After meeting up with the rest of my study abroad group in Dubai we flew into Indira Ghandi Airport. When we emerged from the debarring bridge the next morning it was still dark outside, the lights were dim, and Hindi music was blaring. As we walked down the hall to customs the people were sparse, but once we approached the escalator we could see an overwhelming sea of people below. The flow of bodies carried us outside, where we were engulfed by hot muggy air, solicitors, and fellow travelers. Securing our luggage, we got on a bus to Punjab Bhavan. This week we are guests of the state of Punjab, so we are staying in their representative’s compound on a row of state embassies, in a hostel owned by a delegate. By the time we got here it was 4am and the building was having a power outage, so we had to wait for the elevators to come on so we could get our bags up to the seventh floor. Since we had class in the morning, my two roommates and I spent the night unpacking, showering, talking and setting up our water pumps to filter the local water for drinking and brushing our teeth.
At 8am we had a breakfast of chai, roti, lentils, and yogurt with a potato curry. The process of moving in at 4am didn’t give me the best opportunity for practicing Hindi with the staff, so going over the class syllabi gave me a good opportunity to practice with my professors. Among the group, two other students also have a year of Hindi study, and the rest are beginners. After breakfast we met with the commissioner delegate for the state of Punjab to New Delhi and he discussed his role as a public servant and his experience with the cultures of various other states. Later we went to a bookstore at the national literature conservatory across the street. The streets are wide and cars and rickshaws zip past constantly honking their horns. Since most streets lack crosswalks signs, the norm is to wade through the moving traffic.
On the second day I had slept off my jet lag. In class I gave an hour long presentation on the Sufi poet Khusrow and his role in forming the Indian Muslim identity. In our journalism class, I teamed up with other students in the intermediate Hindi group to read a Hindi newspaper and present a summary to the class.
India Gate by day and by night
At night we went out to the street fair and saw dozens of food trucks and families playing by the India gate, a gift from the British to commemorate the Indian soldiers who died in WWI. On the third day we had our safety orientation, as well as four hours of class where we discussed the intersection of various religious identities in Indian culture and practiced our Hindi. Since the heat gets to 110F by midday, we have to go out at night, so at 6 we took the metro with the girls riding in the women’s section. We went to a downtown area called the Canap Place where we exchanged money, saw British-built colonial architecture, and experienced some haggling at an underground market called Palika Bazar. On the fourth day we woke up at 5am to go to an alternative medicine hospital in the countryside outside Delhi. There we were given a tour and talked in Hinglish with the doctors and one of their sons.
Daily transportation: Metro and Rickshaw
Since the fifth day was Sunday, my classmate Moreen and I wanted to go to church, so the two of us took a rickshaw to the Catholic church and attended a service in Hindi. Afterwards we took a rickshaw to the metro to Palika Bazaar, where we looked around for a little bit before returning to the hostel for lunch.
Young girl giving money to Qawalli Performers at Nizammuddin Shrine
At night we visited the narrow streets of a neighborhoodod known for Muslim pilgrimage in Delhi and witnessed Qawalli worship and the tombs of sufi saints at the Nizammuddin Sufi shrine. We witnessed lots of beggars and people staying at the shrine overnight on pilgrimage. On the sixth day in our classes we discussed the concept of darsham in Hindu worship and the media bias present in television news. During the day we traveled to an ancient minaret called the Qutb Minar, and then a Hindu idol complex called Chattehpur temple. We spent the night writing papers.
On our seventh day here we had class. I gave a presentation in which I introduced the Hindu saint Mirabai and presented an analysis of some of her poems. Later that day, we visited the Indian Parliament where we were given a tour of the building, an explanation of it’s history, and an in-depth explanation of how India’s system of democracy works.