I first arrived in New Delhi where the Fulbright cohort spent 2 days undergoing an in-country orientation. Besides the whole lost luggage debacle, everything went quite smoothly. We had a welcome dinner at the luxurious Taj hotel—thanks to Josmi, one of the USIEF staff, I was able to purchase an appropriate outfit for the event. We also had a walking tour of Humayun’s tomb, one of my favorite Mughal monuments—I actually visited here last December but it was a quite a different experience in the simmering Delhi heat. On the second evening, Nani mama, Lata atha, Pranati, and Pranav came to see me—we went out to chaat, walked around Connaught place, and had dinner at a Hyderabadi Biryani restaurant. It was great to see them again, especially to feel more at home in India. Pranav was especially sweet when he asked his mom to skip school the next day to spend time with me. Unfortunately, this wasn’t possible, as I actually had to catch a 7 AM flight to Kolkata—one of the USIEF administrators, Ramesh, then took me in a rented car to Santiniketan, which is almost 4 hours away from the capital city.
Ramesh checked me into the Santiniketan Lodge and after a quick lunch, he left me in the capable hands of Maitrayee, a student who is my facilitator here. I hadn’t realized it but apparently the weekend is Wednesday and Thursday in the Bolpur area—this meant that I wasn’t able to do anything: all the shops were closed, the professors weren’t on campus, and there wasn’t any way to even tour the dorms! It was incredibly frustrating to be in this position—my hotel didn’t even have wifi so I felt especially trapped and cut off from the world.
Maitrayee took me around campus—which is truly lovely and has a very rural feel—and then she told me to meet up with her at the cellphone shop in the evening. Everyone in Santiniketan speaks Hindi and Bangla—I don’t speak either language and thus was at quite a disadvantage, even when speaking to the hotel staff. The most disenfranchised I felt was when I took a toto to meet Maitrayee at the shop and the driver charged me 200 rupees which is about 10X the average rate here. I was in shock but it was dark and I didn’t have the energy or the language to fight with him so I handed over the money, hoping to be left alone. Of course, this didn’t stop there—he told me that he would come back in the morning to show me around (I’m sure he was trying to swindle me out of another 1000 Rs.)—I said no but he insisted and finally left me around 7 PM. Exhausted, frustrated, and now having been taken advantage of, I was in tears when mummy finally called an hour or so later. She stayed on the phone for over an hour while I calmed down about the situation and she managed to get in contact with Nani mama—who apparently has several former students who now attend Visva-Bharati.
Luckily, my second day was far better. At breakfast, the concierge told me that I had missed 7 calls from Mummy and Nani mama—Sanjay really is the best and told me to not worry about taking over the phone lines and that they should keep calling so that I don’t feel lonely. One of Nani mama’s students, Arash, came to show me around and I managed to meet quite a few other students while on campus. There is art everywhere! Even the buildings are covered in ceramic tiles or intricate reliefs. Many of the famous pieces I had studied in my art history class, from murals to concrete sculptures, are scattered around campus. I met a Masters student, Shiva, who is studying sculpture. Being from Hyderabad, he spoke with me in Telugu and introduced me to many of his friends. I sketched a bit and when the totowallah showed up, I told him that my plans were cancelled and managed to get out of the terrible agreement. I also sent my clothes for washing, had dinner with Maitrayee, and felt more generally productive and comfortable with the whole experience.
Basically it was an incredibly rough first 24 hours in Santiniketan but I am sure that it will be a funny experience to look back on sometime soon… thankfully Rachna arrived from Kolkata on my third day and having her with me was a huge support as I navigated the complicated process of applying for Foreigner Registration.