Walks and Weddings

Yet another week, gone.

Overall, the last week was pretty routine. I’m spending my last couple of weeks working on compiling a book about VSSU and its last 25 years, which will double as the annual report for this year. So most days I come down and sit at my desk, write for a couple of hours, go and check in with Mr. Mondal about my progress, come back, edit, and keep writing. It’s not the most thrilling thing I’ve done while I’ve been here, but I do think it will be beneficial to VSSU if I am able to complete it and it is high quality.

While the last work week didn’t have any especially noteworthy aspects to it, there were three other fun, enjoyable, and surprising things about the last week or so.

The first was at the end of last week. Mr. Mondal had told me about a month ago that he is planning a trip to the US in early September, and he mentioned that he would be visiting Chicago, Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. A couple of days later, he asked me to show him where Wooster is on Google Earth, and with a little careful navigation, I was actually able to pinpoint campus. As I was showing him Wooster and Ohio, he realized that our campus is right between Chicago and New York, both places he was planning to visit. So the planning for his visit to Wooster began. Over the last several weeks, and with many emails sent back and forth, the Political Science department at Wooster has generously agreed to sponsor Mr. Mondal’s two-day visit to Wooster where he will give a talk about community economic development. As most of you probably know, because Wooster is kind of in the middle of nowhere, we don’t get too many international visitors. I’m really excited that this visit has been planned, both so Mr. Mondal can see what rural areas in the US are like (he’s only been to large cities in the past), and so our students can be exposed to his wonderful work and outlook on development. So that was the first exciting part of the week!!

The second thing wasn’t so much exciting, as enjoyable. Last Sunday was the first Sunday I’d spent here in Ullon in a couple of weeks because of my trips to Kolkata, so I decided to sleep in, and then I mapped out a big loop that I wanted to walk. I had either walked or driven nearly every part of the route, so I was fairly confident I wouldn’t get lost. I got up, showered, grabbed my camera, and was walking out of the VSSU gate at about 10am. While I do really enjoy seeing people out and about when I go on my evening walks, the morning walk was a nice change of pace because there was hardly anyone out, which meant I didn’t feel quite as awkward taking pictures. The walk was wonderful, and I got several pictures of the village that I feel capture what it is like here, which I hadn’t been able to do before. After about an hour and a half I had completed about 75% of my loop, and Mr. Mondal drove by in the car. People here think it is very strange that I just go for walks, and he really doesn’t understand it either. So while I tried to explain that I was enjoying just walking around, eventually I gave into his request to drive me back to the office, laughed, and climbed in the car. I didn’t quite get to finish my planned route, but it was pretty close to it at least, and it was a very peaceful morning that resulted in some great photos.

Now for the third interesting thing that happened in the last week. I think when I wrote that my interactions with people on my walks couldn’t go past smiles and hellos, someone read that and thought, “oh really? Well let’s see if we can mess with her a little bit, then.” The man that I have met and talked to several times on when I’m walking around is named Pradip Purkait. This week, he walked into the office and up to me and said, “I would like you to come to my daughters wedding.” The wedding was right around the corner, and I thanked him very much for the invitation saying I would try to attend. It didn’t seem that he’d invited anyone else in the office, and indeed many people didn’t know who he was and asked me how I knew him. Moreover, I didn’t have anything appropriate to wear to a wedding, so I kind of figured I wouldn’t attend. However, at 5pm, Mr. Mondal called me into his office and said, “so you will go to wedding too??” He and Mr. Sur, the VSSU program manager, had also been invited. I said that I would like to, but that I didn’t have anything appropriate to wear. He said “oh, ok, I will take you to buy sari.” Oh boy. So sure enough, at 7pm after work was over, we left for Lakshmikantapur to try and find me a sari before the wedding started at 8:30. Yes, we had an hour and a half to make the 30-minute roundtrip drive to Lakshmikantapur, pick out and buy a sari, and attempt to get me dressed properly. We went into a shop and Mr. Mondal narrowed it down to an, ummm, “interesting” green sari, and a very similar one in purple. I chose the purple, we grabbed a pre-stitched blouse and underskirt, and drove back. Priyanka had kindly agreed to come help me wrap the sari, but before she even came to help the problems started. The underskirt was too small and the blouse was too big. I didn’t have any other skirt that I could use to substitute for the underskirt, so I just ripped the seam down the side a bit so I could get it on, and left it at that. The way the blouses fit is that there are small clasps in the front, but after several minutes of searching, I couldn’t find the holes for the clasps to fit into. So naturally, I took out my pocket knife and started jabbing holes about where I thought they should be. Maybe it wasn’t the wisest choice to take a knife and repeatedly poke it directly at my chest (I had the blouse on while doing this) but oh well. I was in a hurry. The blouse still kept falling off my shoulders, so when Priyanka came in to help, the first thing she did was pin it in several places so it would actually stay on.

Then the fun really began. It took us about 30 minutes of wrapping, unwrapping, rewrapping, pinning, unpinning, and repinning before we got it right. I have worn a sari before, but Priyanka wrapped this one slightly differently, so then she had to spend a couple of minutes giving me instructions about how to carry it properly. Then, although I thought I was ready to go, Priyanka told me I had to redo my makeup- it wasn’t dramatic enough. Only having eyeliner and concealer with me, it was tough to make it too dramatic, but eventually she said it looked better, she picked out a pair of earrings for me to wear, and then I was actually ready to go. Phew. I walked out and met Mr. Mondal and Mr. Sur, who had been waiting, and we walked the mile or so to the wedding. The sari was tied just a tiny bit too long, so I ended up waddling like a duck so I wouldn’t step on it and unravel the whole skirt… that would have been SO bad. Eventually we made it.

The bride, Ria, was in the bedroom of her uncles house, dressed in a red sari and completely decked out with jewelry, flowers, elaborate makeup, and as many sparkly things as could possibly be tacked onto one person. But she looked beautiful. She sat on the bed in the room where she received gifts and took photos with family members and friends. We visited her for a few minutes, and luckily, Mr. Mondal had given me flowers to give to her. Apparently Ria is only 19, so since I am older, it is customary to give a gift as a blessing. I gave her the flowers, and then, inevitably, I was asked to be in a bunch of pictures. But luckily, I also got a chance to speak with the bride and her sister and other relatives too; they were all very sweet and lovely to talk to. I saw Mr. Purkait, and visited with him for a moment as well. After giving our regards and saying goodbye, we left the bride and went and had dinner.

At the dinner, this small little boy, about 8-years old, came and tried to talk to me. He only spoke Bengali, so Mr. Mondal would tell him what to say in English, he would say it to me, and then Mr. Mondal would tell him what my response was. At first, he was helping serve the dinner, so he was asking if I wanted more rice, or if I would take chicken. But eventually he introduced himself as Anoop and we talked just for a moment, he was very cute. About the time he walked away, a small girl who’s name I can’t remember came in; I’d met her at the VSSU International School. Her eyes kind of bugged out when she saw me there, but we had a nice conversation, it was really fun to talk to her when there weren’t 20 other kids around all trying to talk too. I really enjoyed the fact that the two people I spent the most time talking to were kids! Anyway, after dinner and washing up, we gave our thanks to Mr. Purkait for the invitation, and we walked back to VSSU. The festivities were still going on, but I’m not really sure of the customs, it might have just been for family beyond the point when we left. I asked Mr. Mondal and Mr. Sur about what the rest of the ceremony entailed, but there were some communication issues, so I never really found out. When we got back to the office, Priyanka helped me undress because she had put a bunch of pins in and I didn’t want to miss one and tear anything. When I unwrapped the sari, my skin was completely purple. COMPLETELY. The combination of the unwashed and freshly dyed fabric and my sweat was enough to cause the color to stick quite well to my skin; 3 showers later and my stomach and back are still quite vivid. Anyway, it was quite a night, that’s for sure. And I stand corrected about not having in-depth interactions with people I meet on my walks.

And now, unbelievably, I only have 9 days of my internship left! This weekend another current Wooster student who is in Kolkata is coming to visit, which should be fun, and then I’m sure next week is going to be a whirlwind of finishing up work and saying my goodbyes. I don’t want to think about that just yet, I’ll put it off until next week.


IMG_3357All of the photos below were taken during my walk on Sunday, and show the village of Ullon.














IMG_3425Right after getting back from the wedding… and right before I discovered my skin is seemingly permanently stained purple.


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