I arrived in India on Thursday, January 12, 2017, jumping ahead of Hawai‘i Standard Time by 15.5 hours. I look forward to getting a bit younger on my way back in August – but until then, the hours were a worthy investment for the educational, cultural, and spiritual enrichment that lays before me.
I expected chaos. I did not find it at the airport. Instead, a fairly orderly scene prevailed, kept in check by men in camouflage carrying guns.
I made it through customs smoothly, exchanged money up to the low $80 limit in place due to the recent demonetization, and found my bags.
After fumbling through my luggage to find the “After you Arrive” Frequently Asked Questions sheet from O.P. Jindal Global University (JGU), I discovered a gentleman holding a sign with my name. Without many words he took my bags, made a call to the representatives at the University, and quickly walked ahead of me pushing the luggage cart. He left me standing at the curb with my bags as he went to retrieve his car.
I looked around, enjoying the artwork of the airport: lotus, hands in Namaste, and mudras. I noticed the colorful and different forms of dress that the women were wearing. Some had on beautiful saris, others basic long shirts over matching patterned cotton pants (salwar khameez). Many of the men wore turbans of varying colors. A variety of older cars and taxis jockeyed for spots at the curb to pick up passengers. Here and there a newer model swooped in.
The Drive to Sonipat
My driver returned. Soon we were on the road and I came face to face with the fabled chaos of India. As we exited the airport, we joined a colorful hodgepodge of vehicles including cars, trucks, mopeds, bicycles, rickshaws, and buses of all sorts. Lanes do not mean much here. Drivers vie for each opening, using their horns to let others know that they are about to run them into the median or overtake them. Larger trucks do not have side mirrors. They are colorfully painted with “Please Blow Horn” and “Keep Distance.” True to what I had been told about India – the exact opposite could also be found. Some cars said “Do Not Honk.”
The journey to JGU from Indira Gandhi International Airport is about two hours. My driver drove in haste. It certainly did not seem to take that long. But after 30+ hours of planes and airports and a week of little sleep in preparation for my departure, 2 hours is short. En route to Sonipat I witnessed my first slice of India – a patchwork of people, animals, stores, food carts, vehicles, trees, and birds – everywhere there were birds. The hawks were the first to catch my eye since they had been a significant dream animal for me in my last trip to Pennsylvania over Christmas. I soon realized that the number of birds escalated in areas of poverty – and trash.
As I saw the first sign for Sonipat, I saw a swarm of hawks, then other birds. It looked like a plague. Then I realized that behind them stood a large mountain of trash – the garbage dump. Slowly I began to make out figures – trash pickers in colorful dress and cattle atop the mountain. I realized the precariousness of their position as a small avalanche cascaded down the side of the heap, the foundation nearly falling out beneath the women’s feet. It reminded me of a scene from Powaqqatsi (“Life in Transition”).
We continued onward. I did not take pictures of this portion – but the memories are clear. We approached JGU through the small town that Dean A had told me about. Old streets lined with shops and crowded with cattle, people, rickshaws. Horns blared. Once inside my dorm room I would be able to hear the loudest horns from this strip, but for the time being it remained a localized phenomena.
JGU Campus and My Little Corner of India
Passing through the guard station we entered the JGU campus. As I had imagined, it arose as a large oasis of “progress”/”development”/wealth, seemingly out of place from the chaos from which we had just emerged. From my brief journey inside India, however, it was clear that indeed everything exists here. I use the terms “progress” and “development” carefully, quite cognizant that they mean different things to different people, and have at times unleashed a wave of environmental destruction and rights abuses in their name. (I studied International Development as an undergraduate.) I do not know the whole story of this place, and can make no value judgement. From what I do know, the campus area was formerly agricultural land and began its transformation into the home of O.P. Jindal Global University around 2009.
A massive flagpole bearing an equally enormous flag of India sits at the center of the campus, nearly overshadowing the impressive JGU academic building. Interestingly, the architecture resembles Kantonsschule Zug where I studied for a year as a high school exchange student in Switzerland.
My room is in the carefully guarded “Women’s Block.” Guards stand on duty 24/7 and the building is bounded by a tall fence on all sides. Needless to say, there are different cultural norms here on how men and women/boys and girls interact. In contrast, undergraduate dorm rooms at George Washington University were co-ed, with males and females living together unsupervised on the same floor.
I share a room with three other women, two of whom are also exchange students. One is a young woman from Afghanistan, and the other from Mozambique. I have yet to meet the third roommate who is enjoying the break before classes begin with family. There are several other exchange students on campus (many from Mozambique, another from Afghanistan), and I look forward to getting to know them better as the semester progresses.
I am grateful to have all the amenities I could desire here. There is wi-fi throughout the campus. The cafeteria serves delicious food for most of the day. There are gyms both in my dorm (or “hostel” as they call it here) and on the main campus, as well as reading areas and common rooms. Laundry service is available on campus for a very small fee (less than $3 for the semester). I am looking forward to exploring the library when it reopens during the week, and will take advantage of the shuttle bus to the metro in order to explore Delhi.
I am quickly adjusting to living with others again. An eye-mask, noise-cancelling headphones, and ISOLATE mini-earplugs have come in handy. And thankfully, we have an attached bath and changing area in our room with two toilets, two sinks, and two showers.
That is the lay of the land. From here on out, I will be sharing more about the culture [Eat]; spiritual lessons and self-growth [Pray]; and of course, observations as a law student on environmental legal news and developments here in India and as pertinent, internationally [Law].
Aloha and namasté.