens from time to time in the course of its conflicted and diverse history.

Bibliography

Bhalla, G.S. and Singh Gurmail. “Economics Liberalisation and Indian Agriculture: A Statewide Analysis.” Economic and Political Weekly. Vol. 44, No. 52. 26 December 2009. Pp 34-44.

Hauser, Beatrix. “From Oral Tradition to ‘Folk Art’: Reevaluating Bengali Scroll Paintings.” Asian Folklore Studies. Vol. 61, No. 1. 2002. Pp. 105-122   http://www.jstor.org/stable/1178679.

Hovel, Andrew. “Expectations.” Writings for SAB II. 24 December 2012.

Hovel, Andrew. “17,000,000:1 Scales of Humanity.” Life on the Hugli. WordPress.com 31 December 2012.

Hovel, Andrew. Journal. 17 January 2013.

Patwardhan, Anand. “Democracy Needs their Song.” The Hindu—Talking Point Magazine. 5 May 2013.

Sen, Amartya. The Argumentative Indian. Penguin. New Delhi, Delhi. 2005.

Sidhwa, Bapsi. Ice-Candy Man. Penguin. London, England. 1988.

Tagore, Rabindranath. Nationalism. The Gutenberg Project. London, England. 1918.


[1] Lahore, of course, is in Pakistan, but the interactions in this novel are indicative of India nonetheless.

[2] A visit to the Rammohan Roy Museum 7 May 2013 in Kolkata made this apparent.

[3] Recent events have brought impending Indo-Chinese conflict to significance as well. 

Thoughts & Things in the Last Few Days

6 May
  1. Sunday night dinner was with Izzy’s dad, sister, and brother-in-law. Luke, Connor, and I joined them at Kewpie’s Kitchen–the same place we ate on Friday. It was a great night of swapping stories. A nice breeze and rain earlier in the evening meant it was cool enough to walk home from the restaurant. It was a great way to spend the evening before departure for Luke & Connor.
  2. Earlier in the day we went to watch Vinayak play cricket. Unfortunately his team was batting, not fielding when we came. He didn’t bat that day, but he bowled after we left and even got a wicket!
  3. On the way to see Vinayak’s match, we ran into a drunk beggar just outside the park. We was waving his arms wildly, stumbling, and asking for money from us. As we walked by he grabbed at some of our arms. Being drunk, fairly old, and small, he wasn’t difficult to get away from. He remained persistent though.
    We walked past into the park and were headed around the field to benches. I was the last in line as we walked around, he grabbed my arm, firmly this time with two hands and pleaded in Bangla with rum on his breath. I grabbed one of his upper arms, wrenched him off, and pushed him away–not with a great deal of force. He stumbled back and fell to the ground.
    So now he’s down, people heard him yell, and it looks like I just tossed this poor, old man 10 feet. Feeling bad, I go to help him up. I do so, try to get him to put his sandal back on, but end up leaving him. He regained his balance as I walked away, and began coming across the field (while in play) waving his sandal screaming things like, “mama ascho” (literally, motherf***er). It caused quite a scene, but people graciously didn’t consider me at fault despite my embarassment.
  4. I went to do some final shopping Monday. Went to Sunshine Shop, a place on Sudder Street I’ve referred to in previous posts and have been to a number of times. This place has all the things the typical Sudder Streeter needs–gaudy clothing, jewelry etc. Among that, there’s also some great finds. I took my time picking out things and chatting with the owner. And he offered me lunch! I took him up on it, just a place of rice, some potato, and curd (kinda sour cream-like, really refreshing). I figured I’d pay his full asking price on everything rather than haggling as a token of thanks. It was a great way to spend my afternoon.
  5. There was excitement late last night and early this morning with sorting out Luke & Connor’s plane tickets which had been changed up last minute and messed up some timings.
  6. Before the excitement we had midnight cookies. Sujoy & Arundhati had been out for dinner until late, as had the three of us. We made cookies and had a caramel bread pudding. It was delicious and a good way to end time as a family of the seven of us.
  7. After shopping, I stopped in Braganzas, a music store on Free School Street, on a whim. I went straight to play a beautiful Five-String Fender bass guitar. After playing a miniature guitar for the past four months, this instrument seemed absolutely massive and unorthodox. It was fun to jam to myself for a couple minutes with this behemoth of a guitar.
  8. I was in The Telegraph Monday morning, quoted and pictured on the Jane Jacobs Walk/Calcutta Walks I did on Sunday morning. This walk was a combined effort from Jane’s Walks & Calcutta Walks, the former being a worldwide organization to encourage people to see their cities, the latter being a great tour agency in Kolkata. The walk was around the Kali Temple area and covered a lot of the history and theology behind the temple and worship of Kali. I was quoted as saying something I did not say at all…but that’s okay because it’s actually exactly like some things I have said many other times here–something about wanting to return and learning about India’s diversity…

21 Hugs & a Few Handshakes

4 May

I said my first goodbyes yesterday. [....I guess there were also some goodbyes on Thursday. We said some goodbyes to professors at Xavier's after our final exam. But those weren't especially heartfelt or meaningful except in a good-riddance sort of way. We all bid goodbye to the campus and went to lunch together.]
Friday started at Nicco Park, a small amusement park and water park where I spent the morning with some friends. We said good bye to a couple of our Xavier’s friends from there.

The evening was our final activity of the program: Dinner at a good Bengali restaurant with our director & co-director (Madhu, our professor from St. Ben’s, and her sister-in-law Chaiti, also an English professor in Kolkata). After dinner we said goodbye to them. We’ll see Madhu in the fall, and we really hope to see Chaiti in the future when she comes to visit CSBSJU. She’s a great professor and a fun person, so we look forward to her visit.

The night concluded at Zach & Tyler’s home with some beers on the terrace. This was our last event with the 13 of us. The bittersweet atmosphere held throughout the night, but people remained in good spirits as we hugged goodbye and sang some songs together. We bid safe travels to Hannah, Tyler, and Abe–the first to leave Kolkata today. Hannah is headed to more adventures in Bosnia where she’ll intern for the summer. Tyler is going home for a while to work at Saint John’s and then go to Viet Nam with the Army. Abe is trekking in the mountains for a while before traveling to Thailand and then home.

Others will depart mostly on Monday– Luke, Connor, Kelly, Molly, and Leah head off to Malaysia and Nepal before home. Connor & Luke will stop over in Europe for a week too. Gretchen and Andee go straight home that day. Izzy will travel with her father & sister in India for a few days before going to join the others in Nepal. Zach will remain in Kolkata until the 8th and finish some final things. I’ll be doing the same and also leaving from Kolkata on the 8th.

Tonight is the last dinner for the three of us together (Connor, Luke, & I) with our host family and Jennifer. 

Another Apology

2 May

Sorry for being so long between posts. I’ve been studying and doing some wrap-up activities.

Some things you deserve updates on:

  • Parting thoughts & Goodbyes
  • Reflection on my education at St Xavier’s
  • Response to a question on Kolkata as a “dying city”
  • Possible reflection on the Jane Jacobs walk I might go on on Sunday
  • Updates about some of the different fun things I’ve done lately
  • A post about smells & heat
  • A post about the Sikh Gurdwara I visited on Saturday
  • More about Darjeeling if you’d like it!
  • My final paper for my seminar course

Anything else anyone would like to hear about or know about?

A Happy Birthday

29 Apr

Today, April 29, is my brother Joseph’s birthday. He’s 19. He most enjoys mainstream country music, MSNBC, and calculus. You can send gifts related to these interests to 1077 Sellery A, W. Johnson Street, Madison, WI.

Since high school, Joe and I have been in less contact than during our childhood. A two-year gap in age doesn’t seem like much from age 5 to 15, but between 16 and 20, it can mean huge differences in maturity and development. Since Joe entered college, we’ve been growing closer–despite the greater spatial & temporal distance. Now that he’s in college and starting to experience life outside the McFarland bubble, we are learning to relate on new levels.

I might miss Joe more than anyone else while I’m abroad now. Not as much because I feel deprived of his presence, but because I think I’ve deprived him of mine. Truthfully, I wouldn’t be seeing him very frequently even if I were back at Saint John’s. But I know I’m missing out on opportunities to hang out with him after his inaugural semester at the UW, and will be missing out on time with him this summer when I’m away in Washington.

With more distance has come more clarity. Now with something of a surrogate younger brother in my home in India, I realize how much I miss having that person to relate with, tease, and be teased by. I also realize more of the things I want to know about him now that he has this whole new life. He’s taking really interesting classes & trying to figure out career goals; he has new friends and is making contacts; he’s looking for opportunities to get involved and finding summer jobs. Suddenly, there’s more for us to talk about than boring each other with daily lives which are very different.

He’ll still be in classes when I get back home and doesn’t get out until the day before I leave again. But since UW isn’t so far from home, he should count on being interrupted so I can take him to lunch or ice cream on the Union Terrace.

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