The Writing India: Explorations in Nonfiction and Multiplicity, was a four-week course led by part-time lecturers Rollo Romig and Shahnaz Habib. The course explored the many forms of nonfiction specifically journalism and personal essay writing in which India was positioned as the foreground and subject of the course because of its complex and contradictory nature. The program, through the required readings from both non-Indian and Indian writers as well as field trips, was designed to expose us to Indian art forms, address the consequences of colonialism, globalization, gender inequality, and so on. The readings also challenged us to think critically about how we engaged in this new environment as a Western tourist and build trust in our literary instincts. Most of our time was spent in Bangalore, an up and coming cosmopolitan city known as the Silicon Valley of India, while the last week was spent in the calmer environments of Mysore and Fort Kochi. The work included weekly assignments, daily journaling, contributing to a class blog, along with the two final writing assignments: a journalism project on a topic that intrigued us as we explored the city of Bangalore and a personal essay on a topic we desired to write about.
I applied to this program with no international travel experience or any idea of what India was like, and I just threw myself in without any expectations or preparation whatsoever of what I was about to experience. It was a risk, but I believe this is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. If were to sum it up–the whole trip and my experience, I would say it inspired my inner adventurer and a growing desire to continue to experience a world outside my own. For one, I felt relieved being in a new environment and becoming familiar with it, and in a way, it brought a more adventurous spirit from within me willing to explore and seek new and different experiences. It truly was a learning experience in that way. I visited so many temples. Several of them were Hindu and one was a Buddhist temple where I met some Buddhist monks and participated in a Puja. I saw a Bollywood film for the first time in one of the theaters in Bangalore and was shocked when the film had an intermission. I went to local markets where there seemed to always be giant piles of flowers. I tried new foods and loads of restaurants which is a major achievement for a picky eater.
I had a roommate for the first time in years and it was genuinely a fun experience. And as a loner and lover of personal space, I never expected to be so comfortable sharing a room. In fact, the group dynamic, in general, was what made the trip. Besides maybe one or two people, I really connected with the girls I hung around with which was amazing for a group of people that just met each other. In fact, some of these experiences would have never occurred if they weren’t around and I really appreciated building a bond with a group of people experiencing a place for the first time just like me. Shahnaz and Rollo were great professors who really took time out to help us if we needed them and gave us the room to explore on our own. They were insightful and knowledgeable, and Shahnaz’s morning writing sessions were one of my favorite parts of this program.
And though India was different than the New York I am used to; the culture shock wasn’t extensive. And I really enjoyed that aspect of looking back to my first week in Bangalore and seeing how far I came from the fear of crossing streets because of the chaotic traffic to doing so with ease and dealing with the spontaneous bouts of rain that always caught me off guard initially. As well as being unsure what to eat to finding dinner stables and picking my favorite regional dishes and breads. Or the transition from constantly walking places to riding in rickshaws and negotiating prices with ease later in the trip. I loved being at Casa Cottage for those first three weeks which was such a homey, communal type space for travelers and later experiencing more lavish abodes while we worked on our projects. By the end of the trip, I didn’t want to leave. I felt I didn’t see and experience all I wanted to especially in Fort Kochi where we only spent a week. This program was all one could hope for on their first international trip and it was an experience I dreamed it would be and more. I really wished it lasted longer, but I don’t think any amount of time would have been sufficient to explore the nuances and complexity of India.