Friday, January 22, 2016

One month in India

When I got to India a month ago, I wasn't sure what to expect. I mean, I knew I'd be taking certain classes, I knew I'd be spending time with my family, and I knew to expect hot weather and sunburn. But beyond these small details, I had very little idea about what my time here would bring. For the most part, this was intentional. I wanted this trip to be what it would, rather than forcing it to become some idea of what studying abroad in India should be like. And beyond that, I really didn't know much. I hadn't seen photos of my room here, I hadn't even Googled the city or the campus, and I hadn't spoken to any of the students in my program.

And a month in, I'm so happy to be here. I've learned so much in a way that is extremely frustrating for a writer; so much has happened and I can't find the words to begin explaining or sharing, whether it be here on my blog or with my friends.

I mean, sure, I've Skyped with some friends and shown them the shopping I've done. I've been updating them on the people I've met and the places I've explored. But it's hard digging into the nitty gritty of how much being here has taught me.

Last night, a few friends and I went out in the city. We sat in a cabana and our conversation managed to become a bit heavier than what is the traditional, typical banter of an evening out. And at one point, we got to talking about the way we view things, the way we make sense of what happens to us, the way we try to understand our lives. 

One friend spoke about how rational she is, how easy it is for her to distance herself from an event to then process it logically. And although I've only known her a few weeks, I saw it. I knew her well enough to see that this was really how she looked at the world. And even still, I was stunned. I am so deeply emotional and tend to look at things based on how they make me feel or how they could impact me emotionally and mentally. Of course, when it comes to my career or my academics, rational thought works best. But when it comes to something that is heavy, I don't often detach myself from what matters to me. I can't, nor do I know if I would want to. And even though I value and admire her outlook, I know that it simply isn't mine.

In that sense, talking about India is hard. Thinking about India is hard. Writing about India is hard. Being here means so much to me and I am reminded every day of how glad I am to have made the decision to come here. But trying to explain it isn't simple.

For one, I love it here. I love the small things, like drinking coconut water, taking auto-rickshaws, riding my bike around campus, hanging out with my friends, and living with my awesome aunt and uncle.

And I love how much I'm learning here. I love that I get to constantly think about my dual identity, that I'm focusing more and more on this country's history. I love that India is helping me shape my values and that things here aren't always easy, because that is how you learn sometimes.

Last Sunday evening, a PhD student at my university here committed suicide. And the circumstances surrounding this death, along with the aftermath on personal, communal, and national levels, are so complex and deep in ways I am still scrambling to understand. It's impossible to talk about this with people who aren't here so when it comes to friends and family back in the US, I haven't. And here in India, my friends and I have been trying to understand the issues amongst ourselves, which has been hard. For one, it's the emotional depth of this situation. I couldn't help but think about the people I've lost to depression and suicide and the people I am afraid to lose. And beyond that, I didn't understand the political, social, and historical intricacies that go into a situation like this. Nearly a week later, after dozens of conversations and articles and phone calls, I'm still trying to process and think and learn and understand.

So for a while, I've refrained from writing about this. This death is not about me, and so I felt as though posting about it here would be disrespectful, especially with my lack of understanding. 

But classes have been cancelled all week and there have been protests on campus and I am learning so much that it feels weird to not write about it, as though by not posting I'd be censoring it out of my experience here.

Of course, there's no way I or maybe anyone else could have expected this. But it is important that we meet the unexpected by striving to learn and understand to the best of our abilities. American media hasn't picked up on this, but as one aunt pointed out to me, there's no surprise there. But wherever in the world you are reading this from, I urge you all to read into what's been going on. And if you can't find the sources of information you're looking for, please reach out to me and I'll try to help in the best ways I can.

At times like these, when things are hard or confusing or scary, I turn to Vonnegut. So I'm going to end this post with a few quotes. And as always, thank you for reading.

A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.

"Maturity, the way I understand it," he told me, "is knowing what your limitations are."

He wasn't far from Bokonon in defining maturity. "Maturity," Bokonon tells us, "is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything."

"What is sacred to a Bokononist?" I asked after a while.

"Not even God, as near as I can tell."
"Just one thing."
I made some guesses. "The ocean? The sun?"
"Man," said Frank. "That's all. Just man."

Many people need desperately to receive this message: 'I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.

And so it goes.
~ V


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  2. I hear you, Virali. It's a very complex series of events to unpack, even for those who live in India. Dealing with death is never easy. You make some pertinent points about suicide. To add to all this, India views suicide quite differently than the United States, in terms of the help available, laws, prevention, etc. However, the pain of its aftermath is no different.
    I'm very impressed at how much you're invested in understanding what's going on around you. Just persevere. I'm so proud of you. Big hugs.

  3. Its sad and depressing...even thou we have made progress in terms of science, failed miserably at humanity.... what difference does it really make of color, caste, religion etc...if 1 is not a human being?