Falling Into Routine

Today marks my sixth day at SPS. By now, I have grown accustomed to the tranquility associated with rural Madhya Pradesh. Everyday, I wake at 6:00am to the sun slowly rising over the eastern farmlands, shifting the black backdrop of night into the baby blue of day. In the early morning, I often hear the faint sounds of roosters from the nearby village, as well as the songs of green parakeets. Our resident dog, Mogambo (who frequently rests on my porch), periodically fills the air with her barks. Other than this mélange of sounds, I hear nothing belonging to man except for footsteps plowing through the gravel-filled dirt road and my own exhalations. By 6:30am, the campus begins to stir with human life. I hear the sounds of car engines and wheels moving through the earth. Furthermore, the voices of young women as they herd a trio of goats, and those of my male neighbors travels though my window into my eardrum. These sounds, however, do little to disrupt the tranquility of village life that reaches our campus.

Closer to 7:00am, I no longer hear the calls belonging to bird, dog, or man. Rather, the music of machinery associated with water coolers and fan blades begins to occupy the space around me. Throughout the day, the campus regularly suffers from power outages – the most predictable of which occurs between 5:00am and 7:00am. Although these devices allow me to escape the notorious Indian heat, when alive they block out all other sounds from outside. The serenity of Bheekupura village is lost to the swirling of metal parts belonging to each fan. My peaceful trance is broken, and I decide to get ready for 8:00am breakfast.

The aroma of chai, as well as that of steaming food, fills the cafeteria. For breakfast, a range of items is served including Indo-Chinese noodles, sheera, gelebi, watermelon, and yellow rice. We are also served two varieties of chai – one with milk and one without, the latter of which I prefer most. Breakfast (as well as lunch and dinner) is also a social time at SPS. Andrew and I speak to a number of interns and professional staff that live on campus, including those that work for Kumbaya, as well as the watershed management, livestock, and media units. We converse about life in India and the United States, university, and work. Around 9:15am, Andrew and I walk home to get ready for our 10:00am drive to Bagli.

I have taken this time to practice yoga, which I find to be a good source of exercise, as well as incredibly relaxing. I had taken yoga classes throughout my sophomore year, but discontinued it after I returned from Australia. It was difficult to make time for yoga, let alone the gym, amongst the chaos of junior year coursework, work-study, and research. Working in India – the birthplace of yoga – has provided me with the inspiration needed to restart this soothing practice.

By 10:00am, I finish my yoga routine and drive with Sohini and Andrew to the main campus in Bagli, which is approximately 45 minutes away from where we live. The drive to town is beautiful and takes us through villages, farmland, and forests. Although the area is quite dry now, during monsoon (or kharif) the region will be blanketed with green vegetation. As we climb up the mountain, I can’t help but be distracted by the region’s beauty (as well as the sight of two different species of monkeys that live near a Hindu temple at the peak of the mountain!). Although it is a nice ride, it can be a bit terrifying at times. With our large van, we drive up the mountain on a narrow dirt road, which is shared with motorcycles, trucks, and buses. As many other CASI interns have written, motorists in India have established their own driving rules. On the mountain pass, drivers create two lanes on the road, which I feel is really only intended for one car. The vehicles only merge into one when a larger vehicle travels down the road in the opposite direction. Luckily for us, the road is mostly empty.

Around 10:45am, we arrive in Bagli, which is very different from the villages we live near due to its size. We drive through bustling streets filled with vendors, ox-pulled wagons, pedestrians, and motorcyclists. Chicken, goats, dogs and cows also add to the chaos of the town. To get to campus, we also pass through a temple, as well as a building belonging to a former raja (who moved to Indore, but who’s son still visits Bagli) and laborers making bricks for sale. Once at the campus, we sign-in and then travel to the quarters in which we work. The room is equipped with Wifi, three ceiling fans, and two water coolers. Additionally, there are shelves upon shelves of books and three desks for us to work on (one for me, Andrew, and Sohini). Although we all have our own desks, Andrew and I decided to share a table directly in front of the water cooler for instant relief from the sweltering heat.

We spend the time at the office in Bagli doing a number of things, such as speaking with our supervisors – Vijay and Nevidita Didi (Didi is a term of respect for women in Hindi) – perusing the library, watching videos produced by SPS, eating lunch, working on our internship project (we still have to go through orientation – so our work in this area has been minimal), learning new words in Hindi, and searching for Indian music. Sohini has been a great aid in helping us accomplish our last two tasks! I have listed the Hindi phrases and words we acquired these past few days, as well as music below.

As for our internship, Andrew and I will be working collaboratively this summer to collect information for the website. SPS last published their website in 2011, although they had tried to update it more recently, but the site crashed and all the data was lost. Therefore, we will update the content written about each branch of SPS. Additionally, Andrew and I will be going to the field to collect narratives and conduct case studies on the programs each branch is involved with, which will be published online.

Regarding my senior thesis, I am very happy to have gotten the green light from Vijay and Nevidita Didi to work on it here. As it turns out, Vijay has begun collecting data relevant to the research I intend to pursue, and has already given me recommendations of ways I can go about conducting research. For example, he suggested I purchase rainfall data from AccuWeather. Nevidita Didi also suggested I go to the Bagli government office to retrieve data on the number of farmers that have sold land over the past three years. Beginning in 2012, monsoon season became highly irregular causing both floods and droughts. Not only is the season growing narrower each year, as the onset of the monsoon is happening later and finishing sooner, but rainfall is also intensifying. These conditions have led to increased economic instability for local farmers who choose to be landless rather than face financial risk.

After work, we head home at 7:00pm to enjoy dinner, which begins at 8:00pm and finishes at 9:00pm. Conversations during this time are the most lighthearted. Yesterday, for example, we spoke to a media intern about her favorite Western films (she loves Tarantino’s Kill Bill), as well as Indian cinema. After our vegetarian dinner, Andrew and I play Ping-Pong, or TT (table tennis) with the other employees that live on campus. I am really horrible at TT, but so far everyone has been pretty patient with me. I am also receiving help from some of my fellow TT competitors, who are instructing me on how to use the racket most effectively and serve. I hope to leave India this summer as a TT champion!

Around 10:30pm, I head home after a long day. Every evening before bed, I take a bucket shower under the light of my flashlight, as the light bulb in my bathroom is broken. It is difficult to describe, but the intimacy and vulnerability of bathing in the dark with only a mug and bucket allows me to connect with my surroundings and myself almost spiritually. I am hyper-aware of the sounds and movements around me – such as beetles hovering overhead and throngs of ants darting across my bathroom wall. Furthermore, I am left in a semi-meditative state in which I am only concerned with my hands guiding the mug to my head, and the water pressing against my body as it spills onto the floor over and between my toes. During this time of the day, I am no longer concerned with the worries that plague me, such as adjusting to life in India, my senior thesis, or post-graduate fellowship applications. Rather, I pay attention to the sound of water splashing against the floor, and the feeling of it slithering over my scalp, down my face and across my skin. I also cannot help but notice the ways in which the water makes heavy each strain of hair until my whole head is damp. The connectedness of myself with my surroundings created by this practice is incredibly beautiful.

After drying my body, putting on my pajamas, spraying bug repellant on myself and my surroundings (the number of mosquito bites are increasing the closer we get to the start of monsoons – which will happen in approximately 6 days), and taking my malaria pills, I tuck myself into bed. The light fabric of my mosquito net presses against my arm and nighttime insects buzz overhead. The jam-packed nature of the day allows me to easily welcome the darkness of sleep.

Hindi Phrases and Words:
Acchā = Okay or Good
Bhainsa = Buffalo
Cīnī = Sugar
Gāya = Cow
Hāṁ = Yes
Khēta = Farm
Kuttā = Dog
Kō’ī dahī = No curd (important, because curd is the only food I dislike thus far!)
Murgā = Chicken
Nahīṁ = No
Namastē = Hello
Shukriya = Thank you
Śubharātri = Good night
Tarabūja = Watermelon
Tuma kaisē hō = How are you?

Indian Music:
Arijit Singh – Khamoshiyan
Barfi – Main Kya Karoon
Roy – Sooraj Dooba Hain
Roy – Tu Hai Ki Nahi
Sunny Leone – Khuda Bhi
NOTE: The Bollywood Remix selection on Spotify is also great!

Part of the campus we live in.

Part of the campus we live in.

Part of the campus we live in.

Part of the campus we live in.

Mogambo hanging out on my porch.

Mogambo hanging out on my porch.

Sheera, rice, and black chai.

Sheera, rice, and black chai.

Traditional chai tea with milk.

Traditional chai tea with milk.

One of the many villages near campus.

One of the many villages near campus.

Cotton fields behind our home.

Cotton fields behind our home.

My tools for my bucket shower.

My tools for my bucket shower.

Wearing my new dupatta and kurta from Kumbaya!

Wearing my new dupatta and kurta from Kumbaya!

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About Kelly Anne Bridges

I am a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania where I study Science, Technology, and Society. My concentration is Energy, Environment, and Technology. Post-graduation, I would like to attend graduate school to study risk analysis and/or management, or disaster, climate change, water or food security studies. I hope to work as an environmental consultant, risk analyst, or for a non-profit organization where I can address the impacts of climate change, food insecurity, and/or water insecurity.