One of my big accomplishments this month was jumping on a moving train. I arrived two minutes late for my train back from Jaipur to Sawai Madhopur. I scrambled up the stairs, down the stairs, onto the platform (nearly losing a chappal in the process) and heaved myself onto the departing train.
(For those of you—family members—who are reading this and mentally preparing a stern email or phone call, please don’t worry, the train wasn’t moving very fast. For the rest of you, I’d like you to imagine this scene ala the final scene of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge when Kajol runs towards the train. Just subtract Shahrukh Khan out of the picture.)
I’ve been struggling to write because I’m not sure how to explain my experiences–to myself, much less to someone else. When I think of words to describe the what I see and the people I meet, those words seem limited.
I’m in the process of my project that we (my mentor and I) are calling the mapping period. During this process, I’m doing basic overview research of eight broad subjects: Songs, Stories, Dance, Medicine, Festivals, Forts, Language, and Art. In the last month I’ve attended melas (festivals), weddings, explored forts, visited temples, documented local art. I’m happiest when I’m sitting with the families of the students at our schools, drinking chai, talking about local history, discussing family. Sitting on the rooftop by the chulha (stove) during a night I spent with some of our students’ family, I looked up and saw more stars in the sky than I’ve seen since I was a little kid. “So many stars in the sky,” I commented. “As many as there are hairs on your head,” someone replied promptly.
I spent a lot time chatting with Parmila, the eldest daughter of the family that I was staying with. Parmila is eighteen and whipsmart. During dinner she chatted animatedly with the teachers who were eating with us, constantly questioning and responding to the conversation. She’s a graduate of one of our organization’s schools and currently studying political science at the local college—and she plans to join the army. That night we discuss politics, gender roles, religion. “What laws would you make,” she asks me, “if you were president?”
In any case, I think this is where I’ll leave you. Next month I’ll be starting to build more structure to the project and have selected specific areas of study and geographic areas that I’ll be focusing on—and will be able to fill you in more on that then. In the meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a few pictures of what I’ve been seeing during my research.