I have been in India now for nearly 36 hours and there are some things that hold true already.
The first is that the people are genuine and friendly, especially at the Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media in Bangalore, where I am stationed for the next 10 months as a visiting professor of print and investigative journalism.
The second is that I get a lot of attention. A LOT. There are two ways that this manifests itself: The first is that people stare. One gentleman on a motorbike last night nearly ran into the back of a van because he could not take his eyes off of me. The second is that people tend to follow me. In a store I visited the first day to shore up on any supplies I forgot to bring from the States, a group of three salespeople followed me around nearly the entire store, whispering to each other and to strangers - who I assumed asked them who I was - and periodically asking me if “We can help you Ma’am?”
I would love to think that people are staring at my sheer beauty, but the truth is that they are looking at the color of my skin and noticing, probably, the fact that I am a foreigner in their very homogeneous land.
The attention is so shocking to me because there are Indians much darker than I am, and Indians who could be taken for any black person’s cousin Larry on any street corner in almost any part of America.
The Indians still have a caste system. One can tell who belongs to what caste, I am told, based on their surname and their job position. But in my foreign eyes, the women working at the Institute here who are considered of a lower caste are beautiful and their traditional dress is stunning, like the bold colors of a Bird of Paradise flower growing in a field of green branches.
In truth, India’s centuries old caste system divides India’s more than 96 million Hindus (people who practice the fourth largest religion on earth - Hinduism, with India being home to 95 per cent of this population) into four hierarchical groups depending on their work (karma) and their duty (dharma). Art the top of the list are the teachers and intellectuals, followed by the warriors and rulers, and then the traders and then those who do menial jobs. And there are those who fall outside of the extensive caste groupings - which has thousands of sub-castes - who are known as the “untouchables.”
The third observation is that the food, at least at the Institute, is all vegetarian – so far, all the time. This is not such a major issue, because it’s good – and only mildly spicy. But on a Weight Watchers diet, it can’t become a regular habit because it largely consists of starchy food and is pretty much all the same color – a kind of dulled yellow, no doubt made that way from curry powder, turmeric and loads of other spices.
What is familiar is the regular blackouts, which so far have lasted no more than 15 or 20 minutes. In Accra, Ghana and The Bahamas, where I reside, the blackouts can last hours. A former resident of Ghana, I am also familiar with the idea of eating with one’s hands or eating with a spoon rather than a fork. It’s lovely in an unexplainable way.
The country is beautiful, and the people, too. The weather is extraordinarily pleasant, like fall in New York. I am wonderfully surprised, and it does wonders for my Dark & Lovely hair, especially in a country where women are renowned for having beautifully silky, jet-black manes. (I wonder if they have any idea how much people in the U.S., Africa and the Caribbean pay to sew this very grade of hair onto their own scalps?)
I write this first note from India in the dark, sitting on my modest couch in my modest one-bedroom apartment on the Institute’s campus.
For many, this assignment could easily be considered a hardship post, but somehow it reminds me of The Bahamas and of Ghana, of the people and the simplicity of life. And in that way, it humbles me. I feel blessed to be a part of a group of people committed to (…lights back on) educating the next generation of Indian journalists. The students’ understanding and ethical practice of a profession I hold so dear, despite Western predictions of its demise, is crucial, and I am happy to be able to add my vast years of experience to the mix.
So, India, I am here. I am ready for this great adventure. I look forward to sharing all that I have learned over the past three-plus decades.
Teach. Learn. Love. And, as my sister reminded me, Carpe Diem!
#India #Bangalore #IIJNM #blackinIndia #Indiamedia