Two different white men appeared on the scene. They carried no guns…at first, they were called the ‘white fools.’

Dr. P.A. Sampathkumar, Head Warden and Chair of the Asian Christian Studies Department at Pondicherry University, referring to some Christian missionaries that arrived in Mizoram, a state in Northeast India

Being is more important than doing.

Sister Suzanne, guest lecturer at Pondicherry University, during Christian Spirituality and Mysticism class

(Continued because the Internet is so slow here) Directly across the street is the bus stop, marked (possibly) by an inconspicuous yellow pole. There’s a convenience store (although everything in India is essentially a convenience store) called Quick Pick & Retail Store. The road you see is the busy ECR (East Coast Road), which runs from Chennai to Pondy.

An Atypical Day in the Life

Of a Pondicherry University Student…

Francesca says she cannot even picture what India is like. I haven’t been toting my camera around everywhere, but I always have my notebook. Here’s a day in words:

8.25 Rise & shine, bucket shower
8.40 Leah (roommate) reports on breakfast, decide it isn’t worth it because it is spongy idli
8.45 Eat banana, check email
9.00 Grab a bike from the front gate (there are blue & yellow bikes all over campus; take one, ride it to class, leave outside a building, don’t expect it to be there when you come back)
9.07 Drink mediocre, 3-rupee tea at canteen near the Science & Humanities Block
9.15 Try to stop sweating before class
9.30 The barrage of the Spoken Tamil class
10.25 Head to professor’s office for Christianity in India
10.30 Read A Very Short Introduction to Buddhism while waiting for said professor
10.45 Professor shows up, begins lecture on the first martyred Christians in India
11.00 The professor, Dr. Sampathkumar, also the Chief Warden for all the student hostels, receives an emergency call from the campus registrar. Class is over.
11.05 Continue my informal education on Buddhism in the hallway, while waiting for a lecture from an American professor to begin, that Dr. Samanthkumar invited our class too
11.30 Go to the lecture by myself; the professor, Michael De Wilde, ends up being from Grand Valley State University in Michigan, where 9 students in our program are from
12.30 Tea & biscuits arrive during the talk on business ethics, meditation in education, and Indian vs. American philosophy; a good substitute for lunch
1.30 Talk ends, power-walk back to the hostel to see if any lunch remains
1.45 Lunch is slim pickings; eat a quarter of a baguette purchased the day before
1.55 Eileen tells me about a new class being offered on Indian philosophy and culture at 2.30
2.15 Bike to said class, arrive early to stop sweating
3.30 Class ends, I have 3 pages of notes with Sanskrit everywhere; really interesting material; less appealing when I found out that it meets MWF 2.30-3.30
3.45 Return to hostel; use a baby wipe instead of taking another shower
4.00 Depart for Pondy via bus (4 rupees) to attend dinner with Professor De Wilde and other Grand Valley students
4.40 Arrive in town, sticky with sweat from being packed like a sardine with all the women in the back of the bus; no need to hang onto any railings when you’re that packed in
5.30 Arrive at Satsanga, a French & Italian restaurant, after trekking through the French quarter
6.30 Talk about India, wonder where the waiter is, attempt to get more than one menu for 8 people
7.30 Depart restaurant; thanks to Grand Valley for the delicious meal.
8.00 Find Choco-la, a chocolate shop in the French quarter; share 4 desserts between 3 people
8.30 Wait for the bus to go back to Kalapet (village where the university is, technically); are directed to the correct one by a kind man waiting on the corner
9.20 Arrive back at the hostel, after a similar ride to the one on the way there—packed like sardines

Don’t expect this many words or this kind of day for a while—each one is different.

An Attempt at Explanation.

Via Facebook chat:

Zach (a close friend from home, attends Northwestern University): So what is the town like that you stay in? Can you just walk around and stroll? Or is it more rural?
Me: Basically campus is this gated area and we are 10 km or something from Pondicherry, which is the real city.
Me: So you can take the bus in for 4 rupees, it takes 20 or 30 minutes.
Me: So this “highway” called the ECR (East Coast Road) runs right by campus, and you can cross that and there are restaurants and stands and stuff. Today, after yoga class, Leah and i got a banana milkshake, literally on the side of the road.
Zach: Ohhhhh I didn’t know you had an actual campus
Me: Like, cars/buses/cattle are whizzing by
Zach: Haha whoa
Me: Yeah, it’s Pondicherry University
Zach: That seems like authentic India to me.
Me: For sure.
Zach: Except the milkshake part…
Me: Well, I never get any dairy in my diet.

Class Registration, Regulations, & Ridiculousness

Between the 16 of us, we’ve got people studying religion, Spanish, computer science, philosophy, political science, photography, German, microbiology, advertising, neurobiology, creative writing, economics, nutrition, international business, anthropology, and more.

Essentially, this means that we’ve got a lot of major/minor/general education requirements to fill and for many of us, in a limited amount of time, which can be stressful. Here’s a nearly complete sampler of the classes that any number of people are taking, from 1 to 15.

Spoken Tamil
Invitation to Spoken French
Christianity and India: 2,000 Years of Faith
Hinduism and its Practices
Idea of India in Literature
Practical and Classical Yoga
Indian Philosophy of Values
19th Century British Fiction
Introduction to Cybertechnology
Medical Anthropology
Medicinal Plants and Their Uses
Peasant and Village Communities
Indian Constitution and Tribal Development
Forest Ecology (or something to that effect)
Gandhian Model of Poverty Alleviation
Indian Arts and Architecture
Indian Society and Culture
Christian Spirituality and Mysticism
South Indian Classical Dance
Indian Foreign Policy
Conflict Resolution, Knowledge Systems, Vision of Peace

In Tamil Nadu, the climate is hot, hotter, hottest.

Dr. P.A. Sampathkumar, head of Asian Christian Studies Department, Pondicherry University

The Epitome(s) of India.

A continuing list of moments that just feel like *India*, in all of its divine chaos.

1. Squeezing 5 girls into an autorickshaw, roaring down the ECR (East Coast Road) around 11pm, tail lights blazing in our faces. I got to sit criss-cross-applesauce on Alex’s lap.

2. With Nassi, sneaking into/being invited to the cultural program of the Microfinance Conference at the university here. The program was across the street, at a beach resort. Students performed traditional dances, sang songs in Hindi and Malayalm, played Beethoven on a keyboard—all with one or two days’ notice.