A Year in India

Evening in My Neighborhood
September 30, 2008, 4:03 pm
Filed under: Day to Day | Tags: ,


Umm … Identity Crisis?
September 29, 2008, 5:43 pm
Filed under: Music | Tags: , ,

For those of you reading this who know me well, you’ll agree that I can be a bit of a music snob – which is why it’s surprising that in the past week, I’ve been listening to a disturbing amount of music akin to this:

… Not only Bollywood music, but westernized Bollywood music at that.  Don’t even know.

A Home
September 27, 2008, 1:34 pm
Filed under: Day to Day | Tags: ,

After three weeks of living out of a suitcase, I found an apartment!  I’m renting a room from an American, Josh, who has been working in Bangalore since he graduated from college five years ago.  The lovely 3-bedroom place is furnished and equipped with anything I might need.  Josh has already helped in acclimating me to this crazy city – he’s been my Google Maps replacement (barely a street in Bangalore is marked let alone recorded on a map), he’s recommended restaurants to go to (and to avoid), and he’s introduced me to his friends.

My roomie from Chicago is actually indirectly responsible for getting me in touch with Josh – he’s friends with a former coworker of hers.  And it turns out he’s also from Chicago’s north shore … a small world it is.

For you curious people, here are some apartment pics:

Site Visits Begin
September 25, 2008, 4:18 pm
Filed under: In the Field | Tags: ,

A singing lesson at Christel House

My first week of visiting DE program sites (NGOs and schools) is coming to an end.  Today’s experiences were particularly interesting.  In the morning, we visited a government-run school.  My coworker spent the majority of his time checking the lab’s computers to make sure teachers are not logging into inappropriate sites.  There was visible tension and a lack of warmth between the school officials and us.

Our afternoon visit to Christel House School was a real contrast.  Christel House is a privately-funded school that serves 850 slum children, grades 1-10.  I can’t even describe how beautiful its grounds are, how dedicated its teachers are, and how innovative their teaching methods are.

For example, the music program goes above and beyond expectations.  Kids learn to play instruments, write lyrics and songs, perform, record, and make music videos.  All of their activities are supported by their teacher who, in addition to instruction, invites music professionals to work with the kids and organizes a large music festival for Christel House each year.  The classroom has high ceilings, big windows, bright music murals, and posters and instruments galore.

Christel House grounds

The music program, then, is comprehensive, connecting the learning process, the space, the outside world, the teacher, and of course, the students.  The investment in all of these components creates a context – a culture – for the program.  (When I had a chance to interact with the students, I was blown away by their enthusiasm, intellect, and appreciation for the school – all evidence of this culture.)

It a city where western glamour is everywhere (ads, movies, malls, etc.), it is refreshing to see money being poured instead into an establishment like Christel House.  I only wonder how these kids reconcile their lives at schools with their lives at home, in the slums.

Then & Now
September 23, 2008, 4:43 am
Filed under: Culture | Tags: ,

On the left, my cousins Sohinee and Shagun with my sister and me in Jogapur, my dad’s family village in Bihar, 1992.  On the right, Sohinee and me eating dosas in Bangalore, 2008.

During my first week in Bangalore, I stayed with my cousin Sohinee, who moved here five years ago from Delhi.  Sohinee and her husband Avinash graciously welcomed me to their home and fed me more delicious Indian food than I can even describe.

Three thoughts about my time with Sohinee:

Family: It was great to reconnect with a cousin I barely knew.  Part of the reason I decided to come to India was to bridge that gap between what I know as home and what my parents and family have known as home in India.

The City’s Faces: I noticed that Sohinee tried very hard to show me Bangalore’s western side; there was a sense of pride she found in it.  Somehow, she sees the western-feeling establishments as superior.  I, on the other hand, want to see the “real” India – the small, local restaurants and neighborhoods.  Admittedly, both of us are romanticizing these two “sides” of Bangalore.  The two of us are so focused on our versions of Bangalore that we’ve failed to realize that the city’s identity is seeped in both extremes and everything in between.  In that way, I’m trying to open up to the many faces of this city, though it remains difficult to grapple with the stark contradictions surrounding me here.

Women & Work: Sohinee told me a memorable story about a past work experience she had in Chennai.  Her interest in labor laws inspired her to work at a factory, where she served as a link between workers and managers.  What struck me about her experience was that she was the only woman in the entire workplace (there wasn’t even a women’s bathroom there). In the media and during AIF orientation, I’ve heard abstractly about the position of women in the workplace in India.  While I realize hers is just one perspective in the midst of a society where gender inequalities are strong, it was refreshing to hear a tangible story from Sohinee.  Her overall experience was not at all negative.  She truly felt that her ability to adapt and be personable allowed her to work well in such a male-dominated space.  (Her biggest difficulty was not her gender; it was language.)  I’m interested to hear more stories (rather than abstractions or generalizations) about women’s work experiences here in Bangalore.

Working the System
September 22, 2008, 7:02 am
Filed under: Culture

Above, a front-center inscription reading “Government Work is God’s Work” on the state parliament building in Bangalore …

So during my first week in Bangalore, I spent more time registering with the foreign registration office (FRO) than getting any AIF project work done.  The process involved five visits to the FRO, running around the city getting all sorts of documents signed and photocopied, and saying many uncharacteristic “Yes, sirs” to various city officials.  Any more details would bore, but I finally completed my registration after telling the police commissioner that yes, I have South Indian blood in me, yes, I plan to marry an Indian man, yes, I am a vegetarian, and yes, I prefer India to the US.  Getting my first glimpse into the challenges surrounding the famous Indian bureaucracy!

Workspace Anecdote
September 18, 2008, 1:03 pm
Filed under: Culture | Tags: , ,

Above, the AIF/DE Bangalore office and the lovely view from it.

During orientation, Sridar Iyengar, an AIF Board Member, spoke to us about “Indian” ways of thinking and, in particular, of coming to conclusions.  If information is presented to two Indians, he said, they might think it through using two different approaches, even if they end up drawing the same conclusion.  What’s important, then, is the process of coming to the conclusion.  Equally important is openness in accepting others’ processes, even if they are wildly different than your own.

My very first day of work, I came to understand Sridar’s point more tangibly.  One of my coworkers told me about a document that the Indian government published in 2006.  The document spells out new, innovative ways in which teachers should build their curriculums.  My immediate question was whether the document is actually implemented in Bangalore’s government schools.  My coworker looked at me, smiled, and said, “Why don’t you read the document and then decide for yourself when you’re working in the schools?”

I look forward to having a conversation on this subject with my coworker a few months down the line.