It’s a War Zone Out There!

Right now, It’s Diwali / Kali Puja. That means tons of fireworks, অনেক বাজি! Also means tons of pollution that I’m sure could challenge much of the worst cities in China. But hey, that’s another story.

The joy of today was taking a mini adventure to the village of Barasat, a couple hours north of where I live in Calcutta with Jess, Jayanthi and Aakash.

The last couple days have been a whirlwhind of craziness. Lights, sounds, smells, though not to the extent of Durga Puja, when the city does in fact shut down to party, and I mean shut down. Newspapers are not printed for four days during Durga here, and that means a lot!

Last night, seeing that I was unable to find a reasonable means of transport home after going Kali Pandal hopping, I decided to stay at Jayanthi&Aakash’s place in Ballygunge. In the morning, Jess came over and proposed that we all go to Barasat for some pandal hopping. After some convincing, I said sure yes—promises of Jayanthi’s famed granola bars also were convincing—and off we went on the train ride!

I hope the photos on facebook do the dusty town of Barasat justice. But there’s nothing evidently remarkable about it other than one pandal site which was the oddest fusion of romantic-classical cardboard architecture with images of the virgin mary and Jesus Christ next to that of Kali (pre-chopping her own head off and having her acquaintances drink her blood—as we saw in one pandal.)

I had a crap experience as I was going home today from the train station in Ballygunge. Two teenagers came up to me and asked where I was from. I gave them my “I’m from South Africa” response, and they started to say how much they liked my culture, my people and my music.
I’m like that’s total bullshit. You don’t know anything about South Africa, kid. It wouldn’t matter what country I said I was from, they’d say the same things. They started to walk on both sides of me and I smelled something fishy, so I grabbed one of the kids by the shoulders and threw him out of the way, and got into an auto. Going to the gym pays off!
Yesterday was intriguing as well, as we went, among other places, to a pandal at a crematorium. There’s nothing quite like anthropomorphizing goats an hour before they’re sent for ritual sacrifice—at all places—a human crematorium!
Tata for new. Oh, check out this band: I think they’re my new favorite—via Jess.

Not the most coherent post

It’s been awhile since I last wrote. The evaporation of time has been encroaching on my work time. India, perhaps you have made me too exhausted at the end of every day to write.

In the meantime, our house has turned into a proto hostel, hosting people from around the world. Mike’s couchsurfing profile has become quite active. We’ve had people from Israel, the US of course, and now China. It’s pretty cool! That’s one of the beauties of our apartment in Calcutta—we can comfortably (I hope) host people.

But the constant flow of people here has also made it difficult to concentrate on work or Bangla. Well, whatever.

Over the weekend, I went with the Germans, my housemates and T, to the beach at Mandarmani where we stayed at a resort near the beach that apparently many Bengali films are shot. Finally, we also explored Diga, where hundreds upon hundreds of fishing boats depart every day, forming an endless chain of red as rust boats that dwindle into the horizon.

Right now, my housemates and a couple of friends are on our 12th floor balcony, launching fireworks and sparklers. I’m sure it violates multiple fire codes, not to mention Hiland Park’s regulations. But hell, it’s fun! It’s amazing the cool things you can do with fireworks and long exposures! It’s not even diwali yet.

In other news, I’m also getting into Of Monsters and Men—what a lovely band! And their Icelandic accents, whew!

Sheela comes next week, I’m excited! She’s on the plane right now to Hyderabad to visit family first.

Durga Puja

Durga Puja was this past weekend. With the metro open until 4pm, there were back to back all night parties, which I, being the old man I feel like, did not often have the energy to attend.

The photos above are at different puja sites. You can see how trippy the puja sites can be. The wheels in the third photo were constantly spinning, and a loudspeaker was playing soothing music, making the whole scene surreal.

The final photo is an image of Ganesh made entirely out of different types of gram (dal) and glue. The complexity and creativity of designs of puja sights is incredibly given the inexpensive materials they are made from—cardboard, gram, besan, bamboo, twine. One puja site had five or six series of ping balls attached to bent metal poles on motors. They were synchronized to provide a constant background noise. It was incredible to listen to!

Everything in durga puja is temporary and will be taken down at the end of the festival. The pandals, which are constructed out of bamboo, will be desconstructed, the twine holding the bamboo together removed, and the idols of Durga dumped in the river. As everything comes from the Ganges (Hooghly) everything will return to the Hooghly, and the process will continue, year after year.

Idol submerging is tomorrow night!

Bicycle in Sewage

The bamboo structure the bike repairman dude was working on collapsed and we all plummeted into the waist deep sewage below. There were five of us on the structure—appears that was enough weight to make it collapse.

He sent his poor kid to fish out the bike parts from the water.

So, my night of going to get my bike tires patched ended smellier than I had anticipated. Rs. 80 is a good deal, I think, for four tire patches, a tire change, and breaking his front yard. 

Couldn’t help but share this experience…

Durga Puja Begins

Today, the festivities for Durga Puja started. All around the city, communities are erecting “pandals,” small houses to worship the gods, especially Durga. Durga is an incarnation of Devi, the female manifestation of the supreme being. If I’m not mistaken, she’s quite a strong willed, you might say ruthless goddess. This is great. How many cities can claim that their most important religious festival of the year centers around a powerful female goddess!?

At the festivities today, which involved sand painting and a DJ, I finally met a fellow squash player. I’m stoked to play him. Couldn’t be happier. I was struck by how much life at Hiland park resembles that of a suburban US town, and how Durga Puja so far seems to be a form of a block party, where family get together and meet. I’ve also been surprised so far by how accessible and down to earth people are. Most people are willing to give me time n Calcutta and exchange plesantries.

Durga puja is also like an odd variation of Christmas. The giving is such that you tip staff and workers. By giving them a bonus, you spread the good cheer.

The next week will certainly be an interesting one. I’m told the city will be awash with festivities, which will span a week. Given my previous knowledge of India. This means noise, crowds, colors, traffic, and revelry 24/7. On a scale beyond anything from home. It’s uniquely Indian. Uniquely Calcutta.

Last night was an interesting one. My housemates and I went to the consulate to visit a friend. The consulate residence is swank, and it’s nice to see a little bit of America—or America in the type of quality of life that I’ve dreamed of, but would need either the patronage or income to afford.

After some meats, cheeses, fine beers (stouts!) and some imported licquers we took a car to Jadavpur University of watch a concert that our friend S, a fantastic guitarist, was playing in. We went from the privileged life of the consulate to wading through mud and muck in a wet outdoor concert with more than its fair share of bromance—hordes of men dancing with each other, etc. It’s fun, but there’s only so much I can take.

As an aside, right now I am listening to Alexi Murdoch, and I have to say, that he is an excellent musician to fit my mood. Thank you to Sean for introducing me to him while we were in Sri Lanka. I miss that time a lot.

Calcutta has an amazing variety of live music and cultural events which makes it a truly awesome city for the arts. Just in the past two weeks, I’ve gone to see a play (in hindi/english/bangla/french and spanish) starting Kalki Koechlin, a fantastic modern dance performance, both at Tollygunge club as it celebrated Tagore. I’ve also seen a live table concert running from 10am one day to 6am the next. Non stop drumming. As well as the concert I mentioned earlier.

Why Should the Senate get paid, when Federal workers do not?

This article was featured in Kolkata’s leading Bengali Language paper, Ei Samay (এই সময়). It discusses the US Government Shutdown in 2013. You can read the story behind the article on my blog. Much thanks to Tanmoy at Ei Samay for translating the article.

Here’s the original content in English:
Why does the Senate get paid, when Federal workers do not?

The country that prides itself as the “leader of the free world” is closed for business.

Extremists in Congress would rather see the U.S. burn than a budget pass with the supposedly wicked and socialist “Obamacare” intact. Since 2011 Obama and Republicans have fought a series of skirmishes over the federal government’s ability to finance it’s debt. For the first time in history the US’s credit rating has dropped below AAA because of this recurring instability.

Americans I know in Calcutta agree: the U.S. government shutdown is silly, frustrating, and a sign that the Congress is infuriatingly dysfunctional. It is sad that partisan differences can effectively hold the federal government hostage.

Despite the shutdown, Members of Congress are paid their salaries (while 800,000 federal workers are furloughed). Members of Congress should not be paid until they resolve this crisis. Surely they would compromise if they felt the pain of their own actions.

Moreover, it is unfair that one party can win more votes but have fewer seats in Congress, helping causing this mess. (Republicans won 1.8 million fewer votes in 2012 but have 50 more seats in the House.) The U.S. should proportion congressional districts using a dispassionate computer software, rather than the current state-by-state system where political parties gerrymander districts to their own advantage. Fairer congressional districts will alleviate extremism in Congress by making seats more competitive.

Let’s hope the shutdown will not cause economic reverberations here in India and worldwide. Congress needs to meet the expectations assigned to it.

Bangla Class

Photos of AIIS in Ballygunge and the train station at Baghajatin that leads to the school

I’ll have to give an update on my life, which I have repeatedly put off the for the past week.

Recently people have asked me what exactly am I doing in Calcutta. Not in sense of my grant, which is to ostensibly focus on early newspaper history in the city, but what I am actually doing on a day to day basis.

To this, I reply, I am taking Bangla classes intensively at the American Institute of Indian Studies in Calcutta, in Ballygunge. That is, from 9-2 every day, Monday to Friday, I go to class. It’s a humid, sweaty, diesel fume-choked 45 minute bus and auto ride after which I arrive fairly exhausted. 

I’ve been going since September 1st and will be taking classes in this fashion until around January. After these first four months, I will begin the official part of my research on the newspapers. For the first few weeks I arrived, I was “settling in,” meaning dealing with bureaucracy, meeting my contacts, affiliates and surveying site locations. Since catalogues are not generally posted online in India, I travel to each institution and ask around to understand their resources. 

I’ve been to, or intend to go to, the below:

Classes consist of a mix of reading ,writing, speaking and listening. Basically everything, as well as field trips. I have one-on-one instruction. I’m incredibly grateful for the personalized attention and the professional setting in which I am taught. After class, I usually try to do the copious amount of Bangla homework, but have a nasty habit of procrastinating. Nonetheless, I hope to be conversational by the end of my CLEA grant.


(Old building at Sobhabazar, Calcutta)
A close friend asked me to “please not go away again next year”
So, I reflect:
I haven’t planned my life to travel as much as I have since I graduated (or even during college). It wasn’t my plan, and I am shocked that pieces of my life have so far come together like a puzzle. I am grateful for my opportunity and privilege. 
I wouldn’t have thought a year ago that my life was going in this positive direction. In the hindsight provided by my grant it was not as unfocused as it then seemed. I remember thinking of my life last year around this time, wondering what the heck I was doing at the British Library perusing old dusty papers that seemingly only I had interest in—and my interest was sporadic. “Why did I care about them,” I asked myself? Or when I was in Korea thinking: what the hell am I doing teaching little kids English (and doing it badly). Why am I here? Or being a waiter, thinking, this wasn’t what I had signed up for after four years of college. Or at NPR thinking: maybe journalism, being a foreign correspondent, which had been my dream job, wasn’t for me. The constant pressure of having to produce content was too much. Not that I could find a job as a journalist anyways. 
At times I felt more aimless than I cared then to admit.
I have worked, since I graduated college, as a waiter, a writer of online content while taking my GRE, briefly as an English teacher in South Korea, as a researcher at the British Library in London, as a temp in a number of jobs, as an Intern at NPR in DC, as a lab rat at NIH, as a bicycle courier, again as a temp and finally for an adventure sports company in Sri Lanka. I’ve worked more different jobs in a two year span than I had ever thought possible in a lifespan, or reasonable. 
Am I doing my friends or family at home in the US a disservice for being gone so often? I’m not sure. Maybe I can’t answer that in any way except to say that friends are made, become close, and sometimes become distant. Wherever I go I try to make new friends. I wish I could talk about them more, but necessarily, a blog is where one speaks about oneself. I wish I could keep up with them all. My life has given me the opportunity to make leave friends many times who I still I miss and care about.
Life is strange. It’s just weird. I haven’t planned it so far, and even if I had, I certainly would not be on the path I am on. It is with a great sense of wonder and bemusement that I look at my own.
So I thank my friend for asking me that question and causing me to reflect. 
On Friday, I turn 24. I look forward to the next two years. Let’s see what they bring.

Ballygunge and Back on Bicycle

We three white guys rode our bicycles to Ballygunge and back. What a sight we were for those 20 km.

Turning on to the desolate EM Bypass, we began to make great pace. I got to test the true speed of my bike, easily going faster than the few cars and autos.

Out on EM Bypass, I saw a woman alone, dressed in heels, a reflective mini skirt and wearing copious makeup. Clearly she was not lost, and as I rode by, I am sure I awkwardly gaped. She said hello but I had no intention to stop.

B. and G. were behind me, and as I they passed her, she said aloud, “Can I fuck me?” B and G started laughing as they rode by, probably spurred on by the awkward humor of the situation.

I found myself bothered by their laughter (although I can’t criticize them for doing so and there much greater injustices). She probably knows limited English, but does that give right for her to be laughed at? She is out on a lonely dark road at night, soliciting business from men she does not know, and has no reason to trust. That takes guts, if not desperation. How does she keep her dignity then, if laughed at?

Alas, as we rode by the hundred pillars of the under-construction metro line along the Bypass, enjoying the blissful night ride, my tire popped as we were pulling into Big Bazaar, just 200 meters from home.

Voices of India

Birla Institue of Art in Kalighat had a fantastic exhibit called “Voice of India” where the Weavers Studio Center for the Arts featured “artists of the early 20th Century from all over India and specially Bengal, their photographs, brief bio-data and listening kiosks/android phones.” The exhibit was fascinating. Having been given an Android Phone, we were set loose among a gallery of 50-60 of the most important cultural-musical figures of the early 20th and late 19th century. At each portrait, we could listen to a short clip of that artists’ singing.

One item that struck me in particular was a poem by Tagore. Here is an extract of Tagore’s poem “প্রশ্ন

I see secret violence under cover of darkness
Slaughtering the helpless,
I see the just weeping in solitary silence,
No power to protest the oppression of the mighty,
I see tender youths hitting out blindly
Cracking their heads against stones in their agony.

Today my voice is choked, my flute is without note,
The prison of the no-moon night
Has extinguished my world, given me nightmares;
And this is why I ask, through my tears:
Those who poison your air and blot out the sun;
Do You truly forgive them, do You truly love them?

The Last Two Lines, I think, are a special jab against Gandhi. How could you love or forgive someone, Tagore asks, who does such terrible things? Is that truly possible? Or does Gandhi live in a fantasy world of impracticable pacifism?

Bangla Class, Draining

Bangla classes at AIIS have been draining. I must admit that four hours of class monday to friday saps my energy. Traveling there and back is a trip: either packed into a suburban rail so tightly that boarding is a process that involves shoving people further into the carriage. On the plus side, I don’t need to hold on to anything as the mass of humanity around me holds me up. Alternately, I can take a bus and then shared auto to class: more civilized, but does take longer.

Class is intense, but also great in that I have one on one tuition, so it is highly individualized. They teach Bangla comprehensively: so I get training in speaking, reading, writing, and listening.

After class on Wednesday I went to the Asiatic Society to meet with the general director and the head librarian. As with most of my meetings, they are awkward in the way that I have found only meetings in S. Asia can be awkward. This one involved the gentlemanly general director, who acted as if the 1850s had never passed, expatiate on the evils of overpopulation and the downfalls of the Indian nation. After that meeting, he directed me to the librarian, who insisted on showing me every single holding they had in glass case in their manuscript room which smelled strongly and oddly of diesel fumes. She then launched into a spirited blow-by-blow account of one of the Indian epics. Of its nature, I could not be sure, but it had something to do with a prince, princess, and a fish that swallowed a ring. She later insisted on teaching me Bangla script (parts I already know) as I wondered how to politely disengage conversation. Two hours later, and with a comprehensive tour of the old and new Asiatic Society buildings, though still not having seen the manuscript catalogue (my main goal), I left.

Friday after class Mr. P. of AIIS took us three students on a tour of college street—a street known for its numerous book sellers. What a trip. Nevertheless, I am still unable to find P. Thankappan Nair’s many books on Calcutta history. (I found his history of Calcutta streets at Rs. 4000 but I’m not about to pay $70 for a beat up copy of a tangentially useful book) Hopefully I will meet him soon at the National Library. I’ve been told he goes there in the mornings, and everybody knows him. We also visited the “Coffee House,” originally the haunt of Calcutta’s intelligentsia from the 19th century onwards. It looks like an ordinary cafeteria with uninspiring food. I’ve no intent to return.

Later, I had dinner with Alec and some more AIIS fellows at Banana leaf, a Keralan restaurant. What interesting stories these interesting people have!

In other news, I had another ‘interesting run’ today. It was nice up until the five mile stretch of running along a canal, eg open sewer. On the way back, I passed a dead kitten sprawled out in garbage. Not pleasant.

I’ve also begun reading Dalrymple’s White Mughals. What a fascinating book. At so many parts I keep thinking, “But that’s what I want to say!” Alas,

Bomb Blast

Last Friday (Aug 30) there was a small bomb blast (IED) in Kolkata, nearby Chandni Chowk, on Madan street, near the Central Ave crossing, around 12-12:30pm. No one was hurt, and the police defused a second bomb thereafter. I was walking by Madan street on Central Ave an hour later as I was on my way to Calcutta Walks. I heard about the blast middle of this past week.

The Green Arrow, and Red A are the approximate location of the blast, while the star was my destination.

How scary is it that I missed the bomb blast by an hour or two?

Some Reflections

I start Bangla classes tomorrow. I don’t know why exactly, but I’m nervous. I haven’t had formal education in 2 years, and I’m not sure if this class will get me to a point where I’ll be fluent enough for grad school. Then there goes that whole history Ph.D. (assuming I’ll still want to do it). That’s if I want to do S. Asian history, but I think I have different hopes, perhaps covering world English journalism history.

I’ve set up a meeting with the director of the Asiatic Society on Wednesday. I don’t know what exactly it is that I’ll be meeting about. That’s of course the way things work here. Their archival materials are not listed online. I just need to show up, ask questions, and poke around.

(Mithu keeps cooking food. More than we’ll ever be able to eat. She’s cooked the same Alu Dum dish for the last three weeks. We have a constant supply of leftovers and the supply far exceeds consumption.)

After we went to the FRRO today (a surprisingly painless process to retrieve our registration papers) Alec and I went to Blue Sky Cafe. It was exactly how I remembered it! A good, solid diner, filled entirely by বিদেশী (foreigners). There we met an American volunteer at the Mother Theresa house, fresh out of college, who’ll be living in Kolkata, Kalighat, for the next year. It’s nice to meet another American of our age, who’ll be living here long term, so we exchanged contact information.
Afterwards, I picked up my suit (looks good!), and Alec and I went to Nahoums. I for some sweet buns and baked goods, him for some type of chocolaty goody.
I haven’t had much time to reflect on my time here as of yet. Though matters such as: Will I learn enough Bangla for my career? Will I be able to get all the resources I need? Will I be able to finish my book? all provide me enough anxiety.
It’s not that stressful here. But I wish I could put myself back in Rush Rhees library, in the periodical reading room, the secret history grad room, the balcony overlooking the quad, the dark quiet old stacks and more. The resources of a good library are invaluable. It’s frustrating here that I can’t access all the books at once, can’t have all the databases, and if I’m missing materials, can’t interlibrary loan them. I hadn’t realized the value of a good library until now, when it really really matters. I wish I could put myself in a box without time so I could complete everything and not have to worry. But that’s not human life, is it?
I knew all of these issues coming in. It will be difficult now, but when I finish, I hope to look back and say: Fuck yeah! I learned Bangla. I wrote a book. (And maybe even created a genealogical website of editors and their presses). Then I think I can relax, but I don’t know when that might be.
I have been surprised by the infrequency I have felt moments of sadness or loneliness here. They come, but are fleeting. So, I am stopping myself to ask: Am I happy? I’m not perfectly happy in the way I was in college. I don’t have a large group of friends here (being new anywhere presents this challenge). I don’t have the community of study abroad. I don’t have a 10 minute commute to the library. I don’t have the resources I had before. Life is not as open or intellectually stimulating as college, an atmosphere I recognize I will likely never have again. But I do have great opportunities. I do like hanging out with Alec, Mike and the people I’ve met. I am working on a project I have spent two years off and on, which I don’t love, but do like. These opportunities are what I will make of them.
I am not living forever to do everything I want, but I do what I can to stay satisfied.

Bought a Bicycle

This weekend I bought a bicycle.

A very nice road bicycle.

Ok, it’s Chinese made.

Still, it’s very nice.

And I fly fast.

But the roads are bad.

People stare.

Mithu thinks I’m crazy.

And it is dusty.

Also, exhaust fumes.

It’s totally impractical.

I love it.

Here it is:

(For the record, I was really surprised I could find a few types of racing bikes in Calcutta on Bentinck street Pretty awesome! But I have no idea where people would ride them, give all the traffic!)

When Pieces of Life Collide

Sometimes I have strange moments where pieces of my life serendipitously come together.

Friday I went to Chandni Chowk (one of the older, and busier parts of the city) to meet with “I.” of Calcutta walks, an organization that provides cultural and historical walks to tourists in the city. Working with Calcutta walks is to be my side project in addition to my research.

After describing my research to “I.”, he asked me about my life history. I told him I was interested in journalism.

“I.” gave me a look and asked, had I “heard of Sandip Roy? Would you like to meet with him?”

Only a over a year ago I had interned at NPR where I had edited one of Sandip’s articles! ( It was about a centenarian, Manohar Aich from Calcutta, who had once been Mr. World. Manohar was called the “pocket hercules” for his short stature. I had even referenced editing this editing this article in my application for Fulbright. Sandip is NPR’s correspondent for India and specifically Calcutta, his home city.

(Unfortunately due to “I’s” food poisoning, he had to postpone the meeting, but I hope to meet soon)

My end goal with Calcutta Walks is to use the knowledge gained through my research to propose to a new historical walk for Calcutta walks, one focusing on the city’s rich media history. By that, I have it in my heading that I would show places where printing press were (ie Ram Mohan Roy’s or James Hicky’s on 67 Radha Bazaar) and to show locations where related historical events happened (for instance, the grounds of the National Library where Governor-General Warren Hastings and Council Member Francis had their famous duel.

Of course, tours have to be marketable. While I have worked in Tourism before (at Discover Borderlands in Sri Lanka), I am not an expert

“I.” has said that although he has “nothing to lose” in designing a new tour, a good tour must be digestible by the lowest common denominator to be financially successful. It does no one any good for me to help plan a walk that few will go on and won’t last after I have left. Failing that, I hope there’s something I can do.

“Tourists coming to Calcutta have overcome many challenges to get here. They have decided to spend limited vacation time in a city that’s has a reputation for squalor. They have skipped the draws of the Taj Mahal, Delhi, Jaipur and elsewhere to come to Calcutta. We want to show them a special experience”

Tuesday or মঙ্গলবারI begin Bangla classes, which I think I mentioned will be held from 9am to 2pm every day for the next 4 months. Tomorrow Alec and I are going to the Foreigner’s Registration office to, hopefully, collect our all important registration papers.

A Description of India — August 19, 1780

This poem featured in Hicky’s Bengal Gazette in 1780 (Published in Calcutta). Aptly named a Description of India, it is written from the nostalgic perspective of a Brit coming to India and missing home. Hicky likely wrote it himself as no name is ascribed to the poem.

Every week the Bengal Gazette published a poem on the final page (called the Poet’s Corner) of that’s week’s edition. These poems were quite popular in English speaking Calcutta society.

The most interesting bits can be found in stanzas 1-5. 

            A Description of India

WHILE faithful memory Love
          to trace
Each clime society and Place
   Where we have been before
Whether on Britain’s happier Coast
Which every charm of life can boast
   Or soft Italia’s shore
     What unrepented Sins of mins
Or stranger Destiny of Time
    Doom’d us to linger here
Where broiling Suns and scorching
And overwhelming Floods combined
    Alternate mark the Year.
Where Musick (different from the
That varble from Italian Throats)
    With ceaseless din assails—
Where Crows by Day, and Frogs by
Incessant Foes of calm delight
   Croak their discordant Lays
Where Insects settle on your meat
Where Scorpions crawle beneath your
     And deadly Snakes infest:
Musquetos ceaseless teazing sound
And Jackalls direful howls confound
    destroy your balmy rest.
Where naked Savages in Rows
Present their Offerings to your Nose
    Wherev’er you chance to pass
For here the Priviledge they claim
Freely to iquat devoid of shame
   And boldly sport an A—
If such the picture just and true
This envied Country holds to view
    Mercy on those who stay
Thy lovlier banks bright Thames af-
Riches beyond a Nabobs hoard
     Health and content display.
Thy lovely Banks and Silver stream
By Day my wish by night my Dream
     Once might I visit more
By every Power above I swear
Never to draw this noxious Air
    Let me be rich or Poor.
Let those whom avarice has taught
To stisle every liberal thought
     Selling, alike or sold
Let such their ease and Peace resign
Nay health itself to cross the Line
     And stick at naught for Gold.
Let such return’d affect to feel
An Interest for the Public wels
      And loud in senate Bawl
And when their Bags are like to burst
By an Exchequer summons curst
     May they refund it all.
 For you my Friend with spirit bleak
Such selfish Doctrines to detest
     I breath one ardent prayer
May you the calls of Duty ober

Speed to a Milder happier shore
     To Albions cliff[ILL]
There as in social converse gay
The hours glide unperceived away
     We laugh and Pity those
Who seek for wealth yet blind to ease
Tempt hidden Rocks and dang’rous seas
    And fly from true Repose.

“Embrace the Pace”

Apologies for the bit of a delay in posting anything. Had a run in with some food poisoning. Good news is that I’ve narrowed down the suspect list to two culprits: Those momos from the hygenically-leaving-something-to-be-desired-stall or that Blackcurrant ice cream.

That said, things have progressed well from the Indian side of my research. I had a meeting with the teacher at the American Institute of Indian Studies, where I’ll be taking Bangla classes for 6 months, starting next Tuesday.

I anticipate I will have less interesting things to say in the near future as I move into a routine of heading to intensive Bangla classes M-F.

Two more limiting factors are that 1. we reached out internet cap here, so our ISP has dropped our speeds (for instance, I can’t check facebook—it’s too intensive). I’ll need the internet for transferring newspaper pdfs, and since the American center wifi doesn’t really exist, and good cybercafes are hard to come by, that leaves me in a bit of a pickle. Also, Airtel has a monopoly at Hiland park, which I painfully found out yesterday. Hey, I’m happy to have internet at all. 2. My phone service was discontinued because of some type of “problem.” After some frustration I realized I had to go to the main office in person to resume service. Alec doesn’t even have service yet because his signatures didn’t match up. There’s nothing we can do about these issues other than to “embrace the pace” of Indian bureaucracy. (Thank you program director Adam Grotsky, If I recall correctly, for these words)

Aside from my resource acquisition at Indian libraries and archives, which has gone well so far, I’m in search of access to a few international databases, specifically, adam mathews digital, which has a fantastic and transcribed database of 18th century papers, making searches and research much much easier. So if you are at UTexas Austin, Cambridge, Leeds, or Oxford, please send me an email!

Today I go to the Center for Studies in Social Sciences to meet a few professors I have been in contact with, and to check out their library. Tomorrow I go to Calcutta Walks, what seems a like a neat organization that offers historical and cultural walks around the city, and who I hope to partner with and design my own walk for them based on early newspaper in the city!

Adventures at the National Library

If you follow the steps, it all seems to work out.


  1. Two passport sized photos
  2. Application form duly filled out, signed AND stamped by your institution (Fulbright)
  3. Official joining letter from affiliating University in India.

Daily routing once you have membership entering the library:

  • Entering the Library grounds? Sign in.
  • Entering the Library building? Sign and bag check.
  • Entering a room? Sign in.
  • Viewing a material once you enter a room? Sign in and fill out form.
  • Photocopies of material? Fill out form, get materials, pay for it at the cash counter, which is open some very strange hours
  • Bringing a Laptop?  No big deal right? Wrong.

Each department (Reading Room, Rare Books, Microfilm etc) that you wish to bring your laptop in, you have to write a formal letter to the Director General of the Library for permission. Four letters later, after much signing and dating: success!

Cameras? Out of the question.

Luckily, with Desh and a very helpful Library staff (once you cleared the bureaucratic hurdles), things went fairly smoothly. I was able to go down to the Rare Books section, enter the through the two very impressive steel bank vaults and see the original copies of Hicky’s Gazette along with other cool items.

The Microfilm department staff (called the Reprography department, or some sort of strange name) have been great, and very efficient so far at making hard copies, though they do not have the equipment to scan documents. I’m currently working on digitizing the missing sections from Hicky’s Gazette myself.

The Library has the only microfilmed copies of Hyde legal Notebooks, which span some 20 odd years of his legal career at the Supreme Court in Calcutta, from the 1770s to the 1790s and compose the only legal records available from that time in West Bengal. (Hicky’s libel cases feature in his notebooks).

The Library also has an old newspaper section on Esplanade, whose collection dates to around 1830-1840, with the newspaper, Friend of India being the first. It’s housed in a dubious old government building. But once you enter, it has the musty old smell and look that I’ve grown accustomed to.

All in all, a bureaucratic, but certainly pleasant experience.

The University of Political Graffiti

“Without Revolutionary Theory, there can be no Revolutionary Movement”—Lenin (At Jadavpur University)

Imagine if the first-noticed aspect of your University, after the entrance gate, was not your science facilities, school logo, or quaint green quads, but large RED and BLACK graffiti extorting students to follow the direction of Lenin, Marx and Engels. Imagine if every academic and administrative building was covered in graffiti.

Never have I seen so much political graffiti on buildings as I have visiting Jadavpur University today.

Some Indian Universities, in my limited knowledge, can become exceedingly political, especially the students. When I studied abroad three years ago at the University of Hyderabad, debate on the issue of creating a new state/province in India, Telangana was raging on campus, (as it had been for over thirty years at Hyderabad’s other university, Osmania, and will likely continue)

Universities can be the hotbed of politics. Indian Universities certainly so.

(Telangana is an exceedingly complex issue, better discussed elsewhere from my blog. It’s an issue that people are incendiary-ly passionate about, to the point of committing suicide over splitting Telangana from Andhra Pradesh)

Jadavpur has a long history of radicalism, and a reputation that proceeds it, according to my facilitator, Desh.

Politics aside, I am excited to meet the Faculty of the University soon as I came by when they were absent today.

I wrote this post because I was struck by how much, outwardly, Jadavpur differed from an American University, and thought to share my observations.

It’s a strange world.

A Quick Primer to Using White Privilege, Or How I Met the Director of The Victoria Memorial

We had no plan in mind when we arrived at the Victoria Memorial.

Desh, our facilitator, Alec (fellow Fulbrighter) and I proceeded to the ticket booth upon arriving at the Victoria Memorial, which sells entrance to the magnificent British Raj era building and its gardens at Rs. 150 for foreigners and Rs. 10 for Indians.

Desh took the lead, thank goodness, telling the security guards in Bangla, “They are Fulbright researchers here to do research at the Memorial. Please let us in.”

“Do you have an appointment?” the guards asked.

“We’ve been in contact Dr. J.S. (the Director of the Memorial). You can call him and check”

We had no appointment. But what we do have is white skin, Fulbright research visas, official documents with plenty of stampy-stampies on them, a good facilitator, and a sense of bravado to get you through almost anywhere.

The security guard called S.’s office saying Fulbright researchers are here. S. was a Fulbrighters himself to the U.S. I think that helped us through.

The guards waved us through free of charge. At the building’s entrance, a member of the staff greeted us, bringing us through a service elevator to the second floor, taking us past signs clearly saying, “Admission Prohibited” and asked us to wait while he gets the Director. 

“Do you have an appointment?” he says in Bangla after a moment’s hesitation.

Desh replies, “Yes, we’ve been emailing”

A minute later, we’re ushered in to the director’s office, and make introductions. After a moment of pleasantries, the Director asked, “Have we been in contact?”

A second of awkward silence before I replied, “I’ve been emailing your department.” (True enough, I had been trying to email the director for the last year, but he had changed their email address, unbeknownst to me.)

The most productive meeting in years followed, where I learned that two weeks ago he initiated a project to digitize the records I was looking for, Hyde’s Legal Notebooks, outsourcing the work to Jadavpur University (one of my affiliates). The records are unfortunately off bounds during the process, but there is another copy on microfilm at the national library. 

He guaranteed that I would have access to any of the “brittle pages” not available at the National Library once they had been digitized (they won’t be open to the public, but rather as an on-request service for scholars. He also gave me the contact details of the department leading the charge on digitization, as well as a number of relevant scholars in Calcutta and the US. 

Pretty cool stuff!!!

The Maid and the Planetarium

Today I’ve been exhausted. I think it is the sinus pressure combined with adjusting to the heat combined with immersion in Bangla.
I am a hot, sweaty mess.
Mike’s maid speaks Bangla almost exclusively and she enjoys giving mike a hard time by only speaking to him in Bangla. Getting used to a maid who cooks and cleans your things is another issue entirely. The maid/owner dynamic is a power dynamic, in which the owner of the apartment effectively has all the power, and the maid none. It reminds me of 1970s prison experiments where, when certain people are put in power, they can easily exploit the people under them. I’m sure verbal/physical and sexual abuse is rampant in the sector. 
It makes me uncomfortable that someone cleans the apartment I’m in, cooks, washes dishes, does laundry, etc. All for $60-80 a month. I don’t know how to react, or if it is morally acceptable to have a maid. Mike’s maid is Meetu, and he does give her employment, which as a single mom after she separated from her husband (a bum, apparently) I can imagine the money she earns is incredibly important. She is a huge time saver, her food is delicious and she is proud of her work and especially cooking. Moreover, if we live here, she will be a huge boon for me learning Bangla and immersing better in the culture. What do you think?
I just woke from an afternoon nap because it began to thunder and rain heavily, but I can barely keep my eyes open—in part because of sinus pressure from my head cold. 
Earlier Alec and I went exploring the neighborhood around the Hiland park apartment complex to try and find a place that would give us a sim card. Through comparison shopping we found that reliance has the best deals for Calcutta, but the only corner store that sells reliance sims cannot sell them today (It’s Indian Independence Day—a big deal). We were tempted to go downtown to watch the celebrations, but didn’t. It was too early, and too crazy.
Just because I am sort of blown away by the amenities at Hiland park, here’s a list. I will try and not let it influence housing decisions:

1. cable tv
2. internet, increasible to 175gb cap, and fast for kolkata
3. 12th floor, about 5 balconies
4. 4 bed, 4 bath. 
5. AC in the bedrooms. Hot water showers (obviously, currently irrelevant)
6. big common room, big eating area
7. 2 squash courts, basketball net, tennis court, ping pong tables, gym
8. right next to a mall with a “Big Bazaar” store—the Indian equivalent of a Walmart, and a 2 screen movie theater.
9. Decent location in the city to get around. By that, I mean there is no good location in Kolkata I know of in terms of transit.
Lastly, last night we visited Birla Planetarium, as well as the Anglican Cathedral, and a swank hotel called The Park. Birla hosted a starshow (I can’ think of the name). The women hosting yelled repeatedly that she would stop the show if anyone talked or used their cellphones, which she did, yelling at a man using his cell and a woman whose baby started crying.
Love old aunties who mean business.

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?).

From Turkey to India

It was an eventful two weeks in Turkey, and I will certainly miss the ease of travel, intellectually curious and friendly people, and all around pleasantness of travel there.

In sum, our journey took us from Istanbul to Edirne, to Ankara, Cappadocia, back to Istanbul to see Sheela off on her flight to the US, and an overnight trip to the city of Bursa.

We saw amazing sights. The greats mosques of Bursa, Edirne and Istanbul, the capitols, respectively, of the Ottoman Empire. These all had looming domes, exquisite calligraphy, and architecture to easily rival the great cathedrals of medieval Europe.

Of all, Edirne contained perhaps the most hidden of gems: an Ottoman Era Medical College. Its advanced medical facilities, built in the 15th century surpassed anything in christian Europe at the time, or elsewhere in the world, for my knowledge. Among its treatments, it experimented in musical therapy and in treating the psychologically unstable, rather than chaining them to a wall—which made it truly revolutionary for its time.

Situated across the river from town, where the wheat fields mix with green grass, the elaborate stone Medical College turned museum is a testament to humanity’s progress. Sadly, it floundered centuries after it’s construction, mirroring the path of the ever more intestate Ottoman Empire. Where it once attempted treatment for the insane, by the 19th century it chained them to walls and fed them only bread and water. Its other disciplines, like surgery, suffered similar degradations over time.

In Edirne, among other sights like a few great mosques, we also saw the historic synagogue, the largest in the Balkans, undergoing restoration.

Bursa is a city that does not easily give up its gems, or at least is hard to find reliable information about them. The city is famous for the mountain, Uludag, that it crawls up and around. We went to the cable car to take what we had heard was a stunning journey up the 2,500 meter mountain. But it had been closed since 2012, despite this fact not being represented in any of the travelguides (Lonelyplanet, tripadvisor and wikitravel).

Instead, all we found was a lonely security guard who had set up a rather comfortable chair watching T.V, and guarding an empty station.

But we did find a very interesting tomb of one of the Sultans.

In my never ending quest, which was at first inspired by Sheela three years ago in India, to visit all of the Synagogues in all of the cities I’ve traveled to . In reality, it is not really synagogues I am visiting—they are the shells of their former selves, their communities gone. Now all they are, are just buildings, reliant on the vagaries (so far, mostly benevolent) of local and federal governments, sometimes with Israel’s aid, as in the case of the Kerala synagogues, to maintain them.

What is the purpose of a building if the people who made it special are no longer existent? Is there any spiritual connection I feel to shared experiences Jews in these withered locations? Maybe I enjoy, in some manner, the sadness I feel when I see Jewish communities the world over, all gone, and likely never, ever to be rebuilt.

I don’t know, but I do know that it is an era of history that will not be seen again. The distinct communities of Jews worldwide are gone, replaced by ethnic and cultural diffusion in the US, and concentration in Israel. This is what in part made Jews so unique. They were stateless, reviled often, forming small communities in cities across the world, and using their connections in other cities for trading. What will be the shared experience of Jews now? Will its future be in nationalism (a la Israel)? I feel the irony here is too much to bear. I see the particular European ethnic nation state as the enemy of Judaism. Ideas of nationalism (such as movements for a unified Germany for Germans for instance, or France, or Italy…) spawned ideas about racial superiority. Without first having knowledge of nationa

lism you cannot have thoughts of fascism.

Of these communities, I have a remarkable story. In Bursa, Mindy and I went hunting for the main synagogue in the city as well as a series of fish restaurants for dinner, all owned by brothers, on the same street (Sakarya Cd).

We went to what google maps told us was Sakarya Cd but found that it was devoid of restaurants at all, let alone synagogues. Locals we asked had never heard of either fish restaurants or synagogues.

That night, downtrodden and recovering from a stomach bug, I came across a website showing another Sakarya Cd. Before leaving the next day Mindy and I did find both the restuarants and synagogue (Gudesh Synagogue). While I was peering into the peep hole of the unmarked building, trying to figure out if it was what I though, and old man beckoned me over to his.

He pointed, saying “Synagogue.”

I asked if he spoke English. He said, “Spanish and Turkish”

Instantly I knew that he was a Jew, one of those who the Spanish had forced out in the 14th/15th centuries and who the Ottomans had welcomed. These communities which had been in present day Greece and Turkey, had spoken spanish in the five centuries since their expulsion.

With hand gestures and minimal english and spanish, Mindy, him and I communicated. We learned that there were only 60 members (elsewhere online it says 140 members left) of the community left, that the second synagogue had been closed, that all the young had gone to Istanbul, Israel or Medina (?). I’m uncertain about the last city, because Medina, Saudi Arabia seems and odd place for Jews to go.

When we returned to Istanbul, another old man (not a jew this time) saw me staring off into the distance. He helpfully pointed out that I was looking at the largest synagogue in Istanbul. I was staring in its direction looking at graffiti, but hadn’t even noticed it, so well hidden it was!

Cappadocia is other worldly. Vast rockly towers of volcanic remnants create something that looks like its out of a starwars set—in fact Starwars had wanted to film here! (but the Turkish gov rejected the proposal so it was forced to build a set in Tunisia). We had an excellent time staying in Goreme. I cannot highly recommend traveling here enough. We met a former Fulbrighter here, as well as our hotel owner, who told Mindy that everything he had was hers, and that as long as she did the typey typey emailing business of the hotel, they could get married and live happily ever after.

In addition to fairy chimneys in Cappadocia are numerous churches carved in to the roc, some with biblical creatures drawn on them, including a few that look oddly like dinosaurs—so Sheela and I had fun making T-Rex claws.

Because Cappadocia was a christian area under the romans (before Constantine) it came under persecution. The people built their creatives hideaways, one of which is a 7 story enormous underground city, complete with a multiple living chambers, a mortuary, a church, jail (sort of), wells and airflow shafts. They stopped digging when cracks begin to form on the 7th level.

Ankara is to D.C. as Istanbul is to NYC. The cities share an uncanny symmetry. Istanbul like New york is the cultural capitol, and where all the magic and banking etc happen. It can be dirty at times, with both crowded alleys, and expensive shops and feels multicultural (of course, given the city’s history). Ankara has planned neighborhoods and wide avenues filled with, you guessed it, Government offices.

And that, in sum, was my experience in Turkey. I had an amazing time with Sheela and Mindy, who make for great traveling partners (including all the bother bother bother). I will miss them both, but hopefully I will see Sheela soon!


Now, a short taste of India!

Me at the Oberoi hotel: “Hi, I’m looking for an ATM.

Sir, the ATM is at the car park. It is one km away.

Sure, how would I walk there?

Sir, I would not recommend walking; there are many beggars. Take a car.

From door to door I have not had better service. At every moment from the airport to my room, a member of the Oberoi hotel has been there to guide me. Essentially it has been an entirely thought free process-but that’s what money can buy you! Also relaxing is that staff are not encouraged to take tips, which takes the anxiety out of wondering whether or not I should tip the guy carrying my bags.

How was your flight, sir? asked the receptionist

It was ok.

By that you mean it was not good, she said with a smile.

I’ve been sick, so it wasn’t pleasant.

Sorry to hear that. Would you like us to call the doctor?

Uh…Sure. That would be great (Wow, I’m thinking—of course they would have a doctor on staff).

45 minutes later a very professional doctor shows up at my room, prescribes medication and takes his leave. Two or three minutes later, with alacrity considering the hotel actually doesn’t have a pharmacy, the medicine arrives at my room.

Incredible efficiency!

The Oberoi for all its grandness, posh and extreme splendor, certainly makes it difficult to walk anywhere, choosing to take the stairs, for instance, sets of the alarm siren. Security guards look quizzically at bodies in motion. But, not having to walk is the whole point, right!?

Singled for Questioning

I just had two police officers from customs come up to me in the Newark Airport and say they had important questions to ask of me. They started, “are you andrew?”

I am currently on my way to meet Sheela and my mother (a day later) in Istanbul, as we travel around Turkey for two weeks before I head to Delhi for the beginning of my Fulbright experience in Calcutta.
They wanted to know what I was planning on doing in Turkey, if I was going to visit syria, if I had plans to travel in the region and what I was doing afterwards. I asked them how they found me/ knew it was me and they just said, “we know a lot. we get a call to go to a gate and check this guy out, that guy out, and we go”

Now they are standing in the corner on their cell phones looking at me

They wrote everything I said down. That I was going to Turkey for a vacation with my mother and girlfriend, that Sheela was on a flight to Istanbul right now and my mother was home, that I was traveling with $20 only. That I was a Fulbright research going to Calcutta to study the early press in India and the Bengal Renaissance


(Meanwhile there is a girl vomiting a couple seats away from me)

It might be because I missed my flight yesterday, or that I have only a one way flight to istanbul and then onward flights through the middle east to Delhi, or that I have electronic communication with a 51% chance of being with people outside the US?

But I wonder the number of people they ask like me and level of information they collect on people like me (and of course, levels of discriminatory profiling, etc). So far, I don’t see any infringements on my personal liberty but it is certainly disturbing, but who knows what else is going on that I don’t know? Makes me paranoid, and I certainly have not had anything like that happen to me before.

The way they came out of the blue from my side and asked what I was doing. I wonder if I had given them different answers, what would have happened. Although I’m not going, isn’t it my right, no matter how suicidal, to go to Syria, (should I be allowed into the country)? Let’s say I was a journalist—would customs allow me to leave?

If not, then I would consider that an infringement on my liberties, and I wonder if they’ve told others similar things.

Maybe they would…wait for it, classify me as a terrorist. Well, now I know I must be on some sort of watchlist and that’s creepy enough.

Whew! On to Byzantium and then to India!

Brunch Baruuuuunch!

June 1-2 was my going away weekend.

Most of the Fulbrightors were sick.

Nevertheless, we managed to conquer the Cinnamon Grand Buffet. So good!

And with 73 pieces of sushi eaten, amid some other delectables, I managed to destroy their profit margin, I’m sure.

Ella and Last Days in Sri Lanka

It’s nearing my last days in Sri Lanka, and while I know should begin to reflect on my experience in Sri Lanka, I find it a bit difficult to do now.

That said, I’m sitting in my favorite coffee shop in Colombo. Not that I have a particularly affinity for coffee shops. In fact, in the US I don’t really patronize them. But in Sri Lanka—who can ask for more than AC and fast internet? Nothing my pampered bum likes better.

A few days ago Sheela, Nina (I’ll affectionately refer to her as Sheela’s uncannily similar compatriot) and I went to Ella, a lovely British hill station in Sri Lanka. The town caters almost entirely to foreign tourists, not to Sri Lankans, though I don’t know why considering Nuwara Eliya is popular with s grou.

While in Ella, we climbed little Adam’s Peak—a small rise at which end the Hill Country drops of precipitously about a 500-1000 meters into the Sri Lankan hill country—almost like Horton Plains. The peak is covered with tall grass which sways heavily in the quick breeze. There is a little lower extension of the mountain that offer stunning views, after a short scramble up and down a valley between the two hill tops. It’s quiet, calm, and an all around beautiful place to sit and reflect.

As Sheela was sick, Nina and I took a walk on the railroad in the next afternoon. Quiet and peaceful.

Afterwards, I had an Auyervedic massage—nothing to write home about other than I was really anxious I would have a creepy Sri Lankan man massage my body with oil. It was man, but fortunately he was not creepy.

Overall, it was a good time in Ella, staying at Sun Top Inn with good food and not doing too much.

As we departed, we had the joy to stand outside of the immaculate train station and watch a group of school children and their teacher play a game of blindfold hug-tag. The teacher. On a warm (but not too warm sunny day) I couldn’t think of anything better than to stand and enjoy the peace and calm of Ella.

Last Week At Borderlands

Next week is my last week at Borderlands.

Did I mention that I’m excited? I am.

In other news, I really like Tambili –that’s the coconut used to make coconut water. Vendors sell it for 40 Rs. A coconut, which easily gets you about a soda can or more worth of juice. Fantastic. It’s the same thing that they sell for I think $4+ at health conscious stores in the US. The vendor will open yours with a machete in front of you. Awesome. I’ll miss that.

I’ll also miss hoppers, especially milk hoppers. Don’t know where I’ll find them in the US.

Living on the ocean front is another thing I’ll miss. Especially with rent for a 4th floor apartment of $120 a month.