The gigantic country of India truly lives up to its ‘incredible’ reputation. Pune, India has an overwhelming effect on one’s each and every sense, and through this montage-like article, I intend to present some fun facts we came across as well as give an inside look into our everyday life far from our MA Euroculture homelands. I will also try to portray our third semester research track spirits. I hope these fragmented stories might answer some questions for those who are thinking about applying to Pune next year, or those who are just curious..
WHITE TIGER VS WHITE PEOPLE 0-1
Visiting the Pune Rajiv Gandhi Zoo was a great experience for many reasons. Firstly, the zoo has an extreme national-park-sized extension compared to the quite packed European ones; halfway through we decided to skip what we judged to be the “less interesting” animals in order to finish on time. Secondly, the zoo has several extraordinary animals we’ve never seen before, like the white tiger who kept flicking fleas off his head so he could finish his afternoon nap. Thirdly, we gained first-hand experience how it feels to be constantly photographed in a zoo, as some visitors actually preferred to take pictures of us rather than of the grouchy white tiger. We felt for the animals behind the fences — although we could actually escape the zoo, we still could not escape the curious looks we received from people outside the zoo. If we move around the city a bit more than usual, we can be sure that many people want to take photos with us, stare at us, and chat with us. At one point in our flat-hunt, we noted that the house across the street would never get built if we moved there, as the workers abandoned their tasks just so they could stare at us for up to half an hour. I have no idea how celebrities deal with the excessive, 24/7 attention they get, but hey, who am I to talk, I’m happy to be here.
I KNOW A GUY
Looking for a flat? Need a rickshaw? Searching for a good dentist or want to buy a golden yacht with built-in singing robot-swans? No matter what you ask for, or as a matter of fact whom you ask, the response will always be the same: “Yes, yes, I know a guy”. It is fascinating to witness how the rickshaw driver or the caretaker of our guest-house transforms in no time into a real-estate agent with, of course, a smoothly elaborated commission-system. Just tonight, before coming up to my room to work on this article, a shopkeeper told us that he “knows the guy” who rents flats to foreigners in the area. The guy next to him told us he knows a guy giving great yoga lessons near our future home, and a third guy knows a guy who has a travel agency where we can book really cheap domestic flights. How lucky, you might say, although these undoubtedly kind and fast flying offers are presumably related to our foreignness.
IT’S THE SAME, BUT DIFFERENT DIFFERENT
Studying in Pune means studying a lot, both on and off the university campus. As for the academic experience, the Sociology Department that is hosting us has made us feel very welcome and is helping us a great deal. We have a variety of classes to choose from: Rural Development, Urban Sociology, classes dealing with women’s studies or gender issues, and classes with many local students that make us push ourselves to break down language barriers that the Marathi language puts up. We also have time to work on our research project, which is not hard to figure out when living in such a stimulating environment, and when we already have a supervisor.
The level of studies varies, given that we can attend both 1st and 3rd semester classes, but we have met many bright students and our academic experience is very much complemented by our everyday adventures. Naturally, the university doesn’t look like some other universities that I have attended, such as the University of Deusto with its gorgeous library and freshly renovated corridors. Unlike the University of Duesto, there is no Guggenheim museum across the river. In fact, girls need to ask for a key if they want to use the bathroom, and the campus is a proper jungle. However, the University of Pune is one of the best universities in Maharashtra and is top-ranked in the country. Therefore, there is no need to think of it as a rural college without proper facilities and professional academic staff. Fun fact: the big auditorium of the sociology department has some of the comfiest chairs ever, with a bag-rack, footrest, and a wide-enough table part to write on. So, as they would say: ‘It’s the same, but different different’.
HE’S A VERY GOOD COOK
The flat-hunting craziness of the first two weeks led to many interesting situations. Some landlords refused to rent a flat to us because we were foreigners or because we were not related to each other, meaning we weren’t brothers or sisters. Even so,one of our top experiences was definitely when we met the owner of a house we intended to rent. We took a rickshaw to the outskirts of Pune to an average-looking block of flats to meet our landlord, but little did we know that once we entered his flat we would be sipping masala chai in one of the fanciest living rooms we had ever been to. Apart from the numerous religious paintings, the sculptures, the amazing view with gigantic bats flying about, and the astonishing cleanliness, we gained an insight into the everyday life of a high-class Indian couple with personal servants. To illustrate their lifestyle, here are two snippets of the conversation without any commentary:
Husband: So you would all be living in the house, all six of you?
Husband: Do you need a cook then? We can send him over sometimes (points at his personal servant). He’s a really good cook, and he can do the cleaning too.
Agent: Where is the Ma’am? (inquiring after the wife).
Husband: She’s making chai. (Meaning: the personal servant of the wife was the one preparing our tea in the kitchen, and the Ma’am just gave the orders).
It is impossible to leave out the Bollywood experience in this article. Chennai Express is a hit movie currently running in cinemas all over the country, starring Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan. (For those of you who have never seen a Bollywood movie before, well, you have some serious homework to do, but until then here is a glimpse of the magic that happens on the big screen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNZNgyCd6zc). Once you get a dose of Bollywood there is no escape, you must go with the extremely colorful and musical flow. Fun fact: we got complimentary Pepsis in a restaurant because we recognized and sang along to the movie’s soundtrack. Watching some white guys trying to sing a hit Hindi song must have been entertaining enough for the staff to want to ‘reward’ us in some way. Now we are working on some Hindi songs for karaoke as well, just in case.
ANSWERS TO SOME FAQs AND COMMON FEARS
Q1. Is it safe to live in Pune?
Despite the fact that we are usually moving around in the very safe environment of the university, we are aware of the different role of women in the society. For example, we know about the recent rape case that occurred in Mumbai. We do not provoke any trouble, and we try to respect traditions and general Indian ethics especially in the way we dress, behave, and speak. So far, we have not had any kind of unpleasant experiences, and local people have been extremely friendly and helpful to us.
Q2. I’ve heard some horror stories about different ways in seeing hygiene and cleanliness between Europe and India. Is it that bad?
Hygiene and cleanliness are notions to be redefined once in India. Reservations dissolve quite quickly as one gets used to the chaotic lifestyle and just dives into it. Pollution is another big problem in cities like Pune. There are lots of old trucks, buses, scooters, and vans that make the rickshaw passenger like us ‘smoke’ every day. The constant honking doesn’t make the traffic more enjoyable, but these issues can be solved with a pair of earplugs and a scarf.
Q3. Are there any health-related issues to which one can be vulnerable when living in India? Also, can you find western goods in Pune?
Apart from some minor stomach issues, which is absolutely normal amongst this masala and chili overdosed cuisine, we have had no other health-related issues so far. From the very first day, we’ve been eating with our hands, occasionally on the street, and drinking through straws, with some of us even drinking tap-water (all this, of course in a reasonable manner). We have seen a boar browsing through the trash, hundreds of stray dogs and cows wandering around peacefully, and joint families living under a bridge right next to a dump, but still, there is no need to imagine Pune as a middle-of-nowhere city or as the hotbed of malaria. One can easily find what we might consider to be ‘western goods’, such as liquid hand sanitizer, hair dye, or just a good cup of coffee.
Pictures from Pune (click to see bigger versions)
For more stories from Pune, visit http://punediaries.blogspot.in/
Viktória Pal, Creative Editor
Viktória is from Hungary and studied International Relations, French Philology and Film Theory. She is very much interested in antidiscrimnation and human rights and also is specialized in those issues. She studied MA Euroculture in Bilbao and Udine and is currently doing a research track in Pune, India. She’s being obsessed with travelling and loves to get lost.