Of Jews and News

Surprising: people, certainly the Indians I’ve met, seem genuinely interested in my project. (good sign). Every time I mention it when asked, their eyes light up, and they relate some information, such as ‘I know people at this newspaper,’ or that they really love newspapers. Someone even mentioned an arcane detail about printing presses in Chennai circa 1700.

Perhaps this is one of my insecurities about my project, which I fell into by inertia. Why would anyone really care about newspapers from two centuries ago? It’s one of the aspects that I had the most difficulty justifying in my proposal, too. 

While my project is something I find personal interest in. I don’t want to spend my whole life working on historical newspapers. Frankly, sometimes I just don’t care about the issues two hundred years ago. It’s hard to find real fascinating stories, stories that will keep you for a career, general statements about how history teaches us about the present aside. My project is not one that is going to have an impact in bettering the world in some small way. It might earn me prestige via the Fulbright name. It certainly won’t earn me much money. Does that bother me? 

Possibly, but not in the ways you might think. I want to do more and have a more global impact, not be cloistered up in the ivory tower of historical abstraction and irrelevance.  

But, I think that unless you are in a select few highly influential positions (governmental agencies, business leaders etc) you have to narrow your focus to accomplish goals that contribute to humanity. I could be researching food distribution to the needy, ways to alleviate poverty, but I can’t feel bad that I am not using my privilege in such ways. I am, however, pursuing my interests in other ways that are more genuine (I hope) to my personality. That must count for something. Does that make sense? I fully developed my thoughts on the matter, and probably never will, you let me know if you have thoughts.

I went running around New Delhi. And god! it is nice! I forgot how much new delhi is not like the rest of the country. With it’s wide avenues, greenery and, drumroll please, clean sidewalks! Running was actually nice. no one harassed me, and there were no diesel fumes or any pollution! Of course, I have the privileged as a man to do this without harassment.

That aside, the Oberoi continues to impress with fanatical attention to detail and service. The cleaner seemed genuinely upset to not being able to vacuum my room since I was in it, implying, it seemed, that he was afraid I would be offended that he had not finished all of his cleaning by the time I arrived (at midday).

The was some large European dude who was clearly upset about something in the lobby and kept yelling at the staff and making a real scene. I couldn’t figure out what was happening other than, I figure, sometimes you just can’t please people who are so rich. 

Our third day in Kolkata, AB and I will be having someone “facilitate” for us, and help us find housing—obviously after we look at M’s place. It’s good to have options, especially considering Sheela and my possible commutes.

Like study abroad, people want to sit with each other, or keep cloistered up, (I am guilty of this, too.) when we really should be ambassadors. The head of the commission’s motto for our experience is, “Regret Minimization” which I think is a wonderful and important because we will want to have taken this experience to the fullest and will also want to look back this same way. Everyone has the same idea, I’m sure, but some are possibly more nervous than others. 

So, I made it a point to sit with three Fulbright administrators at dinner. They are at local offices: One in Mumbai, one in Chennai, and in Kolkata. They were genuinely interested in learning about Fulbrighters’ experiences in Sri Lanka and how that commission handled some of the harassment issues Fulbrighters faced (especially the horror stories with “VIP”/Immune Sri Lankan men, and the maliciously corrupt police force there)

Then we had a conversation very similar to what I wrote about in my blog yesterday. About Jews in different communities in India and the world, the loss felt by the their dispersion, me personally (at what point will my children’s children stop being jewish, for instance) and globally, the loss of Jewish communities around the world. This came up because one of the administrators mention that a Fulbrighter’s family is affiliated with one of the Kolkatan synagogue(s?).