Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Oh the places I've been...

Well, Since I've been back on the Fulbright, I've done a bit of travelling, and I thought I would share some pictures of my trips here. First I went to Varkala beach in Kerala with some friends. They are leaving India, and it was a great way to say goodbye.

The beach at Varkala

Jill and her new friend Jonny from Wales

Sandy looking very serene

I was also feeling very chill.

Then I went to the Fulbright Conference in Aurangabad, and with my fellow conference attendees went to the Ajanta caves. The caves are amazing. I had been before, but it was still astoundingly beautiful. It was also nice to see that they're doing a good job maintaining and improving the caves, and continuing the conservation work on the frescoes. Of course they wouldn't allow flash photography, so my pictures came out mostly blurry and dark. But here are a few of the neat ones.

Buddha sculpture with an eerie green glow.

Buddha with a double shadow

Me outside the caves at Ajanta.

I look really tan. :)

As always, you can see more of my pictures at: Flickr

Sunday, March 25, 2007

F***ing Patriarchy

As I have mentioned in the past, India has a thing for bureaucracy. And I'm not a fan. I'm even less of a fan of bureaucracy when it intersects with patriarchy.

Yesterday I went to the BSNL (Bharat Sancham Nigam Limited) state run telephone company office to sign up for a home land line. The main purpose of this land line is so that I can get broadband/DSL at home. However I can't even fill out an application for broadband until I have a phone line connected. So I went in the afternoon and picked up the forms. When I got home to fill them out I was dismayed to find that the second line, below my own name is the name of my father/husband. I contemplated leaving it blank, but I realized that when I turned the form in they would make me fill it in. So I wrote my father's name. It's pointless, right? What reason or purpose could this have? It seems like such a symptom of the patriarchal logic that doesn't consider me a whole person without reference to a male figure like a father or husband.

The third sheet form of the three stapled together was a form to indicated a beneficiary in case of death, who would receive my telephone line or the rights to my 500 rupee deposit. I left this entire form blank, since I assumed it was not, as the Indians say, compulsory. But apparently it is, and when I went to submit my application they made me fill this form out too. I protested saying I don't have anyone who I want to get my telephone line, or 500 rupees, and I don't plan on dying. But they insisted by saying, "Just put your father's name and address."

Of course for pragmatic purposes I did it. But it has been bothering me ever since. I know it forms yet another instance of cultural difference that I should learn to accept. But I have been having a hard time accepting these instances of cultural dissonance. I wish relativism could do it for me, but that doesn't seem to work either.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Ah, the Travel Woes

When travelling, or perhaps when doing anything in life, the things that go wrong always make the best stories to tell. No one is interested in hearing about an uneventful trip. Having been on the road a lot recently, I have surprisingly few stories to tell. Most of it was uneventful.

I started out in Lahore early one morning, and left by car to go to the border crossing with India. It took only just over an hour to get there. It took another hour to cross the border back into India. Passports were stamped, questions were asked. I got across without problem. I got to Amritsar by bus, and decided to waste my afternoon before catching the train going to a Hindi film, Guru. I got the train, and arrived in Delhi at the youth hostel at around midnight. On the flight to Chennai, seated in the row with me, was a family of four who had never flown before. They were all amazed. I and the other guy in our row had to repeatedly tell them to stay seated and keep their seat belt on while the plane was taking off. The other guy in the row, an Indian who is doing his Ph.D. in the US, started out a total stranger and ended up a friend. He does his research on space and architecture in Urban Planning in Old Delhi.

The most eventful part of my recent travels was when I arrived at the airport in Chennai at around 5pm for an 8pm flight to Delhi, that was intended to get me there in time to catch my international flight to Amsterdam and then Detroit. When I arrived in Chennai, I checked outside at the Jet Airways desk, regarding the status of the flight. When I heard the words, "Just one minute, madam" my heart sank. She came back to inform me that flight had been cancelled. In fact it was cancelled two days previous. "Didn't anyone contact you?", She asked. No. No one contacted me. "We had re-booked you on a flight earlier today." But no one TOLD ME that! Ok, so what do I do now? I wondered.

I have to say Jet Airways, at least the staff at Chennai airport was very helpful. They offered to put me on another airlines flight, leaving at approximately the same time the Jet Airways flight was supposed to. They got me set up, checked in, etc. I sat down to wait. I watched with a sense of total despair as the Indian Airlines flight they had checked me into was delayed by an hour, and then two hours. I certainly wouldn't make my connection in Delhi. I felt helpless for about five minutes, and then realized there were other flights listed on the board to Delhi, on other airlines. I ran back to the Jet Airways desk, and looking desperate and out of breath explained that the flight they had put me on was now delayed and I would miss my flight. I asked if they would switch me again. They agreed. But we had to run. The next flight, with the new airline, Tata's IndiGo was about to depart. We had to get my baggage, already checked in for the Indian Airlines flight, off of a baggage truck in a loading dock area. They issued me a new boarding pass, and I ran, through security, and boarded the plane.

When we took off, and the stewardess announced that the flying time to Hyderabad was an hour and twenty minutes, I began to freak out again. First, I thought I was on the wrong flight, but then considered the more likely possibility that it wasn't a direct flight. I wondered how long we would sit in Hyderabad, and whether we would reach Delhi in time. When I got off the plane in Delhi I had 45 minutes until the departure of my international flight. I had to get my luggage, get to the international terminal 10 minutes away. I ran. I grabbed my bags, got a cab, everything with a sense of utter urgency. I must go NOW. When I got to the Delhi International Airport, they had closed the check in for the flight. It was not due to depart for another 25 minutes, but they had closed the check in desk. I had to beg the guy who was standing at the counter to let me check in for the flight. I jumped the line at customs and again at security, half-asking permission, yelling "My flight is leaving, is it okay if I just...?" and running to the front of the line.

Once I got through I realized a large portion of people in the lines were also on the same flight. But I was so relieved to be making the flight after such a long and torturous day that I can't say I cared that much.

Further, through all of this I had been carrying a painting. An original oil painting by a contemporary artist, purchased for about $100 in Mahabalipuram. It was in a PVC pipe, nicely wrapped. It made it to the US safely, through all of the running around. It was only after all that, on a flight with Jet Blue between Chicago and Jacksonville, when I checked the painting (as I had been all along), that it got lost. I watched the baggage claim go 'round and 'round in Jacksonville waiting for that PVC pipe to emerge. It never came. I went to the Jet Blue baggage office, and made a claim. I had to describe the missing item. I was told it would almost certainly be on the flight the following day. It never appeared. When I tried to contact the airline to see what they would do to settle the issue, I was told they have no liability for that rare items, antiques, etc, unique or irreplaceable items. They won't do anything. They'll keep looking. And I get nothing. Grrr....

My return flight to India was relatively uneventful. I ate my last hurrah of good sushi for a long time in the San Francisco airport. I bought raspberry vodka and tequila in the duty free in Frankfurt, and arrived, very jet lagged in Chennai.

Maybe they should make a new airline with that as the name... You know, Jet Airways, Jet Blue, Jet Lagged...

P.S. I actually have a photo of the board showing my cancelled flight, and the delayed flight to Delhi, but I can't upload it from this internet cafe. I burned a DVD backup of all my photos, and they don't have a DVD drive. I'll post it ASAP. Also, I'm sorry I haven't been posting frequently on the blog. I got an anonymous comment telling me I should post more often. I have two things to say about that. First is I have been running all over the globe. Since December I have been in the following cities: Madurai, Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram, Cochin, Delhi, Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Lahore, Harappa, (then back through Delhi, Chennai) to Amsteram (ok, fine it was just the airport), Detroit, Chicago, Madison, (New York - airport), Jacksonville, Los Angeles, (San Francisco - airport, again), (Frankfurt - also airport), back to Chennai and then Thanjavur, again Madurai, and I'm leaving tonight for Varkala (in Kerala). I haven't had a lot of time to sit down and write a post. Second, I'm not inclined to post anonymous comments that are not particularly interesting. And especially if they're negative. I guess that's censorship. And I do feel somewhat bad about it. I don't know who you are, Anonymous, but next time, it would be nice if you gave a name.