In our first week in India, we visited one of the (new) 7 wonders of the world. The Taj Mahal actually is quite the sight, but I think the truer wonders thus far lie in the month that followed. In moments less monumental, there are glimpses into the conditions of people and society. I mean conditions as they are now, as they had been shaped, and as they could later become.
Diversity continued to be a noticeable, if not central, topic in most of my classes. Along with it, globalization and integration are worthy points of attention. The multiformity of medical systems gave medical anthropology the opportunity to rise as a field of study, while globalization has changed and expanded its potential scope of collaboration and research. As another example, distinctions among food cultures (within India and on a wider scale) become less apparent with the popularity of processed foods.
A guest lecturer came to our community and development class on Friday. She put forth her own understanding of India as a country that very well knows contrast and contradiction, continuity and change. Its history has seen great disparity like any other, notably as affected by the deep-rooted caste system.
The city and university exhibit certain facets of the contrasts and changes, I think. Hyderabad keeps some historical diversity in the little shops on its streets, for example, but big malls and chain stores are in growing number, too. Students at the university interact pretty freely, but I wouldn’t say the interactions are blind to caste and gender.
Being a recognized central university, our university has a reservations system in effect. It is essentially affirmative action. Here, it is mainly intended to integrate the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. These include the lower castes (Dalits, Backward Castes) and indigenous or tribal groups. People are aware of reservations, and it can be controversial.
Controversy and politics are not unique to Indian society, of course. It is possible to go through a day forgetting about any underlying contention. I can still say that the large majority of my encounters have been pleasant and friendly. Big overarching issues do not always permeate to visibly affect the daily matters. That is true here, and I think true in most cases. I see a few of the prevalent issues, and I recognize that there is much more to them beyond what I do see. One-fifth of this trip may have passed, but I am only able to piece together a microscopic fraction of a complex whole. I find it difficult to expressly judge this whole then, knowing that I know so little and that I am not impartial.
I will share some more personal unassuming joys, though. We have celebrated four birthdays over the last month – birthdays of those from Sweden, Canada, the U.S., and India. There was cake and laughter; I really am all for both, especially with such good company. We found and relaxed on more rock formations, abundant in the Deccan Plateau where we are. We browsed a fruit market and ate the fruit under the shade at a botanical garden.
A gem to me is piling into the auto rickshaws, which are narrower relative to cars. Yesterday, it rained on our ride back to campus. The rickshaws don’t have doors, so I was dripped with rain on one side by the time we returned. These rides are just some of my favorite moments, even more so in cool rain. I suppose it was an eventful month. I have had questions, I have had answers, and I have had fun.