Now that orientation is over and all the fellows have had the opportunity to get to hear about each fellow’s host organization and placement from the fellow him/herself, I can safely say that mine is a unique placement compared to everyone else’s. I’m the only fellow paired up with a university. My work primarily entails fieldwork related to oral history collection, particularly that which relates, among other things, to India and Pakistan’s partition in 1947 and 18th century Sikh martyrdom. Each person at orientation expressed his/her desire to someday have the opportunity to get to do the kind of work I will be doing (the feeling is mutual, my fellow Fellows!). This also means added nervousness for me. But for innumerable reasons, I’m fortunate to be here in Amritsar.
At Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU) here, I’m working at the Center for Studies on Sri Guru Granth Sahib, which is a research center in its nascency. For those who may not be familiar with it, Sri Guru Granth Sahib is the holy scripture of those who subscribe to Sikhism, a North Indian monistic religion whose inception dates back to the 15th century. Thus, relative to the major religions of the world Sikhism is fairly young. The director of the center, Dr. Balwant Singh Dhillon, invited me to his office on Monday of last week for what I thought would be a debriefing of my project. But instead, it was so much more than that. He went out of his way to introduce me to all the professors in the center. We all had tea together. It was after making me a little more comfortable with everyone in the center that he got into details about my project. He then introduced me to my project fellows, one of whom, Sukhpal, even belongs to the area where my paternal grandparents are from. The other, Harjit, then showed me around the university library and took me to lunch at one of the campus restaurants. As if this wasn’t enough, the next day, I was formally introduced to each person at the center, even the clerical and housekeeping staff, at a kind of small get-together which was originally being held for a visiting professor whose tenure at the center was ending. Which makes me wonder if I am now also the only fellow who received such a celebratory welcome at her host organization, complete with a group discussion over the geo-political and cultural framework of Indian and Pakistani Punjab over several helpings of paneer pakoras, cake and chai? Ah, the perks of working in academic research settings. Okay, enough with the envymongering for now.
From the day I received my acceptance to the AIF Fellowship, one of the most exciting aspects of my work for me has been the idea of visiting the villages along the Pakistani border. My mentor, Dr. Dhillon, recommended that I visit them within the first few days of being here. Unfortunately, no type of food in Amritsar has been good to me so far. So having been battling sickness ever since I got to Amritsar, I have not had the chance to visit those villages yet. I’m hoping to be able to go next week. Have my fingers crossed!
Apart from the sickness, I have tons more stories to tell, but they I shall relay them bit by bit. On my very first day here, I ran into a childhood friend who’s now a grad student at GNDU. Meeting him completely unexpectedly here was such a wonderful feeling. But then it’s a whole another thing that GNDU’s resident stray dogs decided to attack me also on my very first day here. Perhaps, I can’t really blame them; I was an outsider, after all.
I’ve been here for over a week now. Outsider no more. Let’s get to work! Will be back soon with the rest of the stories 🙂