Saturday, September 24, 2011

An Evening in Mysore

I am currently sitting in the Natarajans’ living room while Savitri talks on the phone to her daughter in the U.S. and Mr. Natarajan is resting. We just regained power after an inexplicable 12-hour power outage and Savitri and I are going to take advantage of the opportunity to do make some dosas. It’s Saturday evening here and I arrived in Mysore from Bangalore on Thursday afternoon. The last few days have been spent wandering around town, taking in the colorful sarees and ubiquitous cows on the road, meeting with people about my research and basking in the warm hospitality of the Natarajan family.

I have been thrown into my project due to an encounter with several people at the Center for Indian Languages Institute which is based in Mysore. The center is devoted to preserving the variety of Indian languages across regions and advocates for an education system that teaches children in their mother tongues. I spent hours there yesterday meeting with Professors, searching for things in their library and reading. As luck would have it, they have the entire collection of a magazine called “Names” which is actually an American academic journal. It contains articles called “Margarete and Sulamith under the Swastika: Girls’ Names in Nazi Germany” and “Si Mohammed!: Names as Address Forms in Moroccan Arabic”. In other words, articles that are proving to be perfect for a lot of my research in many different places. I’m finding it very ironic that I’d have to travel to Mysore, India to find such a perfect American journal.

A sign at the institute.

Besides that discovery, I also learned that in Mysore there is a “Society for Place and Personal Names” and actually quite a large number of scholars studying this topic. Over the next few days I am being shuttled around in an auto rickshaw to meet with a wide variety of people who have connections there. It is such a different way of doing work than I experienced in Indonesia and it feels a little strange to be transitioning into a much more formal academic mode. I have already been to the homes of three different Professors who are studying place names in the Karnataka region.

A Mysore street with an auto rickshaw.

Another Mysore street.

Mysore is also proving to be the perfect first India experience. It is a sleepy town, by Indian standards, and it feels much more manageable than I anticipated. There are parks and green spaces and lakes on the university campus. It is the second largest city in the southern state of Karnataka and is famous for its palace. Mysore was an area that was ruled by a King and was never fully colonized by the British. It is also famous for the upcoming Dasara festival which begins in a few days. I timed my visit perfectly (or terribly, if I had wanted to avoid large crowds and other tourists).

Map above is courtesy of Wikipedia. The area in red is the state of Karnataka.

A visit to the sweet shop

With power outages comes internet outages, so I’m playing a bit of catch up. I’ll write more soon with some of the naming information I’ve gathered as well as more about my impressions of India thus far. After nearly two months on my own in Indonesia, I feel entirely grateful to be living with a family, especially one as generous as the Natarajans, who have been doing everything from helping me find people all over India to stay with, to accompanying me on interviews, to packing me crackers and a water bottle if I’m going out for a few hours. My days begin with steaming early morning coffee and are filled with living room conversations, desperate attempts to keep up with the heavily-accented and brilliant onomastic scholars I meet, visits to FabIndia (a store that fills me with the same jaw-dropping wonder that a visit to Anthropologie does), and incredible vegetarian meals that end with rice and yogurt curds. I am realizing that my goal of studying Indian names is a somewhat impossible task to accomplish due to the size of this country and the many different demographics, languages and people within it, but Mysore feels like the perfect place to at least begin to try.

In my room in the Natarajan's apartment (excuse my just-showered-wet dog-esque appearance). The shawl was a gift from Wayan's family on my last day in Bali and has proved to be very useful here because it can act as a dupatta, which most women wear here, and can also cover up my hair when necessary.

The shrine at the Natarajan home (they are Hindus and followers of Shaivism). Every morning Savitri makes a different design with rice powder on the stone.

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