Friday, May 30, 2008

Anthroplologist, Interrupted

(No anthropologists have been harmed in the making of this blog)

I should have known that the trip to Karauli was ill-fated when my RW friend backed out at the last minute, citing family obligations. But normally not a person to be disuaded by bad omens, I insisted on still going. So I waited until Ian returned from Delhi and we set out in the morning on May 19th for Karauli, on a Rajasthan Roadways bus of course. Well, the bus broke down about an hour outside of Bharatpur. We waited on the bus while the driver tried his best to get her going again. Then another bus, headed in the direction of Karauli stopped and we, the white people, got first dibs on "seats" (for awhile I was sitting on the shifter cover, next to the driver). We finally got to Karauli in the early afternoon, and arrived at the heritage hotel, at which I thought I had made reservations. The woman who greeted us looked confused, if not inconvienced, at the sight of us. After a bit of discussion, she agreed that we could stay a few nights though the hotel was techinically closed. It turns out that this heritage hotel is acutally run by the erstwhile royal family of the State of Karauli (which like Bharatpur was ruled separately until India got its independence from Britain) and the woman that we first spoke to was their daughter. They are much more laid back than I would have expected a royal family to be and once they found out that we were students, and not just random tourists, they were really nice. After learning that the palace is the only place in Karauli that accepts foreign guests (due to something called the C-form), the Maharaja agreed to let me stay for a week. This was on the 20th of May. On the 21st, Ian left to return to Bharatpur. The plan was that I would stay for a week to 10 days and find out more about the Panchna dam and the villages that it serves; the Maharaja had given me a contact at the irrigation department. Everything seemed to be going my way. And then...

The Gurjars, an agricultural community who has been asking for a special legal status, decided to protest. The word they use in India is agitation...I don't know if that means those protesting are supposed to be agitated or those affected by the protests but let me tell you, I am agitated. When they protested last spring they burnt buses and police stations,so the government decided to halt all bus service in the eastern part of the state. During this protest, the Gurjars have decided to tear up rail road tracks, so they have rerouted train services. Therefore,I haven't been able to go to any of the villages that I wanted to go to and the guy from the irrigation department said that is wasn't a good idea to go to the dam. So basically, I have been stuck in Karauli for a week now. Well, eight days to be exact.

The first couple days was great. I have AC and a western style toilet. They listen to me when I say I don't want roti and serve me rice instead. I was able to get some reading and writing done that I had not been able to do in Bharatpur. I was working on my quilt top. I felt relaxed and productive. Then the fourth and fifth days hit...The Maharaja asked them to move a TV into my room. That helped, but as we all know from the United States, there is never really anything on TV. So I have been flipping between the random American movies they show on Star Movies (has anyone seen the Ringer?), Hindi soap operas, and criket. By all means, cricket is my favorite. Today I finally asked about the Internet, and the Maharaja's hotel manager had to scour the town to find someone who had an interent connection (though I must say I am pretty impressed with it).

There isn't much to see in Karauli. It makes Bharatpur look like a major metropolis. Ian and I toured its old palace (the one which the Maharaja lived in before the new palace was built in the 1930s) and went to the main Krishna temple. Its main industry is red sandstone. They also make and sell lac bangles and rolling pins. I have now bought both. I am going to give the bangles to some of my informants wives and daughters. The rolling pins...I'm going to keep one and probably gift the other to Auntie.

One of the good things about being here is that we were able to meet another PhD student from England who is doing her research at the Kaila Devi tiger sanctuary. There are actually 40 villages that lie within the sanctuary, and she is looking at the villagers perceptions of the park,tigers, etc. Since it is the old hunting grounds of the Maharajas of Karauli, the current Maharaja has taken an interest in her project. It was good to commiserate (sp?) with someone else who is doing research.

Oi vey...What an adventure!! Hopefully, next time I'll write it will be from Bharatpur, though the Maharaja said that it will probably be a few more days. Don't worry about the protests...I am safe and I won't go on the roads until I know that everything has died down.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Leaving on a Rajasthan Roadways Bus

The past week has been truly strange, in that sad, melancholy, things-are-going-to-change sort of way. On May 1st, Keoladeo National Park closed for two months. It is the first time since it became a national park that it has closed. Some people are saying it has closed so they can do maintainence, others to save money. In any case, my RWs and the guides have needed to find something else to do for the time that it is closed. Though some RWs always find other work in the summer due to the lower number of tourists, usually there are about 30 who work at the park all year long. I could tell people where upset by it all; in the days leading up to the closure, people were quieter and more distracted than usual. Most of the Sikh guys are now plying their rickshaw in the city so I run into them, but it isn't the same as when we are together at the park. For me, the sadness of the park closure is heightened by the fact that I am leaving for two months. Tomorrow I am leaving for my other field site, Karauli. It is about three hours away by bus, though I have heard that the road is pretty bad. I am guessing that in the US it is a trip that would probably take about an hour. Two months isn't that long, but I am really sad that I have to leave Bharatpur and the people here. I didn't think I was going to get so attached. If this is what I feel like when I am going away for a short time, how am I going to feel when I leave at the end of the year????

Okay, enough of my feeling sorry for myself. I have to run and pack, go to the market, and try to meet some people before I go. I will probably be off of the internet for a few weeks but I will try to get something up.