Saturday, June 17, 2006

leaving pune

I say a sad goodbye to Anna, her son Christopher and Sonali, our neighbor from the village, and travel by rickshaw to the appointed place on the side of the road where I will board an overnight bus. Here I part with Neil, who has helped me with my luggage, barely manageable with the impressive weight of my books. The first hour of the bus trip is taken up by negotiations over seats. In acknowledgment in part of the male groping of unescorted females that is pervasive here, buses have ‘ladies seating.’ On this better class of bus, if one has been assigned a seat to a man, as I was, one can ask for ‘ladies seating’ and the driver or his assistant will generally shuffle people around until you are either alone or next to another woman. Since I have been ordained, I appear to be exempt from Another woman is also insisting on ladies seating, and at last we end up seated together. We arrive a few hours after dawn in Hyderabad, where Sangeeta awaits me with another rickshaw. I spend two extremely relaxing days in this very cosmopolitan city and then there’s another overnight ride, this time by train, to reach Visakhapatnam.

Here I am now, in a parallel scholarly universe to Pune. Here there are no trappings of scholarly achievement, no ivy-covered institutes, no titles on the door: just Shastry Garu, my Sanskrit teacher from Madison, now returned back at his home in Visakhapatnam. He resumes his role as a teacher fiercely committed to his vision of Sanskrit study, and we read from 9 in the morning until 10 or 11 at night, with intermittent breaks through the day. Already in the first five days we have read more than the scholar in Pune and I managed to go through together in two months. This is very good. When not reading Sanskrit, memorizing verses form the text or preparing a draft translation of what we have read, I eat and sleep in a ‘ladies hostel,’ which is basically off-campus dormitory housing, very basic housing that I share with young Indian ‘ladies,’ mostly undergraduates away from home for the first time. On all this, more later.

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