Every morning since my arrival, a gentleman has brought me a tray with tea here at the Guest House. Krishna is usually the man who performs this kind service. Shortly after 7 am and a gentle knock at my door, I know that tea has arrived.
With the last ten days having been so full, this morning ritual has been such a peaceful way to start the day. A cup of hot tea with steaming milk lessens the stress over proper protocol, the constant reminders of the inequality of women and servants, the breath-taking and sad environmental issues, the (to me) unusual sights, and even the pace.
We have been so busy since my arrival. Fulbright and IU McKinney will be proud. I have taught 8 sexual harassment classes, twice given “Chief Guest” presentations at conferences, started and finished the Comment from the first conference for publication, and met numerous wonderful and dedicated teachers and students. Dr. Shveta has ordered me to take Monday and Tuesday off from teaching classes, even though the 1st, 2nd, and 5th year students are anxious that they have not had a class with “Dr. Jennifer.”
Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed by the cultural differences. The Fulbright literature cautions scholars to prepare for the adjustment. There’s no way to prepare adequately. Just driving into Patiala is an experience. Herds of cows in the road. Donkey carts next to bicycles next to freight trucks. Motorcycles zooming past. Speeding cars and vans, coming towards us–head on–horns blaring, dust flying. As I draft this blog post (in the dining hall because there is no wi-fi on my room’s side of the Guest House), the electricity has gone out at least 5 times, requiring me to re-authenticate to the server and to reconstruct what I have just written.
At the recent Global Human Rights Conference (more on that soon), Dr. Shveta arranged for students in the photography club to post their pictures with captions to illustrate human rights issues. Some of the excellent photographs were taken here on campus or nearby. The scenes within steps of the academic “ivory tower” are something that I think my students cannot even imagine.
By all reports, the workers here make the environment unsafe for women and girls but I have seen no evidence that these same workers are anything but curious (and inured to the dangers of their workplace).
Sometimes, these differences make my stay even more meaningful. For example, much of the faculty block building is still under construction. Rumor has it that teacher’s offices are finished but these have not been assigned to many of the faculty members. Thus, five women (Shveta, Geetika, Gurman, Jasleen, and I) share an office.
We are all constantly meeting with students, talking on the shared phone or cell phones, and trying to prepare for class or complete manuscripts. It’s utter chaos and these women (understandably) have a difficult time concentrating. It’s impossible to have a private conversation. However, my office-mates and I have bonded in a lovely way. I never would have gotten to know these terrifically dedicated women had we not been sharing “our” office.
The school day ends around 5 pm or so (Saturdays are typically half-days unless there is a conference or special event– Yes, they work on Saturday) and I head back to the Guest House. Krishna or Sunder (the head cook) find me in my room or in the lounge (where I can also access the wi-fi) and again bring me tea. It’s a refresher before more work and the evening meal at 8 or 9 pm. My thanks to the gentlemen staff here at the Guest House. You have kept me comfortable and very well fed (more on that soon) in my new world. I am most grateful.