A Letter I Wrote to My Grandparents Last Week

I am currently sitting in a cafe adjacent to a mosque in central Colombo, Sri lanka. The cafe is run by a Korean man and his English wife. Colombo is a majority Buddhist city with a sizeable Hindu/Tamil minority. It has a decent number of East-Asian expats and more bad Chinese restaurants than I care to count. Thought I’d share that strange note on globalization.

I recently have been accepted as a Fulbright researcher to work on the Early Press in India and the Bengal Renaissance. This is a very prestigious fellowship. My grant will start in August. I am also waiting for an additional research grant, called a Critical Language Enhancement Award (the US State Department thinks of the oddest names) to study Bangla, which would extend my time in Kolkata, India to about 15 months.

I’m thrilled to start. I specifically intend to conduct research into trials surrounding James Augustus Hicky, founder and editor of the short lived Bengal Gazette, 1780-1782, the first newspaper in Asia. He was brought to court multiple times on charges of libel (some by the then Governor-General Warren Hastings). Along with being a colorful character, he was also known for accusing the Governor General of having stolen the wife of another man (a Russian count) and of nepotism, of accusing the chief justice of India of judicial murder and corruption, and of accusing the head of the protestant mission of stealing money from the orphan’s children fund.

Most of these accusations were actually true, but no matter the truth of certain charges, it’s a bit hard to plead your case when you’ve attacked the troika of most powerful men in India.

In recent weeks, I have done a bit of traveling around Sri Lanka. Last weekend Sheela, a few friends and I traveled to the small village of Mediwachiya in north central Sri Lanka, where one of the Fulbright researchers is working on a type of kidney disease prevalent in the region. We also went to Mullaitivu, where the Sri Lankan civil war ended. It’s a harrowing and surreal place, made more surreal and unnerving by the fact that busloads of grinning Singhalese (the ethnic group that won the civil war) travel to see where the war ended as a holiday. I oon intend to co-publish a post in a Sri Lankan news outlet about my time in Mullaitivu, anonymously of course, since journalism is quite dangerous here.

Sheela has become increasingly disillusioned with her project. Sri Lankan cinema, simply put, is awful. Low production values, relatively depressing plots, all with a surprising amount of sexual violence thrown in does not make for fun research. Consider that the country has recently overcome a thirty year civil war, which combined with strong tones of sexual repression, has badly damaged the Sri Lankan psyche. (Though, see if you can watch the movie, Machan. It’s about the Sri Lankajn handball team, who after playing a tournament in Germany, disappear. Not only is it a true story—the entire Sri Lankan handball team managed to escape as undocumented immigrants in Europe—but some of the crew of the movie did the same thing, escaping into Europe.)

Life goes well, and I am wrapping up my last month in Sri Lanka. Work at the white water rafting cum adventure sports company, Borderlands Sri Lanka, is increasingly frustrating. I have been working here since November. Currently I am working on developing a new website for the company. But since I am paid Sri Lankan wages (I don’t even want to tell you how low that is), and have received no incentives from Borderlands’s detached and incompetent management to do better work, I feel little compunction to care about the company, which has given me a mercenary attitude. While work is rewarding, I am increasingly excited to leave and move on to something closer to my ideal career path. I don’t know if that means academia (History per se) or otherwise, but it certainly is not doing sales and marketing for an adventure sports company. I’d prefer some career path that is intellectually stimulating. Barring that, I’d like something that pays well. Borderlands is neither.

I leave for Washington D.C. In June to attend the Fulbright Pre-Departure Conference and will be traveling back up to Connecticut thereafter, before I leave to India in August. I hope to visit you this summer, perhaps in July.