Month 1...and then some / by Ankita Dhussa

Hong Kong views from Victoria's Peak

After I spent about a week traversing around Hong Kong while visiting my friend Khushbu from LA/SF, I was off to New Delhi. Almost.

My originally scheduled Air India flight got delayed a few hours, so I decided to lounge around and eat some quality airport dim sum. I leisurely decided to check the flight status and noticed my flight had been abruptly canceled. After running through the airport, some frantic texting and phone calls, I got rebooked on a Cathay Pacific flight that was departing shortly after, getting me into Delhi a few hours later than expected, but with enough time to catch some sleep before the 8a orientation.

Week 1-2:

After reuniting with the Fulbrighters whom I had met at the DC orientation, we bonded over our respective travel woes (ranging from lost baggage to overflowing bathrooms on the plane) and spent the next few days in all-day sessions and exploring a little bit of Delhi during the last day everyone was together.

Once the Fulbrighters based outside of Delhi left for their host cities, the Delhi crew remained in the hotel an extra week while we finalized housing and began the FRRO process.

I also spent much of these two weeks heavily congested and unable to hear out of my left ear due to what I now know are allergies to Delhi pollution.

Housing/FRRO:

Having never been through any sort of immigration process before, I was actually pretty excited to go through the experience. I have the option of having an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card, which is essentially a green card and allows me to come and go to India for any period of time and without a visa. Anyone who was an Indian citizen or whose parents, grandparents or great-grandparents were, may qualify for an OCI. However, I've neglected to complete this application process for a variety of reasons (i.e. by the time I'm ready to submit the application, the process has changed yet again). Thus, I applied for a research visa and submitted nearly 75 pages worth of documents at the Indian visa office in San Francisco and was required to complete foreign registration (FRRO) within 14 days of my arrival in India.

FRRO must be done by any foreign national visiting India longer than 180 days. One must complete this after one has a lease, local police verification of the permanent address, paperwork from the Indian Fulbright office (USIEF) and the host institution one is affiliated with. And each page of each document must be signed exactly the same (more on signatures and Indian paperwork at a later time).

So, off we went on House Hunters: Delhi Edition. The plan was to find a flat with fellow Fulbrighters in South Delhi (generally regarded as a posh and safer part of Delhi). After seeing several flats and some back and forths, my roommate Heather and I signed a lease for 2BHK (2 bedroom, hall + kitchen) in Saket. The lease signing came with its own hilarious fiascos (waiting until the last possible day to finalize an apartment, hitting our ATM withdrawal limits and not having enough cash for the deposit, the broker coaching me through how to write Indian cheques).

Once the lease was signed, we got to head to Delhi FRRO. Now that there's been some distance, I've now chosen to look at FRRO as not a terrible experience, but rather a learning opportunity.

Some lessons learned:

  1. In certain situations, it's best to not let people know I speak Hindi and that my identity as Indian-American can, and will, complicate things
  2. One simply must be pushy to get things done. I used to think that when I moved out of Iowa, I had developed a thicker, more aggressive skin. But I'm realizing each day that Delhi is going to take this to a whole new level.
  3. I kind of miss the DMV and TSA

Ultimately we received our FRRO documents about two weeks and three trips (including two in one day) after our first visit. 

Week 3-4

With housing out of the way, initial home goods purchased, and FRRO almost done, I got to explore some pretty neat events in Delhi (a poetry open-mic, some interesting lectures at my host institution).

It was also time to get in contact with my family in Delhi/India. My Maasi (mother's sister) and Mama's (mother's brother) son came by Saket to check out our flat and drop off an excess amount of homemade Indian food one day. A few days after that, I headed to East Delhi to visit one of my Bhua's (father's sister). 

East Delhi, and particularly where this Bhua lives, is a completely different vibe of Delhi, compared to my bougie South Delhi life. Very congested, busy, but also a part of Delhi I feel more familiar with. That being said, this was my first time navigating Delhi by myself. I made a couple Metro transfers and tried to look for familiar landmarks on the auto-ride from the Metro station to my Bhua's home. 

Family time was amplified this month after one of my bhua's passed away. The Delhi-Dhussas came together for the final rites, as I represented my father. Seeing all of my family together was incredibly bittersweet, but also a very moving experience.

A few things to note: 

  1. I have a huge extended family - like roughly 25 first cousins with my mom and dad having 6 and 8 siblings respectively, all of whom live in India
  2. The Delhi-NCR (National Capital Region - includes Delhi and surrounding areas) has the highest number of family in one place for both sides of my family and has often served as our main hub during India trips
  3. Living near extended family is a very new experience for me

Jorge Visits:

After some initial family rounds/phone calls were done, my friend Jorge from San Francisco arrived in India for his roughly 15 day trip.

Showing Jorge around Delhi was a great chance for me to also play tourist and experience Delhi in a very new light, especially when I tagged along on a bicycle tour through Old Delhi - biking through the galiyan - alleyways - of Chandni Chowk, along the Yamuna Ghats, and through Delhi traffic.

I joined Jorge for a few days in Udaipur where a few fellow Fulbrighters are staying. Udaipur was a much needed getaway from Delhi and a great reunion weekend. Seeing how different the experiences we are having in different parts of India is incredibly interesting - the small-town, accessible feel of Udaipur was refreshing and relaxing. It was also the the midst of Navratri - a 9 night Hindu holiday.

The return to Delhi was brought upon by a nearly 8 hour flight cancellation/delay by Air India, yet again. 


Cycling along the Yamuna Ghats

Cycling along the Yamuna Ghats

Cycling through the streets of  Chandni Chowk  - one of the oldest and busiest markets of Delhi

Cycling through the streets of Chandni Chowk - one of the oldest and busiest markets of Delhi

Giving my monetary offering to Durga Ma via my favorite app - Paytm

Giving my monetary offering to Durga Ma via my favorite app - Paytm


Exploring Lodhi Gardens

Exploring Lodhi Gardens

Jorge and I at Safdarjung's Tomb

Jorge and I at Safdarjung's Tomb

Exploring Safdarjung's Tomb

Exploring Safdarjung's Tomb

One of many  Durga Pandals -  a temporary structure set up during Durga Pujo season - in Chittaranjan Park, Delhi - a predominately Bengali populated area of Delhi. Durga Puja (Pujo in Bengali) is particularly popular in the state of West Bengal.

One of many Durga Pandals - a temporary structure set up during Durga Pujo season - in Chittaranjan Park, Delhi - a predominately Bengali populated area of Delhi. Durga Puja (Pujo in Bengali) is particularly popular in the state of West Bengal.

Catching Jamia Masjid right before evening prayers

Catching Jamia Masjid right before evening prayers


Udaipur City Palace windows

Udaipur City Palace windows

 
Takin' in the sunset in Udaipur - the city of lakes

Takin' in the sunset in Udaipur - the city of lakes

With the Udaipur Fulbrighters - Ariel and Soham

With the Udaipur Fulbrighters - Ariel and Soham

Jorge checking out the city from City Palace

Jorge checking out the city from City Palace

Week 5-6

So that brings us to now. The last couple weeks have been busy with actually starting to draft some interview/survey questions, revising my research plan, undergoing ethics review, more meetings, and staying busy with some articles I've started to write. 

Festival season is in full swing with it all leading up to Diwali (Oct. 19) - the festival of light and one of the most popular festivals celebrated throughout the South Asian diaspora and religious groups. Diwali is easily my favorite festival and though I'll miss celebrating with my parents, I can't wait to celebrate in India for the first time in 20 years!