At the beginning of my internship at Aravind, it seemed like I had all the time in the world. Whenever my family or friends heard that I would be spending nine weeks in India, I always received a “that’s a long time”. My first week in Madurai only propagated this belief as every hour, minute, and second seemed to pass by relatively slower than the fast paced environment I had grown accustomed to at Penn. I quite literally had time to stop and smell the roses (although in my case they were jasmines outside the Inspiration hostel). I was able to sit down and appreciate the intricate spices and masalas in the curries at lunch. On my daily 1.7 km walk to the gym, I had the opportunity to really take in the hot mess that was local Indian traffic and would spend time analyzing how people and animals alike operated in the chaos (might or might not have chased some goats along the way — obviously for the purpose of gaining insights). Those days offered me a beautiful period of self-reflection and calmness which I would often wish I could go back to during the latter part of my internship.
By the time my co-interns and I started counting down the days left in our internship, I was suddenly hit with the number of activities and experiences I had pushed off all summer because “I had time”. This post is dedicated to the different aspects of my life in Madurai that I more or less tried to accelerate in my efforts to make every moment count.
Work at Aravind:
Even two months into my internship at Aravind, I was still learning more about the company culture every day. One particular unspoken rule that struck me was the idea that an individual was always expected to ask for more work if they were finished with their current project or task. It was assumed that you would be working on something during work hours and often times that something could be self-assigned.
Because our projects at Aravind were largely self led with no fixed deadlines for tasks and progress, I truly believe the culture rewards self-motivated individuals who are resourceful and passionate. As an individual with a relatively short attention span and a need to constantly move around, sitting in the office from 9 am to 6 pm Monday through Saturday proved to be very difficult at multiple times during the internship. There were times where I was not as productive or efficient as I could’ve been and I largely found myself regretting that wasted time during my final weeks at Aravind. Regardless, I knew that by the time my internship was over I wanted to contribute as much as possible to my project so that it could materialize into a tool and make a difference in the glaucoma clinic.
In the last few weeks, I made conscious efforts to hang onto every moment in the office space I had previously dreaded and sometimes would come in early just to go sit in the glaucoma clinic in an effort to take in as much as possible. I was able to make substantial progress with my project, and sometimes had to tell myself what I had was enough because being in the dynamic and iterative Aravind environment, I found myself thinking there was always something more I could’ve done.
After working six days a week, often times I just wanted to stay in on Sundays to sleep, read, binge watch Parks and Rec for the umpteenth time, and Zomato some great food. However, as my time became obviously limited, I made it a goal for myself to explore the beautiful city and its culture in a more intimate and authentic manner. A few of those experiences are discussed below.
During the time Laura came to visit, my supervisor Dhivya took us to a local art fair where we tried treats made with palm tree sugar and learned how to make jasmine garlands (which was not my calling).
One day on a walk back to the hospital, I noticed a large festival that was taking place in a neighborhood (traditionally called a colony) and immediately wanted to explore. A few local friends generously offered to accompany me and I had a chance to attend two days of what was essentially a ceremony inviting rain to the lands. The colony organized the festival annually in honor of the goddess Maariamman whose name translates to Mother Rain.
As soon as I entered the colony’s main road, it felt like I walked into a different universe and I couldn’t stop smiling. Amidst the blasting music and bright lights, the girls were all elegantly dressed, wearing their best jewels and long jasmine garlands in their hair. Children were running around in groups, families were praying in the temple, and a few elderly were watching the festivities from their houses. At the festival, I was able to see an ancient folk dance of Tamil Nadu called Karakattam which roughly translates to water pot dance and is performed to praise Maariamman.
I was also able to see performances by local kuthu groups; Kuthu is a dance form local to Tamil Nadu with an emphasis on percussion. The festival ended off with a huge parade where everyone brought out this plant they had been growing in their houses for weeks and paraded around the entire colony while young boys set off VERY loud fireworks.
Perhaps my favorite place in Madurai (other than Aravind of course) is the Meenakshi temple and market area. My last few weeks in Madurai, I constantly frequented the area and seemed to have a different experience every time. Whether it was standing in line for four hours to see the goddess Meenakshi, bargaining for jewelry in the markets, or admiring the gorgeous Dravidian architecture, time seemed to fly when I was here. Cameras and phones are not allowed inside the temple, so here are a few pictures from the outside! They definitely don’t do the area justice.
Spending Time with People:
Without any doubt, the best part of my internship experience was the people. From my co-interns and supervisors to the auto driver that would greet me at least three times a day and keep me from getting ripped off, the people made my experience so much more precious. Luckily for me, spending time with people meant lots of group dinners which also meant getting to try all different types of food including the GLORIOUS chicken cheese appam, all you can eat meat barbecues, goat dosas, and crab kothu parottas.
In hindsight, it is safe to say I loved my time in Maduari this summer. Being placed in a completely new environment allowed me to develop as an Indian-American, taught me about flexibility and adaptation, and made me reflect on my values. The summer went by in a blink of an eye, and as time flew, I am glad I used mine to hang onto as many unforgettable moments as possible.