Sunday, September 20, 2009

The University of Pune

Saturday after lecture, my friends Kranti and Viplov decided to show me around the university. The campus is mostly green space, and mostly forested. I've been fascinated that most of the buildings have stonework windows which leave the halls open to the air all the time. The university had its Golden Jubilee in 1998-99, but the grounds have been developed for much more than 50 years.

We started at the statue of Shivaji, the Maratha king who defeated the Mughals. He is a major hero of Maharashtra, the province where I'm living. Many buildings are named for him, including the Chhatrapati Shivaji airport in Mumbai, and you can also find many paintings and statues.

In Alice Garden, paths wind through the trees, ornamental hedges, and flowers. Alice Richman, the daughter of a British governor, died of cholera at the age of 25, in 1882. One legend tells that her ghost wanders the gardens after midnight riding a white horse, and it brings good luck to see her. Today couples sit around her grave.

The pool in the middle of the garden has little black fish, and several kinds of birds feed on them. I don't recognize most of the plants, trees, and birds here, and even the familiar ones have unfamiliar colours... but the insects are basically the same! I'm always surprised and delighted to see cows wandering the campus.

The tree which fascinates me most is the banyan tree; a holy tree which grows all over the city. This one is particularly large, and the "trees" around it are actually its roots!
The tree drops roots from its branches, which start out in thin clumps, but eventually grow and thicken until they embed themselves into the ground. The Buddha gave his first sermon beneath a banyan tree.

In another part of the campus a pond in a deep crater had an abandoned building at the centre. It appeared as if there once was a bridge or platform leading out to it. Even the photo I took of the cliff flattens out the steepness and height. The path behind it is also blocked off, but we continued past the path to a sport field, where students were practising baseball, volleyball, and field hockey drills.

The main building is beautiful arches, metal- and stonework, with a garden behind it. They are doing major renovations right now, so I couldn't get any detailed photos, and I actually upset a security guard who thought that I was taking photos to draw negative attention to the work. That made me think about why I take photos: because I see something beautiful perhaps in a colour or shape, even if the subject is old or dirty or broken. Beauty isn't difficult to find in the main university building.

This week I went to temple to pay my respects to Devi Chattushringi Mata, but I don't have any photos this time. The Navitri festival to the goddess will be smaller this year because of H1N1 (unfortunately the virus became more widespread after Ganapati), but mandirs are still springing up around the city.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The neighbourhood in Aundh

This week I've been settling into a routine. I attend a lecture on Ambedkar 4 days a week at the university, and I went to campus almost every other day to study and to fill out the endless amounts of paperwork that seem to be the norm here. Both my flatmates are home mornings, so we usually drink chai and read the newspaper together before lunch. I'm learning how to cook Indian dishes, but mostly learning how to cook without a recipe. Under Richa's supervision I made chapattis which are very close to being round for a first-time attempt!

I'm also getting used to the lifestyle. There is an endless number of small shops in the neighbourhood, and I'm slowly buying the necessities above my travel kit, as well as clothing. We have a maid who sweeps and does the dishes every day, which is wonderful (dishes are not my favourite chore...) but it's taking some time to get used to the washroom, with the "Indian style" toilet and the tiny hot water heater for the shower. The sunsets from the window are beautiful. (Nothing like air pollution to create a beautiful sunset...)

The view from the flat is amazing; we look out over a field; the other day a man was plowing with a team of oxen. Pune is in the foothills, but this is as clear as the view has been so far. I can see a temple on a hill from my window. Eventually I plan to visit it, but so far my attempt to walk to it resulted in me getting soaked in the rain and being blocked by construction and a stream (river?). Mud.
My flatmates decided to go to McDonald's this weekend, and I thought it was so hilarious that I took some photos. Here I am sitting with my flatmate Richa. The McDonald's food here is hardly healthier, but at least you can get vegetarian options... such as the veg burger (vegetables in a batter crust on a bun) and the pizza pocket (vegetables in pizza sauce in a pastry pocket. We also had coke floats!

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Monday, September 7, 2009


September 3 was the end of the Ganapati festival, and Ganesh's immersion day. The city is usually packed with celebrants, but because of H1N1 people were not traveling into Pune this year. I was told to try to avoid the crowds celebrating, but I was lucky enough to come upon a procession on the main shopping street, which I found by the sound!

First came choreographed dancers. Then came drummers. Many people along the street covered their ears because of the drumming, and the gong was very loud. The photos don't capture it at all! Neither did the few movies I took.

After the dancers and drummers was a cow pulling a cart with Ganesh on it. This Ganesh comes from an important shrine in the area near the hotel where I stayed. On the back of the cart some children were riding, and some older girls and women walked behind.

Where the procession turned off of MG (Mahatma Gandhi) Road, it met with another group of boys dancing freeform, covered in red powder. Behind them was a HUGE bank of speakers on a cart pulled by a tractor. I couldn't decide whether the music was louder, or the drumming! One of the men in the procession gave me a tilak. That meant that more people on the street stared and smiled, and made comments.

I also met with the professors at the university this week. I met Viplav, a student in his MA with whom I have a lot in common in terms of research, and met his friend Kuranti, who lectures on vishanta yoga. The three of us chatted the whole afternoon. I also found an apartment! I'm living in Aundh, near the university, in the Kumar Prerna apartments, with two working girls. If you want to send mail to me, just send me an email and I'll give you my full address. In the photo is Laxmi (a friend of theirs), Tayaru (the girl who moved out to move to the US), me, and Gunjan. Richa is not in the photo; she is making sure I am well fed.