Day Eleven and Day Twelve: ‘I Share Your Love’

IMG_3747 He was caught of guard — he was laughing and smiling right before this…I think we surprised him with the flash. Haaha (Peter, I know you’ll enjoy this one).

I am watching a clinic employee feed the fish in the pond downstairs as I type. Like I said, everything here is connected and holistic—parts all come together to make a whole, it is marvellous. Speaking of feeding, I have not ingest meat in 10 days, as I mentioned a few posts ago, I may return a vegetarian…one that eats seafood. Haaha.

I had a great meeting with the Directing Trustee yesterday and his advised me on an exciting idea for my final write-up. I am visiting a few local government hospitals meant for the treatment of survivors. Basically, I will be on the go all day, from one location to the other—I am doing six total. So I am thinking two per day for the next three days but we’ll see.

I will stop by the market and start collecting gifts seeing that my time in India is coming to a close. I fly off to Nepal next Saturday for another project.

I found out that Hitler imitated a Hindu religious symbol and turned it into his Aryan nation symbol?! Madness. I found that out this evening whilst shopping for gifts at a metal store. They all sorts of metal utensils in silver, copper, and brass. I also bought a few spices, tea, and raw mint that looks like ice crystals!

On our way back however, we saw a sad scene – a man on the side of the road bleeding with a crowd around him. It may have been from an accident or a fight or something else, either way, my heart ached upon viewing. Things can go from pleasant to unpleasant in a flash…guess it’s one of life’s mysteries that we may never understand.

I am coming down with a cold. I got wet in the rain a few days ago and now I have a sore throat, a slight runny nose, and I feel it coming on stronger. I am drinking a cup of tea at the moment and rubbed my chest/neck with Vick’s vapour rub, hopefully, by the morning, I’ll be feeling much better because there is lots to do.

Here are a few photos…I don’t have a camera so I get photos from others. I used to love 7Ups as a kid, hence my excitement at finding this one…”life is like lemons, squeeze the juice out”




Day Three: Morning Prayers and Bespoke Kurta

Day Three: Morning Prayers and Bespoke Kurta

 I drank caffeine last night at the soiree and was unable to sleep peacefully throughout the night—caffeine affects me, extremely. It’s four fifty-one in the morning and I cannot sleep and had an amazing idea so I leap from my bed and head straight to my laptop to jot it down. As I sit to write, the sound of prayer is vibrating through the air. Bhopal is a religiously conservative community and the visibility of it is everywhere. It is my first time hearing such potent and distinctive sounds—it’s a nice wake-up call!

Today, I will excavate information by going through the archives in the library that is dated back to the 1984 disaster. I am excited but also nervous as to what I will find—the atrocities and the injustice around this historic disaster, though, one cannot be afraid to make the implicit, explicit.

I also have plans today to go into the old market with Devender, who has become my guide and point person when I have questions. He has been at the clinic for quite some time and has access and knowledge of crucial information. In anthropology of the past, he would be considered my ‘ethnographic informer’, though, that term is dated. He is not ‘informing’ as it is typically used, rather, he is enlightening me on the history of the clinic, the history of the disaster, and how it lives in the present. He also has an extended knowledge of how the clinic works, what they do, and which personnel’s perform which task.  This afternoon, we will be going to the old market to buy fabric and return it to a local tailor to sew a few kurtas that fits me—my very own haberdasher! How charming!? It is advised we dress conservatively and preferably in traditional attire, henceforth our trip this afternoon.

As I sit at my desk reading and writing, I look out the window to the sight and sound of rain drops falling. It is my first rainfall here, and it is the rainy season so I expect many more showers of blessings. I will now take a break from my studies to enjoy the calming sound of the rain….The bounty and beauty of flowers and plants around the ground is breath-taking and it also reminds me of my grandmother’s house. There are rows and rows of hibiscus plants amongst other tropical flowers flourishing. There are aloe vera plants amongst other natural herbs that are utilized for medicine for the patients—this clinic is holistic in its practice and medical remedies. I will give a run-down of the various forms of medicine and traditional practices used here during my stay. I walked into the garden to cut myself flowers for my room, I am staying in one of the guests’ house. On my way to the garden, I noticed that patients are already lining up to seek medical attention, the clinic does not open until 8:30 am and it is now 7:30 am—amongst all this natural beauty there is suffering.

Day Two: Rickshaws, Indian Rum and Cattle, Yeehaw!

“I’m in India,” the reality sits in and not just India, but Bhopal, India. The site of the 1984 chemical disaster that lives on today. I arise from my horizontal state of lucid dreaming and into an upright posture of excitement and gratitude, with an internal thought: “What now?”

After I applied insect repellent, I decided to wander around—due to the difference in time zones, my sleep pattern is going through an alteration. As of now, I am not feeling like an ethnographer, someone who is far away from home, rather, I feel oddly at home, for now, the sights and sounds are familiar to me. I have spent time in the Caribbean and the rainforest of South America and certain things are the same world-wide, whilst others are drastically different.  Then it hits me, I am in the field—this is anthropology—this is ethnography…as I type these words, I am performing the tangible task of transcribing my field notes.



As I sit on the balcony compiling notes, the sound of prayers is vibrating through the air—Bhopal is a mixture of Islam, Hindu, and Christian teachings. Along with the sound of prayer, is the hustle and bustle of cars and mopeds honking, and the voices of a language I do not comprehend. I am sitting underneath a red brick canopy of towers and verandas and to the near distance is the luscious greens of trees and vegetation. Bhopal, as I can tell from within the compound, is a mixture of religion, culture and ethnicity—a conglomerate of humanness. It is humid, though there is a cool breeze, and all I want to do is take my shirt off but Bhopal is a conservative city and I am not fully aware of all the rules and regulations—and I have watched too many episodes of Locked Up Abroad to not take every precaution, haaha.

This morning, I met Sathyu, Aja, Tasheem, and Devender. These four are my point persons and will ensure that I have access to everything that I need to perform my tasks. There is a weekly two-hour meeting on Wednesdays and I will be introduced during the meeting, today (Wednesday). It is in Hindi, so after my short introduction, I will leave and get back to transferring my notes. Devender will be my translator and tour-guide (I found out that none of the patients speak English). Tomorrow, I will meet Shahnaaz, who will be my librarian/archive point person.

The meeting was interesting, men sat on one side and the women on the other. It is held in an open circular structure with a high cone-shaped roof/ceiling made of organic material, looks like straw but I am not sure—think Native American style. As I do not speak Hindi, sitting through the entire meeting would be unproductive.

Surprisingly, I am not jet-lagged! Oh shit, I lied—it’s kicking in. Woosah.

I attempt to take a nap but instead, after twenty minutes of cardio (skipping), I feel better. Right before I left the United States, I read an article on about the best ways to recover from jet-lag and a gym workout post-flight is the remedy. The best piece of equipment one can travel with to ensure daily exercise is a jump/skip rope—the perfect 15 – 20 minute cardio workout, get your heart flowing and freshly oxygenated blood moving.

Devendra knocks on my door to take me to the supermarket, when we get downstairs there is a motorcycle awaiting us, to my dismay! I have not been on a motorcycle since the age of fifteen with my boyhood friend Liam Mitchell and I was filled with terror and I have since dared getting back on one. Motorcycles are everywhere on the roads of Bhopal—maybe more than people, vehicles, and or cows. Yes, cows. Life is all intertwined here in Bhopal and one cannot tell where animal, human, and machine start and or begin, it’s an urban symbiotic conglomerate. I hopped on like a pro and held on for dear life—there is no manner to traffic it seems, but I have a feeling it is organized chaos. For an outsider it may seem manic and out-of-control, however, with the ease and know-how of the locals, there seems to be rules and regulations for navigating the streets of ‘old’ Bhopal—apparently ‘new’ Bhopal is different. It has been a while since I have felt like the ‘outsider’ or the ‘foreigner’ in a place—but I am soaking it all in!

I was invited to an all-male hangout out tonight before dinner with a few colleagues. Men and women are highly segregated in daily activities in Bhopal. As I mentioned, it is very conservative and consequently religious. On the walk back to the compound Dev asks “Are you religious?” I replied, “No” and I followed up with, “Are you?” He responds “No” but that “Everyone in India is religious—either Hindu, Islam, Buddhist…” and he listed a few others. Can one then say because of this religious conservatism, many of India’s problems remain?

The soiree was fun. We talked about Barack Obama, the recent earthquakes to hit Nepal and India, Darjeeling Tea, and the contrast between New York City and Bhopal. I had a taste of a few Indian snacks, Indian rum, and Indian cigarette—it was very National Geographic Explorer meets Anthony Bourdain and I loved it!  It is funny, because I have not been on the back of a motorcycle since I was fifteen and in one day, miles away from home, I have done it twice within a four-hour period. The ritual of sitting on the floor together, crossed legged, in a circle, surrounded by the sounds of laughter, the touch of compassion, the kindness of sharing, and the look of caring warmed my heart—all of which happened during the Hindu-English dialogue. Language may be a barrier between human beings but the core values that we share remain the same, the soul speaks the same language and when the heart vibrates at the same pace, one thing is possible, a charming time! As an anthropologist, the ritual of socialising stimulated every part of my intellectual gamut; as a philosopher, what made all the difference was the words of one of the gentlemen at the soiree, he looks over to me and says, “Good food, good drink, good friends.”






Day One: 24 Hours Later—where is my plane!?

Day One: 24 Hours Later—where is my plane!?


After leaving my apt in NYC on Monday, July 20th @ noon, I arrive at my boarding in Bhopal, India, shortly before midnight on Tuesday, July 21…now you do the Math.

Once in Bhopal, the ride from the airport was a bit troubling only because I am in a foreign country, it is late at night, I am sans a working mobile device, and I am at the mercy of my cab-driver who doesn’t seem to know where he is going, and we do not speak the same language—it is natural to feel uncertain at moments like these. Every time he gets out the car, which was roughly four times—to ask directions I would fear that this is the moment I will have to fight for my life, that either I will be mugged, beaten, raped, and or killed. After spending hours upon hours in an aircraft and then spending hours waiting for another aircraft, one just wishes for the comforts of a shower and a bed to lay one’s head, and not to have adrenaline running through one’s veins in the “fight or flight” mode.

Let me back track a few before I end for the night. The 14 hour flight from JFK to New Delhi was a joy—I enjoyed the meals and I slept for eight hours—thanks to Ativan and Benadryl. Spending time with my family at the airport before my departure was bitter sweet—as soon as I went through security, it hits, and as we wave good-bye for the sixth time, and as I turned away walking down the stairs, a flood of tears, uncontrollably, starts pouring down my cheeks. As Bob Marley says, “Is this is love that I am feeling?” They stood there watching me walk away until I was no longer in view—writing this now makes me tear.

I lucked out and had the two seats next to me empty the entire flight so I got into the baby-pose and passed out. In New Delhi, I had a four hour delay that turns into six hours because my connecting flight was two hours late. I made a friend from Bhutan who was also waiting for the connecting flight to Bhopal—his name is Namgyal. He asked if he could take a selfie of us after the fourth hour together and I obliged, when across the world, why not!? He was kind and we kept each other company until our flight, even sharing a meal together. Two strangers stranded at a foreign airport, both first timers to India (update: he e-mailed me the next morning with the kindness words). The flight to Bhopal was also pleasant. I sat next to a man named Suvash who is a government official and he tells me about New versus Old Bhopal.

After the safe but nerve-racking cab ride, because of my inexperience with this part of the world, and the general fear of what could be, I came to my living quarters, unpacked, showered, and went to bed.Queens-20150720-00222 (2)

Reading Material for the Flight

I received my copy of Harper Lee’s new book, Go Set A watchman, in the mail today. This book will keep me company on the 13-hour flight from JFK to New Delhi, during my four hour layover, and with me on the 1.5-hr flight from New Delhi to Bhopal (I will pack Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird to keep me company on my 15-hour flight home in August).

I’ve attached a photo of the other books I will be carrying with me in my backpack to keep me company on my month long research adventure.



Also, here is a first-draft list of what I will be bringing with me — minimalism is the theme for the month. I have always wanted to be the guy who travels light and with the bare essentials. This flight/trip will give me the chance to put that into practice and become the man I have always envisioned.


Former ICKCBI Fellow on Indian refugee politics | Shreya Sen


We’re always excited to receive new articles and research updates from our network of scholars. This latest update comes from one of our former ICKCBI graduate students, Shreya Sen, who has just published an opinion piece in Refugee Review titled “Understanding India’s refusal to accede to the 1951 Refugee Convention.”

[bc_member avatar=”25″ name=”senshreya”] Here is an excerpt from her latest piece:

India is the largest refugee receiving country in South Asia. Refugee groups that have sought asylum in India include Tibetans, the Tamil from Sri Lanka, Partition refugees from erstwhile East and West Pakistan, the Chakmas from Bangladesh, Bhutanese refugees from Nepal, Afghans, Rohinyga and other refugees from Myanmar and refugees from Somalia, DRC and Sudan. In spite of having such a substantive asylum seeking and refugee population, India is a not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention or the 1967 Protocol. Neither has any domestic legislation in India been passed to protect refugees. The fate of individual refugees in India is essentially determined by protections that are made available under the Indian Constitution. The question often raised is why India, like several other nations in South Asia, has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention. This article analyzes a number of scholastic arguments that have been made to explain India’s refusal to accede to the Convention, and examines the existing legal set-up for refugees in India in order to arrive at an understanding of the context of non-accession. This opinion paper concludes that India will likely never be party to the Convention despite hosting numerous refugees on its soil, and argues that uniform domestic protection legislation must be enacted.

You can read the whole article online at Refugee Review here.

Before India

It was less than 48 hours before my flight left and I was standing at Cox and Kings Visa Application Centre asking for my visa for the 5th time that week. It was time to enter into panic mode. I knew if I didn’t get my visa by tomorrow I would miss my flight, and it looked like that was a strong possibility. At this point I had made friends with the staff at the centre and was begging for a way to make sure it came tomorrow. One of the guys put his hand over his mouth and mumbled “Consulate, basement, go to window 2.” I had a final in less than an hour but it was down to the wire and decided to just go for it. I jumped in a cab and got up to the consulate by central park and started thinking maybe this was a bad plan and I would miss my final but as the great minds of our generation say: YOLO. I saw the stairs leading down to the basement were roped off. Not sure what got into me, but I climbed over the little wall and jumped onto the stairs, ran through the metal detector setting off the alarm and walked straight past the security guard to window 2. Note to anyone who wants to get into the thief field: the Indian Consulate is remarkably easy to break into. I summoned the (fake) tears and stated my problem to the woman behind the glass. She asked why I had booked my ticket before I got my visa despite the website saying not to do that and I started to explain the email said my visa would be ready in time which immediately lost her interest. Then I just said “because I’m an idiot.” She seemed to like that and sent someone to go look into my visa.

Preparing to go to India was a mission and a half. Between finding out a few weeks before my plane left and thus being pressed for time, being in the thick of finals, finishing my internship and having to do a trip back to Canada to deal with an almost expired passport, things were pretty hectic. But aside from all of that, how does one even prepare to go to India? I had no idea what to expect. I started asking friends and family for their thoughts and got a whole slew of advice. I got lists from people who had traveled and worked there, my parents, the lady at the bank, my Dad’s cab driver. Everyone had something to say. Most of the advice was safety and food related, making me think I had a strong possibility of being kidnapped/raped/deathly ill within the first few hours of arriving. A girl my age who had traveled in Dehli last summer said she felt unsafe all the time. The advice ranged from cautious to extremely cautious. Some of the most common pieces of advice were:

  • Never take rickshaws, the subway, buses or cabs.
  • If I get in a cab to take a photo of the driver, license plate and send all the information to my parents. – Others said the only safe way to get around was to get a driver.
  • I was told not to go out after 7 pm, or if I must go with a group.
  • Do not go to the market by yourself.
  • Do not go anywhere with someone you do not know (this is going to be interesting since I do not know anyone).
  • Carry all your money in a money pouch attached to the inside of your shirt.
  • Do not drink the water, only bottled water
  • Do not buy food from street vendors, eat as much hotel food as possible it is usually safe
  • No fruits or vegetables unless they have been cooked

A lot of people who gave me advice had never even been to India. This is interesting because it is a reflection of how the West views India. India is negatively portrayed in the media; we hear all these stories of rape, severe illness, theft and danger. The most common response I got when I said I was going was “Why? Don’t get raped.” I joked with a friend and said “why doesn’t everyone keep saying that to me!” and he said “it’s not you, it’s India.” But is it really India? Or is it just our skewed perception of India? The people I spoke to who are actually from India kept saying “it’s fine, you’ll be fine. It’s not like everyone says it is.” I didn’t believe them.
Either way, as a 20 year old girl travelling alone I will exercise caution. After getting all these warnings and lectures, I’m also nervous as hell right now. I have friends of my fathers friend picking me up from the airport and housing with an American expat family organized, so at least that’s a starting point and I’ll figure it out from there, only time will tell. Let the adventure begin.

Advice to fellow travelers:

  1. Apply for visa as early as possible, hopefully you can wait to book your plane ticket until after you get your visa. If it’s not coming for some reason, go directly to the consulate, down to the basement and to window 2, and tell them you’re an idiot and hope they take pity on you.
  2. Go to Cox and Kings early. Walk in hours are between 9 am and noon Monday through Friday. They only accept a certain number of walk in appointments, so go around 7:30 am (at the absolute latest). You will see a lot of people lining up outside waiting for 9 am when the guard will escort small numbers upstairs.
  3. To pick up your visa the hours are between 3-6 pm (despite what it says on the website, learned this one the hard way.) Download a movie on your phone, bring a book and go for about 2:15 at the latest. Going early is way better than having to wait until they go through 50 people before you and then find out that they are closed and you have to go the next day. Fortunately it never happened to me but was a common horror story repeated in the Cox and Kings line up.
  4. Want to avoid all this hassle and just mail it in? Bad plan. Lots of people were saying their applications got lost (along with their passports!) when they had done this and missed their flights and their trips. It’s a lot of time but absolutely worth going in person. Think of it as your introduction to the lines and crowds you will be facing in India.
  5. When you are submitting your visa forms to Cox and Kings make sure the address you put on the forms as your current address is the same as the address that is on your proof identification. So submitting a drivers licence from your hometown and having your New York address on your forms isn’t going to fly, the identification address needs to match your current address. I brought a passport (no address), a lease and two utility bills. They prefer utility bills over a lease, so go for that if you have it. Note they do not accept Time Warner bills, it has to be a water, heat, electricity bill, etc.
  6. Fill out every single form listed on the Cox and Kings website. They’re going to take about half of them but apparently it just depends on the day, better to be prepared than have to go back.

Tourist Prices: Dual Pricing for a Good Cause?

Dual Pricing

The first time, I encountered the concept of a “tourist price” in India was by coincidence. My wife and I went to buy a leather bag in one of the many leather stores in Mumbai. My wife is from Mumbai, which proved to be significant. After a short look on the tag, the vendor gave us a much lower price. “That price is just for tourists.” We probably still overpaid in the end, but the notion that tourists should pay more in India turned out to be a pervasive concept, even though it is enacted in quite different ways.

The next time I ran into the “tourist price” was in New Delhi, as we visited Humayun’s Tomb. At the entrance, it stated clearly a low Indian entry-fee and a significantly higher tourist fare (see photo). The same applies to the Taj Mahal in Agra and actually every official, public, state-run tourist site in India.

One can argue about the (non)sense of having a local and a tourist fee for public sites. I actually think it is only fair to enable cheap (or better free) access to cultural and heritage sites for the local residents, while the tourists end up paying for the upkeep of these sites. This system acknowledges on the one hand the resident’s ownership over these sites, and on the other hand the sites reflects the commercial capacity in terms of tourism. The dual pricing therefore expresses the dual existence of tourist sites.

The problem with this dual pricing is that it seemingly applies to everything in India and is by far not as lucid and clear as in the case of the entrance fees to tourist sites. A soft-drink on the street, a taxi ride in Delhi, a bag in the market or a souvenir in the bazaar – everything has two different prices, and mostly this difference is not made explicit.  One might say this is just the way things are done in India, as it is a bargaining economy at large. Every price is up for debate. The idea that one product has one price does not exist, and even locals constantly haggle and get hustled. But having flexible pricing is not the same as a dual pricing system. Tourists will (almost) never be able to get the price the locals pay, as they just don’t have the knowledge of what that price should be.

For the Indian travel industry, this pervasive dual pricing presents a significant issue. In my interviews with local travel agents and tour operators this lack of price clarity came up almost immediately, as my respondents claimed it creates a permanent uncertainty. To put it more clearly: Tourists supposedly feel constantly cheated as they experience India. Through their associations, the travel industry lobbies on the federal and state level for a stronger control of prices and commercial activities at least around the main tourist sites and cities.

In short: The Indian travel industry wants the government to eliminate the dual pricing system for tourists, at least in its unofficial capacity. The state should enforce a “fairer” treatment of tourists. This is quite ironic, as the state runs an official dual pricing scheme, which in part legitimates the actions of private individuals to copy this practice

Taj Mahal: Global Icon and Local Economies

Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is stunning, beautiful and breathtaking. I chose a trip to this world-famous tomb, as it is India’s most recognizable tourist site, a true global icon and vivid part of the global imaginary.

The Taj Majal, situated in the city of Agra, the former Mogul seat of power just three train-hours outside of New Delhi, is the epicenter of the region’s economy. It is quite fascinating to weave through all the layers and flows of economic activity that are tied around this architectural masterpiece. From local beggars to global marketers, generations of craftsman to travel agencies in Queens – the Taj sits like a spider in its web of commercial activity.

Tourist sites are works of translation. Here a myriad of actors translate history, landscapes, traditions, infrastructure and the lives of thousands of people (past, present and future) into a commoditized space. The function of this space is to produce and facilitate consumption of various forms.

During my two days in Agra, I experienced and observed various networks evolving around the different practices of consumption one can find in a tourist destination. All these instances of consumption follow different rules that enable their reproduction over time with changing actors (tourists) as continuous relations of consumption, production and exchange that make-up the tourist site Taj Mahal.

As my research is focusing on the role of the state within the triangle of the tourist and private industry, I was quite surprised by the various forms, in which the state appears in these relations. One of the most interesting ones is probably how the state on the one hand closes off certain spaces, while it on the other hand creates and endorses other spaces for specific practices.

Taj certificate

The grounds of the Taj Mahal for example are off limits for the exchange of money. That does not mean that there is no economic activity going on. Photographers for example take pictures of tourists, which are then sold outside of the gates. These photographers are licensed by the state, even tough the final transaction of the relation to the tourist is removed from the inner circle of the tourist site.

Certain consumption spaces on the other hand are clearly endorsed by the state. A few craft shops for example are “state/government” shops. The local guides use these words often to create trust for the tourist. The attachment of the word “government” to a shop is supposed to make it a safe space for ‘fair’ exchange. Within the local structures of competition amongst craft shops, these “state/government” shops become privileged and dominant, creating an order that is not necessarily based on price and quality of goods, but the perception of trustworthiness.

These are just two specific arrangements of many, which I have sketched out here. They have ripple effects throughout Agra and if one follows the flows of people, goods and money that pass through these local economies, one will soon end up at intersections between them and could trace them to unexpected places far away. It is this interconnectivity that makes tourist sites such fascinating places to study. And it is also this interconnectivity that makes the actors closest to the site (and most dependent on it) the most vulnerable to changes within the network of relations.

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