Field Study -- Tamil Nadu, India 2012

By way of introduction, my name is Joshua Malyon. I will be traveling to Southern India this Spring/Summer through the Field Studies program at Brigham Young University. I am in my Junior year, studying Environmental Science with an International Development minor. For the duration of the 3 months in India, I will be interning at Shanti Ashram, a Gandhian NGO located in Kovai Pudur, Tamil Nadu. I will also be researching the influence of music on the lives of southern Indians.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Kolaveri Di -- Part II

I decided to write this in honor of the song I am hearing outside our home literally as I type this. The song is titled Why this Kolaveri Di, the Bollywood sensation from the movie Moonu or “3,” and one of our neighbors must be listening to it on repeat because it just started over. A few weeks before leaving for India I posted the song on my blog because it had gone viral, not knowing the magnitude of what I had been introduced to. I will attempt to express how famous this song is by saying this: Familiarizing myself with this song before entering the field was one of the best things I could have done to prepare for Tamil Nadu. In fact, on any given day, there is a very good probability that you will hear or see reference made of this Indian pop tune.

Spanning most of the month of May and into June, I worked with the Youth Program at Shanti Ashram, a Gandhian NGO just outside of Coimbatore. A popular question the kids will ask you is if you know of any Tamil songs. Had I not known about this song previously, I would've been clueless and likely a huge disappointment. Instead, I could say one line from the song and the kids would go ballistic. The times I have sung amongst a raucous chorus of kids the song "Why This Kolaveri Di," are too many for me to number.

People light up in an instant the moment I recite any of the lyrics or hum the melody. Especially kids. This fact was reinforced when I sat down for an interview with a grade-school piano teacher. I asked him what kind of music he taught his students. He responded that they enjoyed learning the popular film songs most. “Oh really?” I inquired, “like what?” And he sat down at the piano and played the chorus of Why This Kolaveri Di. “You may have heard this before,” was his prologue to the short demonstration. Indian understatement.

I’ll give a few examples. T-shirt shops litter the streets of downtown Coimbatore, and if you’re looking for it, a Why this Kolaveri Di screen-print top will catch your eye as it hangs on display of nearly every one of them. Have a spare 200 rupees on you, and you can pick yourself up one of these novelties with some change to spare if you barter right. Not only is this a great deal, but if you get the right one, the entirety of the lyrics will span the length of your torso in bold lettering.

Another example. I went with a group of four musicians to attend a wedding last week. As is custom, they were paid to play throughout the duration of the festivities and lead the wedding procession. You know where this is leading already. They indeed performed a rendition of this hit song with two traditional Indian drums, a saxophone, and a high-pitched traditional bassoon-like instrument, the “Nathasuram.” This marked perhaps the fourth time I had heard Kolaveri Di performed by different musicians during my time here.

Here a few more. Call up a good buddy of ours from Coimbatore, Ruben. His ring-back tone? Count it. Kolaveri Di. I can also recommend Gowrishankar, a Pure Veg restaurant off the main road on your way into the city. Why? Because of the food. And also, because they play Bollywood music videos on a flat-screen in the corner. While we were eating, what came on, but none other than Why This Kolaveri Di.

If you still aren't familiar with the song, click here to be led to my original post on the song. It may change your life. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Newspaper: The Miracle Product 7.5.12

As far as I know, there are only three ways in which I’ve ever used newspaper in my lifetime. They are as follows:
  •         Reading
  •         The occasional arts and crafts project
  •         Wrapping birthday presents 

I have been blown away by the innovative nature Indians possess in their use of the same product. Here’s what I’ve witnessed so far, and I’ll start with the obvious:
  •          They read it.
  •          They also use it to wrap goods at the bakery. Sweet rolls, cookies, pastries.
  •          Vendors on the streets will wrap up your deep-fried snacks or fresh fruit in it as well. This is especially convenient, as you may read a snippet of the news imprinted on your fresh pineapple slice as you eat.
Newspaper surprise
Three "watai," deep-fried veggie patties
  •  It is also used for “to-go” carrying parcels at restaurants. They’ll first wrap your rice portion, omelet, dosa, idly, parotta or other item in a banana leaf, and follow it with a layer of newspaper before tying it up with string. The banana leaf is a superb insulator and keeps food warm a long time.
Three tomato-onion omelets
  •          Seeds or nuts will also be sold in a cone-shape fashioned newspaper holder for easy carry.
  •          Hand-towel substitute: after eating out somewhere, you will rinse your hands at the provided    bucket of water or wash-station. The shop owner may likely offer you a page of the paper to dry your hands.
  •          Once you have finished eating, the table may likely be wiped up with newspaper as a rag.

As I discover more ways in which the newspaper is used in India, I will continue to post them and continue to be impressed by the resourceful nature of these wonderful people.         

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Minding time 6.24.12

The manner in which I lost my iPod was such an absurdity that it pretty much negated all hard feelings I could or might have had about it. And since then, I’ve only realized the little blessing that it actually was to lose that little apple. We were riding the bus in the city heading to the main station back to Chavadi. As it is custom for the men to sit in the back and the women to sit in the front of the bus, Nate, Steve and I often find ourselves in the very back row, where we can all sit next to each other. The only downfall to sitting in the very back however, is that when the bus goes over bumps, we get the greatest amount of whiplash, and consequently bounce the highest. As fun as that sounds in text, it really isn’t, and I’m sure it can’t be good for your spine. That’s only part of the reason we don’t usually take the back row anymore. Here’s one of the other reasons. I happened to be sitting in the seat next to the window on this particular ride, which because of the heat are always wide open for some draft. The two metal bars across each window prevent people or large objects from falling out, but when we went over an especially big bump, the iPod touch in my front shirt pocket flew out right over them, with the cord dangling down the side of the bus. I pulled it up like a naive fisherman, knowing the line was too light to be a catch. No iPod. I told the boys, left my bag with them, and jumped off as soon as the bus slowed down enough for me hop off. I ran back to where the bump was and scoped out the surrounding area for about an hour before giving up. So I got a bite to eat and took the next bus home.

The thing is, I probably just made someone’s day. And although the battery was almost dead and I changed the language setting to German, I hope that person will find a way to charge it and figure it out, because they just found a treasure trove of good music. So I felt alright about it. And as time goes on, I continue to see the good that came of it. I no longer ride the hour bus ride into the city with my headphones in, blocking everyone out. And if I do need time to myself, I’m reading my book which is probably a better use of time anyway. Had I not lost my iPod, I may not have come to the realization that I can listen to my music for the rest of my life, but my time in India is short. Why waste my time here distracted by music from home, when I could be soaking in the sights and sounds of the things and people around me?

Since then, my time on the buses has been occupied with Tamil language study, reading, communicating with natives, and making friends. I’ve already gotten the contact info of a guy who I can play basketball with weekdays at six, James, who invited me to come with him to visit his music academy, Mohammad, who wants to practice speaking German with me, Krishnasamy who invited me to visit his family on their farm, and many others. I think it’s God’s way of saying, look at all the good that comes out of putting yourself out there, buddy.      

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Inquiry Conference Notes Summary - 4

Other presentations I was able to attend included Exploration of the Tongan Landscape, by Nick Tanner, Confessions of a Field Study Student: Conclusions Still in Progress, presented by Sarah Bowers, and "Stop Your Whining, Queen Elizabeth!": The Advantages of Field Experience over Library Research, by Averyl Dietering. Instead of going into each of these individually, I'll just give an overview of the principles I learned from these students that I feel will assist me in my own studies.

I will be able to network and connect better with people with the help of a translator. If people in the area are approached by a foreigner trying to learn more about their lifestyles, the chances are better that they will trust me if I am accompanied by a translator. Also, it is important to have a large pool of people to talk to and interview to gain a better perspective of them and their culture. I also need to seek out areas where people congregate so I have a better opportunity of interacting with them. When speaking with people, I need to allow them to open up to me by letting them talk about what they want to talk about, and simply try to direct the conversation.  

Inquiry Conference Notes - 3

Kristen Cardon also presented Thursday afternoon on a topic entitled, Tibetan Digital Literacy: A Case Study of New Media as a Research Medium. She researched the Tibetan's relationship with the internet, and came to some interesting conclusions about the importance of the internet in research.

I can apply a lot of what she said to my own Field Studies work. Although it's questionable whether online chatting can be considered a legitimate form of research to cite, Kristen commented on how extremely beneficial it was for her to communicate with people in the field before she even went. Whether in the form of skype, email or facebook, there are a variety of ways to easily communicate with people and receive, as she put it, "real-time information," rather than information from a book that was published a few years ago and may be outdated. At this point, I have contact with two native Indian men with whom I can communicate and are willing to answer questions and aid me in my Field Study preparations. A final word of advice I can draw from Kristen's presentation is this: While in the field in southern India, I need to find a balance between experiencing life there, and documenting it. Both are very important factors.

Inquiry Conference Notes - 2

Rachel Rueckert followed with a presentation called Social Media and Cross-cultural Learning. I felt like there was a lot for me to learn from this presentation, mainly because technology isn't my forte. She spoke about how the use of modern technology aided her in her research during her field study.

Here's what I can apply to my own Field Studies experience: Fist off, she gave specific examples of how her blog was read and used by people around the world, demonstrating that our research as students, can and will benefit others! In a voice of caution however, she pointed out that because people have free access to what is posted on our blogs, we are accountable for whatever we write! We need to take caution that what we say is accurate, appropriate, and non-offensive in any way. It is also important to comment on other people's blogs, and connect with other people, as you will be able to bounce information and ideas off each other. These things can benefit you long term, because you can stay in touch even after you are finished with the program.  

Inquiry Conference Notes - 1

A "Classical Studies" major named Randall Meister was the first presenter I heard at the Inquiry Conference on Thursday, February 23rd. His presentation was entitled, The Ashtadhyayi Today: Modern Perspective from Sanskrit Pedagogy in India. He discussed the use and importance of Sanskrit in contemporary times in India, and admitted he was surprised to see how alive Sanskrit really is! Sanskrit speaking villages, Universities teaching the language, and even an Organization called "Samskrta Bharati," which promotes the speaking and teaching of Sanskrit as an everyday language for all castes, were all evidences that this traditional language still thrives today.

As I thought of ways Randall's project could apply to me or my own research project, I thought of the importance of researching the traditional culture of India before I go out into the field. If the Sanskrit tradition is important to a large population in India, it should be important to me also. I want to be aware and appreciative of their culture and their past. By researching things such as Sanskrit before entering the field, I will be more prepared to relate and understand the Indian people.