Thursday, February 23, 2017

First Impressions of Subharti University

I came to Swami Vivekanand Subharti University (SVSU) for my sabbatical on 1st of Feb. There is some excitement and some apprehension. I don’t know where I am staying, I don’t know what I am doing (literally and figuratively).  Everything is new, except India…always the same. Crowded, noisy, smelly and dirty.  But it is still my India.

The campus is on Delhi bypass, the gate is big enough and there were guards to give us a parking permission slip. Manoj was driving, and we asked for directions to the guest house and were taken to the guest house. I had already spoken to the person I was given the phone number of to confirm my stay.  The guest house was very spacious. 

I asked Manoj to take me around the campus before leaving so I could get an idea of the size of the campus and location of the science building. It is a huge campus!! I am glad Manoj was there. The science building was on the other corner of the campus.  Dr. Bhatnagar, the head of department of chemistry, was there, so I introduced myself and sat for a few minutes.  She told me to stop by and see the Dean also. I did. Dr. Kaushik was a small unassuming man. He did not say much and I left in less than 5 mins. All in all, within a day I got my sabbatical assignment and within a week I was shifted to the hostel from the guest house, where I will stay for the rest of my sabbatical.  

My first views is that there are communication issues within the administration and within the sciences. Despite my calling from the States, it did not help.  If they had communicated well, I would have been settled in the hostel the same day with the bedding and all. I would have also known what my assignment was before being present physically.  The latter was not a big issue, but moving from one location to another is a little bit of a pain.  

The university itself is huge! The entrance in not welcoming.  The hospital is right in front of the main gate, so the front is always full of people and there is just too much traffic. It does not give a feeling of an academic environment.  Only when I passed a second gate inside the campus did it get better. All this crowd just makes it a little too much for me. I kept thinking of the peace and quiet of DSVV. 

There are buildings everywhere. It is a residential campus, so most faculty and students live on campus.  The residences are interspersed in the academic buildings.  The layout is good. The landscaping is nice and maintained but just looks shabby. There is dust and dirt everywhere. The stone sculptures need restoration – they have degraded over the years. There are various sizes of gardens everywhere but the grass could be thicker. There are flowers in a number of places and they are blooming – and they definitely look pretty…but something is missing – the up keep?  

There are garbage cans everywhere to help keep the campus clean – but they are not helping. In fact, the garbage cans are so conspicuous that they are all I see. 

There are stray dogs everywhere. I just don’t like that. Either make a park for them so they stay there or keep them off the campus.  All the people and all the dogs have issues….there is spit and poop everywhere.  At least I have to watch out where I step and look, as these things just gross me out.  Sometimes the smell of poop is everywhere.  

The guest house and hostel rooms are nice layouts, but the work in them is unfinished.  The paint is incomplete, the doors look old, some of the sidings and light panels are chipped.  With a little more care and money, this place could look and feel really great. But they leave that last touch which makes it look old. 

I had thought that there would be no men inside the girls hostels, but because of the mess, they are all around. Why?  I did not think they would be allowed to roam freely in the girls hostel or sit around the doors. I don’t feel comfortable going in my night gown to eat dinner, as I used to in RG. There is a sense that someone is watching all the time.  Well they also are, there are CCTV cameras everywhere!! 

The classrooms are also good size but again no good material is used. The chairs are the worst I have seen. When the students drag them they sound like a train screeching to a halt at a station. Or when they get up they just slam up instead of slowly rising up.  The blackboard is small and does not have a place to keep chalks. The professor’s lectern is broken. The lecterns are all slanted and things keep falling off (because the lip is not there anymore).  There is no table for the professor to keep books and pens. Forget about technology. My office table is in poor shape, the drawer is falling apart, the door of the little shelf does not close. And they got plug points in each office just the day before I came, which were stuck so poorly that a little pull on my computer wire pulled the socket out of the wall….I feel guilty!

And the damn gates!! What’s with the gates closed all the time? There are gates and road blocks everywhere inside the campus. Why? There are three main gates (or more) to get into the campus – can’t they control the traffic? There will be this huge gate and on the side, they have this little tiny curved path for just one person to walk through. Rubbish!! And then there are at least three guards on each gate, just sitting and talking and watching. I just hate going past those gates. Why are there men just sitting on their butts? Why can’t they at least get rid of the dogs? 

The roads are worn off and need resurfacing. It really looks like village once I look past the big buildings. Most of the canteens look like sheds. The one decent one is hidden behind the hostel. The shops inside the campus and near the hospital could really use an upgrade. If they could spend just a little more money it would make this place look and feel so much better.  And maybe I am feeling this because I am an outsider. It could be that to most Indians this is normal. 

Why? Why does India do this? JV Jain, RG College and now this…all looked similar.  This one should look much better; they have the funds and manpower. And their fundamentals are good. 

I had not known what to expect from the campus. But after being here for three weeks now, I can say that definitely things could be better to make this campus look beautiful and welcoming! But then its also possible they don’t need the welcoming….there are already people here…Am I being overly critical? I will post pictures soon....and I can make my point.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Living in the Hostel

After the initial mix up of living at the guest house and hostel, I moved to the hostel.  It had been so many years since I lived in a hostel.  I had packed for the hostel a bit – a pitcher, a glass, some plastic containers so I can keep snacks (that would have been even in the guest house!). I had also bought a bed sheet but did not bring as the university changed my place of stay to the guest house. Now I wish I had brought it. 

Living in the guest house was nice in the beginning, but as time went by I did not like it. It was too big for one person. I did not need the extra room….unless I was expecting guests, which I wasn't. And then the food delivery.  It was always the guys bringing the food and then taking the plates. It was not convenient. They also had to get me water etc.  I don’t like all these men coming and going in my room. So when I was asked again to check the hostel, I said sure, I will see the rooms and see if they are suitable.   

On checking some a couple hostels it turns out the new hostels are really nice, big room and large bathroom and a balcony. And AC! What luxury. So yes, I would move. And eating would be in the mess, at my time and amount.  

Just the basics!
So after one week of living in the guest house, I moved to the hostel. I had requested that they at least give me bedding for the room.  And they did. And they gave me a bucket also! Good. The room was quite basic: bed, table and one steel cupboard. I set up my room. I still had to get some stuff, like bulbs, but I was quite set.

I do like living in the hostel. No worries about food or safety or men or cleaning. Yes, this hostel has cleaners. Food is awesome, as usual (it was good in the guest house also).  Breakfasts could be paranthas – plain or stuffed, bread (cooked in various ways) namkeen jawey. I eat less lunch so I have gone only once in while but its good  - daal and veggies with rice and roti. I think evening snack is the best with pakora, bread pakora and so much more…and then who wants to eat dinner but still good with vegetables and daal and even saag.  I love that I don’t have to worry about thinking about what to cook, and cook and then clean up. And tea. I don’t have to make tea! I can have seconds and it will taste exactly like the first! 

The major issue I have with visiting India is laundry. Even if I give my large clothes to the dhobhi, I still have to wash my own socks. At least at DSVV there was a washing machine in the guest house, but not here in the guest house or hostel.  I miss my washing machine a lot when I come to India. Somehow I feel my clothes are never clean – but I am sure they are! 

What I had enjoyed at the guest house, believe it or not, was my almost one mile walk to work.  It became mandatory that I walk two miles every day.  But now, my walk is barely a quarter of a mile – takes all of 5 mins.  The hostel is within the campus while guest house was sort of away in the new part of campus. So now I have to make an effort to go for walks in the evening (after eating all that good snack – I need it!). So, in a way it’s good, I can get up little late also and make it to the department on time. And now I spend about an hour walking in the evening – which is really good for me and my waistline! And it also helps for me to get out and about.

Living in the hostel as a faculty gives me a lot of freedom. I have the comfort of living in the hostel without all the studying that the poor students have to do. I don’t have to worry about attendance or behavior issues. This is the carefree life. I will always miss the comfort of my house, but this is not bad either. Although there are times I wonder – what the heck am I doing? And why?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Emotions in India

My feelings on coming to India are always mixed. As much as I like coming here, I also don’t like doing the same thing over and over again.  This will be my fourth trip in 7 years. It’s getting a little boring now.  I have to find something else next time.  It was hard to find something in a completely different country for three months, which would not break my budget.  My sabbatical is for 6 months. I could have gone anywhere provided I had means and work. I had tried several places but this is the only one that worked out, that also because of some connections, otherwise nothing in this world works!  

My biggest positive and negative about coming here is trying to meet everyone.  Everyone wants to meet, very few want to make the effort, so they all say, you came and did not come to see us.  Well…I should not have to justify anything. If I can make the effort to come from USA….

My other main issue is transport and thus my freedom. I cannot get around much by myself, as I am not confident in the directions and transport mechanism.  As much as there are so many ways to get around, it is hard for me, as a single woman, to get that confidence.  I would rather someone came to pick me up or if someone was with me.  So getting around is tough. Be it Dehradun or Haridwar, I was not really able to go alone. Luckily in DSVV, there was some market outside the campus and there were autos that went straight to Har Ki Pawri otherwise I may not have gone there also. In Meerut now, I am trying to figure out how to go out. Market around the University is sufficient for now, but for good old shopping for clothes etc, I will need to get to the city.

Other small details that bother me – laundry. I hate washing clothes with my hands. I love my washing machine. And in India, whether I am in someone’s house or by myself, it’s just a chore. No matter that I find a dhobi, I still have wash some clothes myself. Which also means, buying soap. Then there is the dust everywhere and traffic is always bad, people just walking without looking, all vehicles honking all the time.  It shows life, but it’s also pollution. 

But keeping all my worries aside, I still came to India. It is my motherland and in some ways I like being here – the food, the language and definitely the shopping! All is good.  Of course, one has to be able to get around first!! 

The smell of India is the first thing my senses feel getting off the plane. After immigration, its all the customs people, all looking busy, no one there to answer any question, should I have one. And then of course, India hits you as soon as you leave the AC of the airport. This time I arrived on 31st Jan, but still the weather was warm in Delhi.  The smell of gas, dust and the honking….all there to greet you with full force.  

When I come here, I feel I smile too much.  People here are just rushing to get … wherever. I will smile at the waiter also.  That is how it is in USA. But not here. People keep stern and keep to business.  Well, I am also a woman, so it’s possible it might not “look right”.  So okay – I get it. I will smile sparingly.  

The one thing that I really like about coming here is that I find Indian food everywhere – haha! Good joke eh?! But seriously, Ginger hotel has great paranthas and south Indian food for breakfast.  Any decent or indecent, tea stall will have samosas and I can find Haldiram namkeen everywhere for less than a dollar! These things cost too much in USA. On the other hand, there is also the McDonald and Dominos, both of which have good Indianized menus. So I will eat there also sometime.
All the eating places, just one side of road! Can you see McDs?

 And now that I am here, I have to put all my feelings aside and take it as it comes. The first week was the hardest one (as it was in Haridwar also, once I finished my 9 day shivir at Shantikunj). Communication issues lead to misunderstandings.  No one wants to just pick up the phone and call or even reply to me. So these things will happen. But once those hiccups are over, life gets into a routine, just like home.  

I like being able to speak in Hindi all the time. I like that people are curious about America and ask me questions about it, that is my first home after all. I enjoy the confidence that I don’t have to worry about anything. I have a nice job and home waiting for me when I come back to USA. That confidence gives me a chance to sit back and observe, learn and grow.  Each time I have gone back home, I have that sense of calm in me that I am in a good place.  Yes, people here (and my friends there) always ask me where my husband is, and all I want to say is, “I don’t know, let me know if you find him!” 

Once again, I will spend three long months here. I always miss my house, I miss it’s comfort, but these journeys are also important for me.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Sabbatical in India

I am spending part of my sabbatical in India this semester.  I got an Honorary Professorship in the chemistry department in Swami Vivekanand Subharti University, Meerut, UP, for a few weeks or a few months. Very flexible! I will not get paid. The only thing they are providing me is a room in the hostel. I will have to pay for my meals and any other personal expenses. I am, of course, paying for my own trip also.  I thought about the offer and decided its not too bad.  I will have flexibility, I will be in India, I will get to try out new teaching environment and hopefully get to do some creative project while here.  There is a good chemistry department here with about 7 faculty, as I saw from the website. 

I decided that 1st Feb would be good time to start.  Winter would be on its way out and that will still give me three months in India if I want to teach at Capital University during summer.  

As I was booking my flight the agent said that I could stop at Munich or Frankfurt on the way back (to get a cheaper deal). I said I would look into both places and then decide. It turns out Munich is the place to go and around it are Salzburg and Vienna. So deal done – I will stop over in Germany for 9 days before coming back USA. That will be my icing for the trip. I really wanted to go to someplace in Europe this summer and this turns out to be just perfect. 

With all the bookings done, I had plenty of time to pack and get ready. I had informed the relevant people at Subharti.  Strangely I got two emails from SU – one saying I was to stay at the guest house and one saying hostel. I contacted the person who the VC told me to call and I did and I was assured that I would be staying at the guest house. Okay – great! I would be reaching at night in Delhi so I booked a room in Ginger Hotel and then go on to Meerut the next day.

All worked out great. No issues. Except for one small flight delay all went smoothly. I arrived at SU on the 1st afternoon as planned and went to the guest house. Very nice suite with TV and all.  Great! I went to meet the head of the department (HOD) of chemistry and met the Dean of science while in the building. Both nice people.  I think Dr. Bhatnagar, the head, had thought a bit of what I would be doing, so I did get the teaching assignment. They knew in November that I would be coming this semester.

Next day I came to work and was called to visit the Vice Chancellor. Big personality. Seems easy going but I am sure he is not. My place of stay came up and it turns out I am not supposed to stay in the guest house. Oh well.  That took a few days to sort out. And then I moved in Rani Durgawati hostel. It is for post graduate students in Medicine so it has nice rooms with attached bathroom and a balcony. As I was looking through the rooms, I met the warden, Nisha. Now she and I are good friends. 

Then Sunday came and I was not going to spend it at home. Besides, I really need to buy some personal stuff. So I spoke to Dr. Bhatnagar for guidance and she told me that Ola cabs are really good to get around locally and the best place to shop is Shopprix mall for general stuff. Shefali, the girl at the phone shop, helped me get internet on my phone and I was all set with the Ola app. I can't believe they don’t have WiFi in the guest house. Even the science department one is password protected and not given to faculty.

Shopprix mall was huge, it's occupancy seemed only 50%. It has nice shops, movie theater and a nice food court.  So of course I spent some quality time in the shops.  The clothes are many but I like very specific stuff so it became a challenge. But at least I found some that I could live with.  And two of my favorite stores were there - Big Bazaar and 99. I am all set with personal stuff for some time. 

So within a week of coming to India, I started teaching, moved from one location to another and gone to the mall. Meanwhile I met so many people at the university, talked to so many relatives and adjusted with my jet lag. And on top of that a little mouse committed suicide in the bathroom in the guest house! 

Read on more for my first views on India in the next blog.