Archive for August, 2008


This is The Real India

Aug 31, 2008 in Uncategorized

Elephant Blessing“Some people arrive in Delhi, stay in a five star hotel for a few days, see a few tourist spots and leave. That will not be your experience here, Madurai is the real India” -Dr. V.R.Mutukarrupan

After a three day visit for orientation, I left Delhi on a 6am flight to Chenni, and connected from there to Madurai on an hour long flight. When I finally arrived yesterday afternoon, my new friend Prabhu picked signaled me with a placard “Aravind Eye Hospital.” We went directly to the hospital’s hostel, dropped off my bags, and proceeded to meet Dr. VRM. My mentor gave me some ideas about housing and other basic needs like food. Then Prabhu and I went over to the Aravind Hostel to have our lunch.

Eating with your hands isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. Haha. Of course, only the right hand is used, as the left one is considered unclean. Prabhu says that the hand is a utensil which only you can use. I think I know what he means, but I guess I’m just more accustomed to feeling my food in my mouth than on my finger tips. That is, before mixing it with my fingers on my plate. There are no forks or knives in the cafeteria, just spoons, which I did use for dinner. No napkins either. It sounds like more of a mess than it actually is, but not by much!

It was getting late at that point, but I wanted to see the temple. So Prabhu and two Ph.D. candidates (Verma and Arya) took me via autorickshaw into the city center where the Meenakshi Temple is. This temple is amazing. There are hundreds of sculptures on the walls with candels and people worshiping gods in almost every corner, some of which are forbidden for foreigners to enter. There are carvings all over the walls and ceilings, and the towers are the largest structures in the city. Covered by thatching to be repainted, the temple towers were not at their full beauty yesterday.

In most Hindu temples the god is first prayed to, then the goddess. This is reversed in the Meenakshi temple. There the goddess Meenakshi is prayed to first. One of Dr. VRM’s lab group told me about this history and told me “it is said that women rule in Madurai.” I also got three “blessings” from an elephant while I was at the temple, and as you can see, I had my picture taken too! I finished off the evening with an attempt at using the Wi-Fi in the hostel. After two hours I gave up, but I did manage to have an interesting conversation with an Afgani who was also looking for an internet connection. He is an Ophthalmologist and Retina fellow here at Aravind. From the well known city of Kandahar, he offered to let me observe some surgeries, with permission of the department head, of course.

Fulbright Orientation – Delhi

Aug 30, 2008 in Uncategorized

India Gate - DelhiI arrived in Delhi after a long, long journey…. First, I left from Liverpool at around 6am, from there I went to Paris via Easyjet, which was not so easy! Hahaha. They wanted to charge me 110 pounds (~$240, mind you the round trip ticket cost about $300) for my extra luggage, which was the same exact luggage that I had taken from Paris to Liverpool via Easyjet just a few days earlier. Apparently you are allowed two carry-ons from Paris but only one from Liverpool. Anyway, they had mercy on me and only charged the equivalent of about $20 for the “extra” checked luggage. From Paris I connected to Munich, and from Munich I flew overnight to Delhi. Needless to say, I did not do a lot the first evening besides meet some of the other Fulbrighters for breakfast and dinner and rest during the day.

The next day we went to the Fulbright House to meet all those amazing staff that have been so helpful, and with whom I have been in contact via email since around April of last year. That day (Tuesday, August 26th) was taken up by discussions with Girish and the others about grant disbursement issues as well as a brief lecture by an Indian physician about the do’s and dont’s of medical health in India. In the evening we had a nice meal with some of the current Fulbrighters (lecturers and students) some of whom are still here because of previous visa delay issues. I avoided the yogurt and non-peel-able fruits and vegetables for the time being.

The final day of orientation was jam packed. Mostly with discussion regarding safety issues (women are allowed to carry pepper spray/mace, but it is illegal for men!) and talking to the media in India. We also got a lecture about the Indian economy and met some of the higher-ups from the U.S. Embassy in India. After all of that we went on a mini-tour of Delhi, where we got some pictures (including the one of us in from of the India gate) but we were all pretty tired and decided to skip the final part of the tour and go for dinner. The best part of the Indian Fulbright Orientation was meeting the other Fulbrighters (most for a second time) and talking about upcoming visits to see each other in our respective cities. Throughout orientation I thought about what my new home in Madurai would be like…

Stopover in Europe, en route to India!

Aug 22, 2008 in Uncategorized

Le Pic St LoupOn my way to India I spent a couple of weeks visiting friends in France. I was fortunate to stay with Audrey, Greg, and Mailys at their newly built home in Castries. I also managed to make a brief trip to the UK to stay with my friends Carl and Dave. My visits to the UK and France reminded me of how fortunate I am to have made friends with a great group of people in my year at Lancaster University!

First I arrived in Paris on a flight from Chicago. From there, I traveled to Montpellier via the TGV (currently the fastest conventional train in the world!). Arriving late, Greg and Audrey met me at the station and it was like we had seen each other three days ago, not the three years it had been since they traveled to Boston. Our journeys around southern France included a visit to Nimes, a hike up Le Pic St Loup (see picture above), a visit with Anais and Ben in Narborne, enjoying the Maguio festival (including bulls running in the streets!), and a couple of trips to the beach. The best part, of course, was seeing my old friends and making new friends. I also think Mailys will miss presence in the back seat of the Picasso! Among the foods I tried in France were crepes (of course!), snails, and home-cooked rabbit (thanks Ben!). I have to say that would be difficult to top the food in France, even if it sounds disgusting to some (can you believe that our chef, Greg, doesn’t like escargot?)

The most hilarious part of this trip was the conversations, or rather the complete lack of any communication between Audrey’s father and myself… Sometimes I would catch a few words that made me think that I had some idea what he was talking about… and then came the hand gestures! That confirmed the fact that we might as well have been trying to communicate in hieroglyphics, maybe I’ll try that next time if I still don’t know French! At one point there was some swimming motion combined with a thumbs up, I think that was regarding the awesome performance of Michael Phelps in the Olympics, so at least that was something. Haha.

It was great to see Audrey and Greg again, and to meet Mailys too. We decided that it is their turn to come visit me in the US, although it may be after adding another child to the family. Hopefully by then I will be well into my Ophthalmology residency and maybe progress has happened on other fronts too… We’ll see!

From Montpellier I went back to Paris, then to Liverpool via notso-Easyjet. Carl met me at the airport and drove us over to Harrogate to spend the day with Dave. Driving along in the countryside we managed to get lost, have a minor accident with a Porsche, and generally have a good time. It was great the next day in Bolton too when about ten of our group from Lancaster came down to Bolton to stay at Carl and Em’s place for a couple of days. It was great to catch up, the bowling and karaoke were fun too! I am hopeful that at least some of them will make the trip out here to visit me in India. For those who don’t, I’m sure it will be just like old times again next time we meet too!