It goes without saying that all AIF Fellows, Americans and Indians alike, will undergo cultural exchange during the fellowship. Our placements across this vast and diverse country ensure us the opportunity to live amongst and serve communities of people who come from a cultural frame of reference in many ways different from our own; cultures shaped by an overlapping of various environmental, religious, ethnic, socioeconomic, political and other forces. This interaction and, at times, confrontation with other cultures allows us to grow and know ourselves better as we increase our awareness of our own cultural beliefs and, ideally, become better able to understand, accept, adapt to, and negotiate the attitudes and behaviors of others.
Few Fellows, however, are lucky enough to be placed with an Indian Fellow (or with an American Fellow in the case of my Indian colleagues) and so experience cultural exchange twicefold. In addition to learning about the Nepali, Tibetan, Bhutanese, Bengali, and Malwadi (amongst other) influences that compose the Darjeeling sociocultural landscape, I have concurrently come to be immersed in North Indian and Garwali culture through my daily life with Arunima, my co-Fellow, co-worker, and flatmate.
It is due to Arunima that my rotis look less like Australia and more like a circle you would want to eat. Language-wise it seems that I have picked up almost as much spoken Hindi as Nepali. And although Diwali it not celebrated very elaborately here in Darjeeling, I have learned about its significance and grandeur in North India through Arunima’s stories and excitement during this most recent festival.
Together we lit diyas to light Laxmi’s way to our home. In doing so we also inadvertently invited a string of caroling girls and boys. It’s oddly comforting to know that India can surprise Arunima just as much as it surprises me–or so it appeared given Arunima’s expression when the first pair of teenaged boys knocked on our door. Apparently it is a Nepali tradition during Diwali for groups of young people to approach any house with Diwali lights and sing songs in exchange for money and sweets. This is how we exhausted our supply of laddu and soan papdi.
I am a moody American in my most stereotypical moments and so thank Arunima for putting up with me at these time. I only hope that she values the cultural exchange as much as I do. I did, after all, get her hooked on The Wire.