It’s all coming back to me…

After spending several days in Mumbai, I was feeling restless. I’m not totally opposed to the tourist experience; but given the choice between staying with friends or a behind-the-scenes tour from a local that leads to traveling to their home town outside of the original destination and meeting their family and staying with them for a few days or the conventional tourist experience, I’ll choose the former options, for sure. For me, the conventional tourist experience is more appealing with at least another tourist or two, and I wasn’t having any luck flagging any down on my jaunts around Fort, the area where I was staying. I also wasn’t giving off the “I’m-searching-for-companion-tourists” vibe, because, let’s be honest, I wasn’t really looking for them. 

I was feeling ready to get going with my project. I was more in the mood for…well, not continuing to spend a lot of money every night on a hotel and then more money to get around and do touristy things. I was beginning to feel like having no plans for a whole week in Mumbai was a waste of time and money. If I had had friends in Mumbai, it would’ve been a different story. Or even if I was more familiar with the city…but felt so big, so noisy, so overwhelming, and mostly, so expensive. I wasn’t feeling it. 

  Fortunately at the peak of my feeling ready to move on, two things happened. I found out that some friends from Pune had moved to Mumbai and I got the approval from AIIS to come to Pune for a few days and sit in on Marathi classes for a few days. I checked out of my hotel on Tuesday morning and headed to the Mumbai CST train station to buy a train ticket to Pune. A few hours later, I was enjoying my first India train ride of 2015 – sleeper class (no a/c and no designated seats, which means that you could have as many as five people sharing a bench in one berth, plus someone stretched out above you and five across and someone above them – and oftentimes more people than that!). I hopped on the ladies car – no men allowed. Just women and kids. 

 The train ride was a bit longer than expected due to some delay (who knows…) but it was pleasant enough. Five hours after leaving Mumbai, I had arrived in Pune. I had tried to make arrangements to stay with some current AIIS students, but relying on my Marathi teachers to communicate my request to students that I had never met before proved to be trickier than I thought it would be. About 3/4 of the way into the train ride, I did get a call from a former student named Jake who is completing his dissertation in Pune and has a flat in the Koregaon Park (KP) neighborhood. Unfortunately, due to the total last minute nature of my arrival, he wasn’t able to host me Tuesday night. So when I arrived in Pune, I whipped out the Lonely Planet and looked up a hotel (I’ve since decided that this book must weigh at least 5 lbs and why lug it around when I can easily buy a digital version?! I’m leaving it in Mumbai.) I ended up at a pretty nice place in KP…pricier than I wanted but it was close to school and it was only for a night. It’s all part of the experience, right?

I was able to sit in on classes at AIIS on Wednesday and Thursday. It was so good to be back and see my teachers, meet new students, share my 2 cents with current Fulbrighters, and try to articulate what exactly I will be attempting to do in a week or so. I was surprised with how much Marathi I remembered but also feeling overwhelmed with how much was locked away in the deep recesses of my brain under a rusty lock whose key is lost under a pile of three years of English and AmeriCorps and St. Louis… 

  Before coming to Pune I had been wracking my brain trying to remember how to say “to the right” and “to the left.” But hard as I tried, I couldn’t remember. Then Wednesday morning I checked out of my hotel and argued a rickshaw wala into driving me to school, saying I would pay him 10 extra rupees for my bags. I was anxious; would I remember how to get there? I had gone every morning for 4 months. Surely it would come back to me. Muscle memory is a powerful thing. The minute I was sitting in the rickshaw I remembered. “Oojwikade ani nunter dawikade. Ha, ha. Tithe za. Ha Deccan College ahe. To the right, then to the left. Yes yes, go there. That’s Deccan College.” 

I spent Wednesday and Thursday in class and getting to know a smattering of students (one of whom had actually read my blog before when he was looking into coming to AIIS). It seemed like hardly anything on campus had changed. Not so for the rest of Pune. There is now a Starbucks in KP. Globalization. Sigh. 

Friday classes were canceled and I headed back to Mumbai to meet my friend, Noor, and her family. After a brief scare of losing my phone (it fell out of my pocket when I stopped at an ATM) I finally caught a bus to Bombay. By 10 on Friday I was at Noor’s place, with a hot, home-cooked meal, a cool shower, and a freshly made bed waiting for me. It was the best sleep I’ve had here so far.

  Today, Saturday, was a chill day. I slept in, read the paper, caught up with emails, did a bit of research, and then went to temple with Noor and her family. This evening we went out and managed to find some postcards. It seems in this digital age, the art of sending postcards is quite passé. But I promised about 30 people a postcard from India. And I will deliver! After a bit of walking and shopping, we had chaat (delicious Mumbai street food) and then walked home. Over some snacks and wine we reminisced on how we first met and all the adventures we had the last time I was here, missing our friend Robin who had been a part of it all. As we walked home from the market tonight, I told Noor,  “I am finally feeling relaxed and comfortable here.” With good food, the comfort of a friend’s home, and the familiarity of the pace of life here in urban India coming back to me, I am starting to feel at home.

Tomorrow morning I’ll wake up early to head to Jawhar, where I will meet Shubada, the woman who will be working with me as my “translator” (read collaborator, co-conspirator, companion) for the next several weeks. There is a seed festival in Jawhar in the afternoon. We will take a day or two to get to know each other and sort out the details for our upcoming journey. Then it’s on to Nagpur to reunite with Ajay and Yogini. And from there, back to see Pournima, and then Sangita, and all the rest of my Mulgavan friends. I. Can’t. Wait.


दापोली (Dapoli)

The thunderous booms from fireworks being lit all across the city have mostly subsided and I can now hear myself think. Happy Diwali everyone! Earlier this week I packed my bag and went on my first AIIS overnight field trip. Our first stop was Dapoli, a small town on the Konkan Coast.

We arrived in Dapoli after a lovely (and long and bumpy) drive through the Western Ghats. Our hotel, the Sea Princess, was right by the beach. As soon as we dropped our bags in our rooms we headed out to the Arabian Sea. I know I was just on vacation on a beach in Goa, but it felt so good to walk around barefoot in the sand.

The water was calm, warm and felt delightful! As soon as the first wave hit my feet I began to look forward to an evening dip.

After a little walk on the beach, we headed into town to the fish market. Every evening the fishermen bring in their catch and auction it off. The beach was busy and colorful. Our assignment was to ask what the names of the fish were in Marathi. I have to admit, I was more caught up in the colors and the bustle than trying to remember how to pose questions in Marathi. The other AIIS students did most of the talking…
Here are some pictures from the evening:

In the distance you can see the larger deep sea fishing boats. The shore was lined with small row boats that transported the fish to the shore. Then these carts were loaded up and they would carry the fish to the shore.

There the fish were lined up and laid out for potential buyers to examine and bid on. 

The swordfish were huge! And heavy! And expensive! These gentlemen answered our questions, their faces letting us know that they had better things to do. Everyone on the beach was very busy and had only enough time to quickly say the name of whatever fish we were inquiring about before giving us a look of “quit bothering me, I’m working.”

Squid ink!

These men are asking about the price of the squid during the somewhat chaotic auction. At one point David turned to me and said “Don’t make any sudden hand motions. You may find yourself with a kilo of fish…”

This woman wanted to know why we were asking so many questions about the fish and how much it cost but that we were not at all interested in buying any from her. Good question!

The AIIS gang! Naz, Shantanu, David and Patrick.

This is where they kept the giant blocks of ice that they sold to people to keep their fish cool and fresh. This guy was chipping the huge block into smaller more manageable blocks. Then they ran those hunks through a machine that crushed and ground the ice up, bagged it, and hauled it off to sell it. After the fish market we returned to the hotel. I took one look at the inviting sea and the warm tones of pink that were settling into the sky as the sun set and grabbed my towel. It was so nice to be able to rock back and forth as the gentle waves brought in the tide—a great way to unwind! The next morning we got up early and made our way to Raigad Fort, where Shivaji was coronated. Hopefully I’ll be able to post about that soon.

So here’s the deal…

Ok. So some of you may be wondering when I’m going to blog about what this blog says it’s actually about: cotton farming in India. I figured it’s about time I explain my projected timeline for this year. The reason why my research topic has yet to be a topic of any of my posts is precisely because I haven’t really begun my research. You see, in addition to a research grant I also received a “Critical Language Enhancement Award” (or a CLEA) to study Marathi.

So my timeline goes something like this:

3 months of intensive Marathi study in Pune (the little green house on the map)

3 months of part time language study while concurrently beginning my research. At this point I think I will stay in Pune for the first month of this concurrent period. Learning Marathi has proven to be quite the undertaking! The AIIS faculty are wonderful, and I definitely want to keep learning from them for as long as I possibly can! Pune is only a few hours away from my advisor and affiliate institute in Bombay. Only having class a couple of hours a day will give me time to delve into the reading that I’ve brushed the surface of so far. And I’ll be able to travel back and forth to Bombay to meet with my advisor, some experts in this field that she knows, and who knows what else! Around February I will head to Yavatmal, Maharashtra (the little pink flag). There I will continue my language study with a private tutor (hopefully someone who will be willing to keep working with me throughout my research and help with translation and interviews!).

And the last 6 months of my time in India is just for research.

The beauty and the *sometimes* terror of having this independent research project is that everything is very dependent on circumstance. Like most things in life, it’s all about who you happen to know and where you happen to be. As my research advisor says, I must follow the snowballing method. One contact will lead to another.

So for now, I am focusing on learning Marathi. And in my spare time I am reading up on the history of land reform acts and economic policy in India. Eventually I’ll begin to build up a list of potential resources for my fieldwork. Eventually I’ll start reading about current issues surrounding cotton farming. For now I’m building up my understanding of the context in which everything is taking place! And developing basic conversational Marathi so that communicating with my interviewees is a little more natural and a little more comfortable. Somewhere down this road, I’ll post a blog about my research.

Until then, keep checking back for anecdotal accounts of my life in India!

Learning मराठी (Marathi)

णमसकार. मी अॅरन अहे. मी अमेरिकन अहे.

Namaskar. Mi Aaron ahe. Mi American ahe.

Hi. I’m Aaron. I’m American.

I’ve learned new languages before, but this is the first time I’m tackling a new script AND a new language. I’m learning to read all over again. I sound like a 6 year old sounding out new words. For instance:

पुणे. P. Not Puh. No aspiration. Just a p sound that sort of stops in my throat. Oo. Not Ooooo. A short long ooo. N. Not a dental n. A retroflexive N. Eh. P-oo-N-eh. Oh. Pune. The city I’ve been living in for the last 12 days. Just like a little kid learning how to read, it takes me a couple minutes to make out a word with only 2 consonants, 2 vowels and 2 syllables.

It’s been interesting. The nice thing about Devanagari script is that it’s completely phonetic. So I don’t have to learn any rules about vowels and when they say their names or anything. I just have to memorize all of the different symbols and sounds. And now that I have memorized the basic consonants and vowels, I can pretty much read any word I see. Sometimes they are English words written in Devanagari script. After spending a few minutes identifying the characters and sounding it all out, I’ll say something like “Dawk-tu-rrr. Oh. Doctor.”

I love the quaint little building that is AIIS 2. This is where all my classes take place. The campus itself is beautiful…very green! My friend Rachel, a former AIIS student, put it well: “A double I S. Farm or college?” I have to try to not get too distracted when the wild mama pig and her herd of babies pass by the window in the middle of class.

Our dictation classroom

Our listening classroom

Sujata and Shantanu are the jovial pair of teachers that make up AIIS, Pune. Sujata has said several times “We love our students.” And it is so evident! They are both wonderful teachers and compliment each other very well, making a very dynamic team.

We are three students in all so far: Greg, a PhD student who is fluent in Hindi and spent the summer bolstering his Marathi skills, and David and I, both total beginners and here in Pune, Maharashtra as Fulbright-Nehru student researchers. The academic year long program starts this week, so more students will join us. I’m happy about this. I have been starting the days at 9 a.m. and my schedule looks something like this: Grammar from 9-10:00, Listening from 10-11:00, Tea break from 11-11:15, Pronunciation and Dictation from 11:15-12:15, and Script practice from 12:15-1:15.

An impromptu moment of learning: Greg tells us about the origin of languages in India. (note: this is the classroom where grammar and script practice takes place usually)

There’s just something about transitioning from no school and sporadic part time work to 4 almost straight hours of sitting in class. Fortunately there are two groups of students, beginners (David & me) and advanced (Greg). So we play musical classrooms and swap teachers. It helps break up the long morning. Now that the academic year long program is starting, I will be coming to school from 12:15-5:00 p.m. every day. It’ll be nice to have the mornings to sleep in (something I’ve only done once since I’ve been in India), have a nice breakfast, maybe eventually practice yoga (waiting for a potential teacher to get back to me on that one), and most likely get that last minute homework done, etc.

Where we take our chai and later our lunch (delicious home cooked meals! YUM)

I have a feeling that this shift in my daily schedule will make the days pass more quickly. And in turn, the weeks. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been in India for 3 weeks. Where has the time gone? It must creep away from me with every rickshaw ride, with every trip into a shop to look at kortas, with every spur of the moment jaunt through a new part of the city, with every delicious meal, with every glass of cold coffee.