As an aside, any students who have an opportunity to study abroad should take it. The experience is especially memorable if you experience a culture that is extremely different than your own. India and Indian culture was more different than I could have possibly imagined. Being a proud American, I thought I came from the world’s melting pot and growing up so close to New York, I thought I had been exposed to most of the world’s cultures, but I realize now that when people say something is Americanized, it is nothing like the original. I did not know people lived this way. Words, pictures and videos cannot describe it. This probably is an exaggeration, but I felt like I learned more in those first three days in India then I learned in the first three years of college.
Today was also the first day I felt like we really bonded as a group. Because we had such a large group traveling and we were sort of disjointed into our different projects and busy preparing them before the trip, we never really got to spend time all together before leaving for India. I actually met the two Hartford Art School students, Christa and Chris, while getting dinner at JFK. However, I have learned that amazing things can happen when people are cold. We constantly cold because the day before we left, India started a unseasonable cold spell. The result was that everyone packed for 70 degree weather and it was about 50 degrees the entire time – I also lost my jacket on the plane ride there, smart move. India is also designed for the extreme heat; meaning every building has an open air front and there is no concept of a heating system anywhere (unless you count burning cow pies). Anyway, back to the bonding. This morning was particularly cold and we stopped for breakfast at a little roadside place. It was freezing inside and when I sat down I was shivering uncontrollably. Jessica and Sarah had pushed their chairs together and were interlocking their arms for warmth. I didn’t know Jessica very well at the time but, she just looked over at me and said, “hey my other side is cold, come ’mer.” And I gladly did. A few moments later I looked at Clay who was sitting on the other side of the table, looking very cold by himself and said, “Hey, you wanna get in on this?” He quickly brought his chair over and I was immediately comfortably warm. By the time we had ordered, all the students were sitting in a long line all interlocking arms, swaying in either direction and playing the game, telephone. I’ve learned that it is very easy for people to come together when they have a common need.
We got in the bus again and drove another three hours to the Taj Mahal. This time the hagglers came right onto our bus. We parked one place and took a camel-driven cart to the front gate. The thing that struck me here which I hadn’t really noticed in the village was the separation between men and women in Indian culture. There were not only different lines for natives and foreigners, but within the Indian line there were separate lines for men and women. Again, going through security there were separate lines for men and women, but at least here I could see a more practical purpose. All I can say about the Taj Mahal is that it is an absolutely breath taking feat of architecture, engineering and craftsmanship and I’m not even an engineering major, so just think what Clay, Amy, Jess and Sarah thought about it. It may be a bit of a tourist trap, but if you are ever in India, even if you are an agonizing eight hour bus ride away like we were, the Taj Mahal is well worth the trip. I don’t know what it was, maybe it was the cold weather, maybe it was seeing countless severely impoverished people along the road, but the pessimist in me really came out that day (and a few other days as well). Looking at the grandiosity of the Taj Mahal and learning that it took twenty years and used 22,000 workers just made me think about the amount of money that was sunk into a tomb for one woman. The entire complex of buildings was originally built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his favorite wife who had died in child birth. It was built in the 1600s when there was absolutely no concept of welfare for the poor so it is inconceivable that the money would be used for them anyway, but the cost to build the entire thing over time is best estimated to be about 32 million Rupees at the time. I’m sure building it created jobs, but at the same time it probably created a great need for certain jobs while it was being built and then when construction was completed, thousands of people were left without jobs. I just couldn’t help but think what India might be like if instead of building a very expensive tomb stone for his wife, the Emperor had invested that money into rural development, where the country might be today.
(some of the details in the stone at the Taj)