Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Maybe there are things to do in Rajkot.

As I was preparing to leave the apartment yesterday morning there appeared a young girl at the door. Not the one I hat hit the day prior, but the daughter of my neighbor, she had a note explaining that the president of the Mumbai Planetary society and nationally renowned astrophysicist J.J. Rawal would be speaking this evening at the community center. My Neighbor a physics teacher at a local college guessed correctly that I would be very interested in attending. This is just the type of thing I would jump at the chance to attend at home. She wanted me to inform my students and I ensured her that I would and that I was personally looking forward to this evening. “You are planning on going?” “I hope to attend”, I said realizing how ambiguous my answers to questions have become. I informed all of my classes but it was received with little interest, still I held out hope that I would see at least one of them there in the evening.

I arrived sharply at 6:00 and spent the next ten minutes getting bounced around on a wild auditorium chase where each person escorted me to another who was slightly more proficient in English than the last. Even though I was 10 minutes late I still managed to be 20 minutes early. When something is supposed to start at 6:00 what it really means is that it won’t start before 6:00. When I arrived I saw that all of the students I had told had better things to do with their evening than to show up here. While we waited for the speaker to arrive my neighbor introduced me to the director of the community center. He escorted me into his office and we tried to solve some of the world’s problems.

The speaker arrived and we adjourned to the auditorium. The director began by introducing the speaker and listing his accomplishments as his support staff began to take pictures and set up. My excitement quickly turned to disappointment as the speaker began his talk in Gujarati. For two hours I endured this presentation, snapping out of my daydream every 10 minutes or so to recognizable words “blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah black hole blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah big bang.” It was awful. I was running my own mental marathon of trying to stay awake and appearing attentive. I felt like Oddie from Garfield when John is talking to him. I also realized how someone very interested in what the speaker is saying could be in the same room with somebody who is bored out of their gourd. I wondered if I ever sound like this.

So why did I stay you ask? I had placed myself near to the door as a contingency plan for this exact scenario. Realizing that this could happen I had a plan in place, I decided that if the presentation were in one of the hundreds of languages that I do not understand I would wait for that instant of darkness between slides and bolt for the door, Houdini!

So what happened…oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the director introduced me before the keynote speaker. Again in a language I do not speak, but with a hand extended in my direction he mentioned my name said something about America, physicist, teacher, and welcome. This was followed by a round of applause and I was unsure if I should clap along or stand up with a couple of peace signs, safer to just sit and blush. So what were they taking pictures of in the beginning of the presentation? Me, of course, should look great in the new Rajkot community center flyer. When the lights came on my neighbor made the great escape and has been avoiding me ever since. I wasn’t that far behind her. Good grief.

Monday, November 16, 2009


I’m back. I said I wouldn’t forget about you and I haven’t. I did however forget about this blog for a while. If I were to give a few excuses as to why I haven’t been writing they would sound something like this. 1, I have been unable to write because I have been traveling and internet access isn’t that readily available. 2, I’ve been in Rajkot and internet access is not that readily available. And 3, I have found that the less I try to do (like blog entries) the less that can go wrong.

I spent two wonderful weeks traveling with first my father and then my girlfriend Meghan. This pan-Indian trip allowed me to see, taste, and experience many of the different flavors of India that cannot be found in Rajkot. You can read all about our recent travels at Meghan’s blog, It was great to see Meghan’s and my Father’s reaction (positive and otherwise) to strange new things that I have grown familiar with was over time.

If you ask most teenagers, “so how do you like East Haven, Warren, or whatever town you live in” you will most likely get the same response, “It’s lame, there is absolutely nothing to do here.” The first experience I had with this mindset from a Rajkotian was on my two hour flight from Mumbai to Rajkot back in August. He offered his thoughts on Rajkot without my prodding after I told him that I would be spending the next five months here. “Why are you going to Rajkot, there is absolutely nothing to do there.” ‘What does he know’, I thought and I resolved to make my own decision about my new home. During my travels I ran into many people that would ask what I was doing in India. Without fail many of them would give me the oh-you-poor-thing look when I told them that I was living in Rajkot. I was during this trip that I fully came to terms with the idea that I had been suspecting and feared since that first flight. I had drawn the short straw when I ended up in Rajkot. I have been placed in an industrial city where the consumption of ‘nonveg’ is unacceptable, prohibition is alive and well, and anything worth seeing is impossibly far away. Ask any of the amazing, wonderful people I have met here in Rajkot and they will most likely confirm this.

So be it. Bloom where you’re planted, loved the one you’re with, make lemonade any of these ideas would be beneficial for me to subscribe to and I do most of the time. The idea that our lives are 10% situational and 90% how we react to them is one of my favorite and I constantly try to remind myself of this, it’s just that sometimes that 10% REALLY SUCKS. Take this week for example. On Sunday the trusty crux left me stranded. No big deal, I wasn’t in a hurry, didn’t need to be anywhere, I was safe and healthy, and besides I could use the exercise of pushing a motorcycle a kilometer or two. Next day the bike was returned to my door washed and waxed running like a high mileage top and all it cost me was $11. The 10/90 idea applies itself well here. Monday morning greets me with a flat tire, the second in three months. Again no big deal, I didn’t have a class 1st period so I enjoyed the extra time, exercised my bike pushing muscles once again, got to know my mechanic that much better, saw the parts of my commute that can only be noticed on foot, and again I was safe and healthy. The 10/90 principle is a cinch. Tuesday I find it impossible to watch a movie, but I relished in the small victory of being able to purchase crackers. Wednesday, I noticed how all of my clothes were becoming destroyed, but they are still really, really nice clothes relatively speaking and I feel lucky to have them. You can find the good in almost everything when you want to. Thursday is when the fit hit the shan. And I had difficulty finding the good in all the fit.

Thursday morning found me on a still shiny crux now moving under its own power and complete with two air filed tires; I was off to a good start. I had noticed the curie stains on my pants earlier that morning and was now thinking of various ways to remove them when it happened. It started out like most text book physics problems and ended with a little girl crying and me wanting to throw up. As I was about to pass her from behind, she turned sharply and began to cross the road without looking, without signaling, without a helmet. I hit the brakes hard, the horn blared and I tried as best I could to swerve around her. That was close I thought as my body and the front half of the motorcycle past her. That was too close I thought as I felt her wheel and my rear turn signal connect. By the time I pulled over and ran to her a small crowd had gathered to dust her off and help her pick up her things. She was crying and I was almost crying and the crowd held me at arm’s length as I tried to help, you’ve done enough already they might have been saying, who knows really. I felt horrible.

The girl gathered her things as I tried to gather my thoughts and the crowd basically told me to get lost. We did not exchange contact numbers, the police hadn’t been called and we both went on our ways. I tried to control the 90% I could, by thinking of all the ways it could have turned out worse. I was about two hours into my work day before I was able to explain to my mentor and good friend what had happened. “Is she alright?” “Did a mob develop?” “Did the police come?” “Did the crowd try to extort money from you?” “Yes, a small one, no, no” I had answered all of the questions correctly. “Then don’t worry about it, these types of things happen all the time in India.” This somehow made me feel better, not for her or the children of India but it eased my guilty conscience some. I realized that somewhere in Rajkot a little girl was probably busy blogging about how she is becoming tired of always getting hit by motorcycles on her way to school. Love it or leave it, I think I am starting to get the real insider’s experience of India.