At my university, I’m taking four classes (unfortunately for me, these courses are worth four credits each since they meet for four hours a week, but since my university in Hawaii is on a three-hour schedule, I’ll only get three for each on my Manoa transcript): Problems of Historical Knowledge (a historiography course), Partitions in South Asia, the State in Indian History (state-building, state formations, transformations, transitions, some social/economic/political theory, etc.), and the Indian Ocean in History (the place of the Indian Ocean in the world, its influence on people and places, and their effect on it). For my Indian Ocean course, my professor assigned In an Antique Land by Amitav Ghosh. Immediately, I was drawn into the book. I was just as curious (okay, maybe not “just as curious,” but I was curious) about the slave of MS H.6, as well as what would eventually happen to Ben Yiju. I was less concerned about Ghosh’s contemporary account about his ethnographic work in Egypt during the ’80s (though it was still interesting). Right before we started the book, my professor expressed that it is one of his favorite books and that it changed the way he looked at history (my professor’s area of expertise is the Indian Ocean, focusing on Tanzania and Kachchh). It really is a great book. The storylines in the book are great, but Ghosh does make important points in the book about historiography, human relationships (notions of difference), and modernity and tradition (among other things).
Besides it being a great book (I also went out and bought Sea of Poppies, Flood of Fire, and The Hungry Tide – I need to get River of Smoke), it made me think about what I am doing here. To a far lesser extent, I am kind of doing what Ghosh was doing in Egypt — though, like a said, to a far lesser extent. While I am not working on a dissertation, I am here for academic purposes, on a mission to find something (i.e., what exactly I will work on for my thesis). Like I said…to a far lesser extent. While finishing the book, I began to think about how I am currently cultivating relationships with people I would have never otherwise met. Strangers have welcomed me into their home (although on a more structured basis) and I have breakfast and dinner with them every day, and will until December. They ask me how my day was, they playfully speak to me in Hindi to get me to be less shy about speaking it, and on Mondays and Tuesdays I ride to Connaught Place with my host father and his daughter since we all start work/school around the same time. There is one person from school I’ve become rather close to, and he was one of the first people to formally introduce themselves to me. I was sitting alone outside of my university’s canteen one day after school; as I took out my Hindi notebook to brush up, he and his friend sat at the table and he just said, “You’re in MA history too, na?” and after that, we slowly started talking more and since we’re in the same classes, we see each other every day and normally do something after school once a week. On Fridays he normally drives to school since our classes end at 6:00pm and doesn’t want to take the metro at a peak time, and he’ll drop me off at a metro station just three away from mine, shortening my travel time to about ten minutes from about what would have been forty-five. I think about how he could have bypassed me like I bypass others (I never initiate conversations) but he was friendly, and he’s been kind since day one. He took me to Vasant Kunj earlier in the week just so I could go to Om Books for the three additional works I bought by Ghosh.
I think about the people I’ve met here in just the first month and think about how these relationships can go. I can go back to Hawaii and never see these wonderful people again or I can really put my heart into these relationships and they can be in my life for years and years after I leave Delhi. I’d obviously prefer the latter. It’d be even better if I could return regularly and see them, or if they could make it out to Hawaii. It’s weird to think about how random my entry into some of their lives was, and how temporary my presence will be physically. My host family is wonderful and I feel incredibly comfortable with them. My friend here reminds me of my friends back home in how thoughtful he is (e.g., tugging my backpack and pulling me away from the road and cars, asking if I got home safely, etc.). This is a very special time in my life and I don’t want old age to rob me of it down the road. My co-worker gave me a diary (which I’ve been neglecting, unfortunately) and I’ve been trying to take pictures daily. Inside the cover of my Sea of Poppies, I dated it and wrote that my friend had taken me all the way to Vasant Kunj after my incessant nagging and that he was likely late for his church choir rehearsal because of it.
Then, after I think about myself and my small network here, I think about other people that I know who travel frequently. My professor, for example, does research in Tanzania and Kachchh, though more in the former. He first went to East Africa when he was a little younger than me, and learned Swahili from a woman free of charge. While he was there, she had a young child and to this day, he keeps in touch with them and has essentially seen that boy grow up over twenty years. He has friends from all over East Africa, and all over India. My friend (who was a Fulbright TA for my Hindi class for AY 2015 – 2016) has traveled extensively as well; he was born in Tamil Nadu, grew up in Aurangabad, did all of his college schooling in Delhi, then traveled to Egypt for part of his PhD work, Hawaii for the year he was with us, a cross-Europe trip after the semester wrapped up, Korea, and all over India. I can’t imagine how it would feel to randomly enter those many lives and want to keep all of those people with me while continuing to move around from place to place. It’s a great feeling to expand one’s world so much, I’m sure, but for me personally, I get attached to people quickly. I’m not too sure what my point is in this post, really…perhaps that I simply realize that these are lives and people, not just characters in a diary, a blog, or photos on my iPhone.