Onkur Sen

"The way to be is to do." Confucius

India Winter 2012-2013 Journal

December 12

  • Past few days have been busy with grad school apps and wrapping up finals for Rice.
  • Got to see my cousins Piya Didi and Tora Didi! We hung out, caught up, and went shopping for books and clothes along Rash Behari.
  • I still remembered the walking route from my mom’s house to my dad’s house! Felt good to walk the streets of Kolkata. Even though the city has its problems, it somehow feels good to be out and with the people. I definitely want to take more photos of what it’s like over here.
  • Taxis used to start at Rs. 10. Now prices have doubled. It’s still a paltry sum compared to the US. Then again, the exchange rate doesn’t actually do justice to how far a dollar will actually get you in India (it favors foreigners).
  • Sometimes it feels good to make other people smile.
  • Sometimes it feels frustrating to have your words be ignored.
  • Arguing seems like a pointless endeavor. Either the person agrees with you, or they’re pretty much set on their own viewpoint. It makes more sense to discuss things and come to a common consluion.
  • Every semester after finishing school I crash with a “destress nap” as a reaction to the burden that’s been lifted off of me. That happened today. I woke up at 5am this morning to take my computer science final and passed out for 3 hours in the afternoon while watching the 4th India v. England Test.
  • It’s interesting how little my life has changed in terms of access to technology after coming to India. This is completely different than when I was last here 4 years ago. It’s amazing how quickly the world (and this country, in particular) has developed.
  • Beds in India are really hard. My coccyx is getting a thorough workout.
  • Sometimes Silicon Valley really angers and frustrates me. I feel like the talent could be spent on things that will help a large number of people instead of making “solutions” that “disrupt industries” and cater to a very narrow and insular audience.
  • I only have tea regularly when I come to India. It’s definitely part of the culture here. I remember my mom told me when she was younger, she would have 10 cups of tea per day. It’s quite normal to have tea with guests when they come over; it’s how social conversations are facilitated here.
  • The geography of big cities is fascinating. I’ve always had a penchant for maps since I was young, and it always bothered me a bit that I couldn’t see a good map of Kolkata when I was younger and came here. The last time we visited, we had to use a crowd-sourced site called Wikimapia that overlayed user-tagged places on top of raw Google Earth. Fast forward 4 years, and Google maps on my tablet has absolutely gorgeous maps of the entire city. Dream come true.
  • Every time I walk out onto the city, part of me just wants to start cleaning everything up and make a small dent in the waste disposal problem we have. No one uses trash cans; just toss everything out the window. We can do better.
  • Less than 4 months from now, my fate for the next 5-7 years will be decided. Spooky.

December 10

### Journal * Woke up at 6:30. Still jet lagged. Sigh. Oh well. Decided to do a lot of reading: Kindle, Instapaper, and other PDFs I had saved. The tablet has an excellent interface for reading, and it’s easy to carry around. I Definitely feel inspired to read more and learn as much as I can during this winter break, and I hope to keep the enthusiasm going in the spring semester. * Tora Didi wasn’t feeling too well, but we got to spend some time together watching Ratatouille, talking about medicine, and loading songs onto her new MP3 player. * After Tora Didi left, I realized I still had finals to study for! I cracked open my math book and got to work. * Realized I had 3 huge mosquito bites on my neck. Ouch. * Spent time with cousins, gossiped, and talked a bit about religion. * Set up tablet for my cousins and watched the wonder on my uncle/aunt’s face as the video quality of Skype on their tablet was better than the laptop. Opened up Anandabazar as well for my grandmother and watched her wonder as she was reading it.

Random Observations

  • My cousin was writing a Sanskrit phrase repeatedly in a book; I curiously asked her what she was doing, and she said that she needed to write this phrase 108 times every day while she was waiting for her exam results. I respect religious people, but doing something obediently just because you’ve been told to has always frustrated me, especially when it is only done selectively in times of need and not on a consistent basis.
  • I feel like most of the question-like utterances I’ve heard here are actually statements with an upward inflection. People don’t seem to be looking for feedback; in fact, it seems that they are trying to convince you.

December 8: The Cricket Fanboy’s Dream

### Journal * Went to bed around 2:30, woke up at 6:30. Not bad for the first day. Had bread with Nutella and then potato/cauliflower with rotis for breakfast. * On the plane ride over, my mom ruined the surprise that today we were going to watch the 4th day of the India vs. England Test match at Eden Gardens, the cricket stadium in Kolkata! I was super excited. My dad and I took a taxi over and managed to score seats in the shade for almost the entirety of the day. * By the time we got there, India had started their second innings. In the first session, Gambhir and Sehwag were looking steady. After the lunch break, the entire batting order collapsed. Sehwag was bowled first ball after lunch, Gambhir got Pujara run out, Gambhir got caught behind to an easy ball, Tendulkar misjudged a simple top-spinner, Yuvraj was bowled by a ball that stayed low, and Dhoni stuck his bat out like he wanted to lose his wicket. * Kohli came in and managed to calm things down with Ashwin. Then Kohli and Zaheer fell in quick succession, leaving Ashwin to work with Ishant. Things were not looking good, and an innings defeat seemed imminent. However, they both batted cautiously while scoring slowly and were able to creep up the score. * Ishant fell with 10 runs to go. In comes Ojha at number 11. England has been fielding well this whole innings and just crowds Ojha: wicket keeper, two slips, forward short leg, AND silly point. For those of you who don’t know cricket, this basically means 5 people within 10 feet of you ready to catch any ball your bat touches. * Fortunately, Ojha lifts the ball on his first delivery and gives the strike to Ashwin, who scores a couple of fours to help us escape from an innings defeat! He keeps going to a 32-run lead and ends the day on 83 not out. Unbelievable stuff, especially since Ashwin is a bowler (although interestingly, he started his pro career as an opening batsman). * The day is over, stumps are called. Upon exiting the crowded stadium, I had the sudden honor of spotting Sunil Gavaskar, the original Little Master and of the match’s commentators, a few feet away from me entering a call. It was pretty surreal. * Now the difficult task to get back. We tried calling many taxis but to no avail; they were already full. We ended up hopping on the incredibly-packed metro. We had to push our way to get in, and there’s barely any room for breathing space. I’m pretty sure my volume decreased by a few cubic centimeters due to all the pressure (ok, Boyle’s law is only for ideal gases, but you get my point). * We got out a few stops later and took a taxi over to my mom’s house, where we planned my grandparents’ 50th anniversary wedding party for a while and talked with family friends. * Came back to dad’s house, and the jet lag was starting to kick in. I ate dinner while dad was talking to cousin about future career plans and then went to sleep.

Random Observations

  • Mosquito repellants are an American’s best friend.
  • It’s interesting to think that a taxi’s base fare is Rs. 10, which is equivalent to less than $0.20. On the other hand, taxis in Houston start at $2.75.
  • Eden Gardens is a spectacular venue (second largest cricket stadium in the world). I’m really glad I got to witness a match there.
  • Upon leaving Eden Gardens, I walked through a really dusty/foggy area. I could taste the dirt accumulating in my mouth.
  • Kashmir seems like a double-edged sword: very beautiful, but potentially extremely dangerous.
  • It seems that people think that the metro in their city is always the worst. I’ve heard this in Houston, Boston, San Francisco, and Kolkata.

December 5,6,7: Return to India

### Journal * Going back for the first time in 4 years. Pretty excited. * Of course I decided to upgrade my Mac to Mountain Lion and my iPhone to iOS6 at the last minute before leaving Rice. Why? So I could iMessage people from my Mac. Oh wait, there’s Google Voice. facepalm * Security for the international terminal at IAH took less than 5 minutes. What. * Flight to Frankfurt was pretty great. I was reunited with the famous Lufthansa water + orange juice fluid combo of bliss. Had an aisle seat as well which was relaxing. Knocked out 4 movies (Ice Age: Continental Drift, The Campaign, The Dark Knight Rises, The Bourne Legacy) and read a good chunk of “The One World Schoolhouse” by Salman Khan. Did not sleep at all because I wanted to fight jet lag. * Met Akshay, an A&M civil engineering Master’s student who was sitting across from me, as we were deplaning. Found out he’s taking the same flight as me, so we stuck together. * The airport was really nice, but we had to move gates twice (B20 => B45 => B22, aka walk across the terminal back and forth). Got to have some European Fanta and a panini for breakfast, which was costly but yummy. * Read more of “The One World Schoolhouse” at the gate while anxiously waiting for my parents to show up. Tried reseating to be next to them, but attendant wouldn’t let me. Once we boarded the flight however, we were able to do a 3-seat switcheroo so I could! Felt quite a bit like bubble sort. * Flight to Bombay = lots of sleep. Definitely some jet lag kicking in, but I was trying to time it right. * Bombay airport was one of my most frustrating travel experiences in recent memory. Customs itself was relatively quick, but baggage claim took forever (considerably longer than Kolkata, for reference). Power went out more than 15 times. Only in Bombay would you have two immediately consecutive baggage screenings. Security man wouldn’t let me pass because I didn’t have a print itinerary even though I had baggage tags and an electronic version on my tablet. Had to walk across the airport, print itinerary, and then come back. * Took a shuttle to the domestic terminal. First thing I saw was Gandhi’s famoud quote “Be the change you wish to see” plastered across a huge banner, which decidedly calmed me down. There were also free internet stations! Broke my spell and fed my addiction, of course. Was feeling hungry, so I decided to have a chicken tikka crepe with my mom. BAD MISTAKE. Got food poisoning and threw up 3 times. * Flight to Kolkata was pretty miserable due to aforementioned food poisoning. However, after finally getting everything out, I felt pretty good (just in time for landing, I might add!) * Deplaned and went to baggage claim, which took a while but not as bad as Bombay. Met Joy Jethu outside, who was ready with a good old Tata Sumo to bring everything back. The ride back was great; the Kolkata air flying through my face and the sight of dust and construction everywhere harkened a nostalgic feeling for me. * When I got back, I made a quick round of the house and said hi to everyone before sitting down and having a good lunch to reset my stomach. Watched India vs. England match and had some nice Indian Sprite to top things off. Spent the rest of the day unpacking, reading, succombing to jet lag, having dinner. * A note on succombing to jet lag: I made a highly inequal bet with my aunt: if I could stay up, she would give me 10 rupees. If I fell asleep, I would give her 10 dollars. Guess who won. Sigh. * At night, I wasn’t too tired due to the rest in the afternoon, so I was chatting with friends in the US and decided to begin experimenting with the mix for my SAS dance next semester. PSA, guys: it’s going to be legendary.

Random Observations

  • In the Frankfurt airport’s security line, everything has to be in a bin. Everything.
  • I could have legally bought alcohol from the Frankfurt duty free stores. Oh well; the orange juice on Lufthansa is just so much better.
  • My print itinerary from Bombay was on A4 paper. I wonder if the US is one of the exception in that regard.
  • I’ve always wondered how the air sickness bags don’t tear when you vomit in them. Then I felt the inside lining, and it definitely has a plastic-like polymer.
  • Kolkata has changed quite a bit in the last 4 years. For example, now there are traffic lights which people actually follow.
  • A car horn means a simple “I’m here” instead of the tonal equivalent of curse words like in America. In fact, many big buses have the words Horn do (or “please honk”) on the flaps covering the tires.
  • Showering in India with a bucket of water is so much more efficient. Sometimes I wonder about the repercussions of the relatively lavish lifestyle nearly every American lives.
  • All soft drinks in India are sweeter. It’s blissful.

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