new courses and a brand new flat

August 16, 2007

Since I last wrote my Bureaucratic Battle has gone from being a cold hard confrontation to a messy, indistinct slog á la Iraq.  The number of stamps and signatures Erin and I have attained must be approaching triple digits.  Shah (mortal enemy from episode one) and I are plotting each other’s violent demise.  Sides have become blurred and civil war seems imminent. 

At some point Erin and I finally got enough forms completed, stamped, signed and submitted to be able to start uni.  Although we’re in 3rd year Bachelor of International Studies at UNSW we were enrolled in M.A. of Politics and Public Administration at UoP.  Nevertheless, in a lot of ways the program feels like a cross between high school (what the teacher says is doctrine, there is minimal class discussion) and first year uni (teachers emphasising how it’s not longer about learning facts, but understanding ideas.  This is pretty hypocritical coming from most of the politics teachers who then start dropping names and complicated theories without explaining the ideas behind it all.  It can be quite patronising/intimidating).  The power dynamic between teachers and students is much more hierarchical here too.  The class even stands for the entry of the teacher sometimes.  This is all getting a little difficult – especially because a lot of what the politics teachers say, and the way they say it is does not sit comfortably with my own opinions.  You’ll see…

In the first half week at uni we spent every day, 11am – 4pm with no break, listening to virtually the same long and drawn out sermon from 6 different lecturers.  It mostly consisted of assuring us that this degree will be extremely difficult and we may not be up to the challenge, that we should treat any knowledge that we think we have as redundant and that politics is the most superior of disciplines and we’d better act in a way appropriate to this fact (I think this meant obediently?).  One lecturer spent a whole hour telling us that politics is so much better than the hard sciences (maths, physics, chemistry) because politics students look at the history of the subject and understand where the concepts and ideas come from unlike those science ignoramuses.  I tried to tell him that UNSW has a whole department called The History and Philosophy of Science.  No response.

He went on to equate hard sciences with men “it’s where all the real stuff is happening”, and the ‘soft’ sciences (politics basically) with women “it’s important, but no one really cares”.  I saw red. 

tire fire

After 3 or 4 days of these introductory lectures Erin and I were feeling extremely depressed with the prospect of one year of the same and so we emailed our course convenor at UNSW and asked for more flexible subject choices.  He okayed this and UoP began transforming for us.  Now we have four really great subjects, from four different faculties, taught by inspiring, inspired teachers, all of whom I am in love with.

One teacher (taking an English course on Dalit literature) relished in reading out, multiple times, lines of obscene poetry to us to show us how shock tactics in alternative literature are used.  And it was shocking in the Indian education environment.  But it was such a welcome change from the stuffy, triumphant, self-satisfied, insincere tirades that we had been getting from the politics department. 

We’re also taking a course called Rural Development and Poverty Alleviation which offers fieldwork with NGOs working in the area among other things.  The woman we have for this is amazing, what I was really hoping for from Indian academia.  We had a discussion about micro-credit schemes today and she was on exactly the same page as me about the whole issue.  And when she wiped the whiteboard clean she made sure she got all those little patches of pen that drive me crazy. 

I am relishing having teachers who have done the research and have the theoretical knowledge, but also know what they’re talking about on a practical level.  I feel that that’s what was lacking with most of our learning back home – our lecturers often had a fairly distanced, theoretical perspective on their subject matters.  At UoP my teachers seem to have first hand experience of what they’re teaching.  Our teacher for Alternative Literature is a published Indian gay writer; our sociology teacher has been involved with lots of NGO work within India.  We had an inauguration with the Women’s Studies Department yesterday.  There was such a variety of men and women – students, housewives, activists, NGO workers, science postgraduates, engineers.  I almost cried when the head of the department was talking, she believed so completely in what she was doing.  It’s such a powerful environment – pioneering, radical, idealistic, strong.  All this stuff is really exciting.  And it makes the practical applications of my degree seem more tangible.

The other news is that we’ve moved from our hotel into a flat.  There are a few drawbacks…

  1. There is no hot water.
  2. There is no shower.
  3. Therefore washing is a cold experience done by the bucket-and-tap method.  And Pune really isn’t as warm as you would expect from India.  It’s in the hills and it’s monsoonal and even a little bit chilly.
  4. There is no washing machine (I am slowly reconciling myself to a year of handwashing as washing machines are considered more luxury than necessity here, to the extent that when you buy washing power the instructions on the back tend to be for ‘bucket and tap’ method).
  5. The apartment building is unfinished.  In real terms this means that there are a few serious flaws that may or may not be remedied.  The most significant of which being that where the lift should be there is just the empty shaft.  Entrances on each level open straight onto nothingness, with no gate or barrier between my afraid-of-heights self and the distant ground.
  6. The flat is closer to uni than our hotel (which is great), but in a much less central part of town and I have already begun missing the atmosphere of our former home at the Grand Hotel.
  7.  There are currently 6 people in a small 2 bedroom flat (upside of this is that the rent comes to about $12 (Australian) per week).
  8. We are living with the personification of arrogance and selfishness.
  9. Arrogance Personified (AP) has a sidekick (non-tenant) who happens to be Patronising Personified (PP). 

 shaft

AP is a French exchange student who has somehow come to embody all the arrogance and egoism of unflattering French stereotypes.  Her sidekick PP is a British girl who has been to Pune a few times to study alternative medicines and yoga.  She is one of those people you meet travelling who is obsessed with the ‘authentic’ overseas experience and believes that she, more than anyone else, has been able to tap into this.  Given any excuse she will launch into a tirade about how she has achieved this, regaling everyone with stories of how bold and brave and spontaneous she is.  Luckily AP and PP have decided to move into a flat together so they can fuel each other’s insufferable idiosyncrasies in private. 

At the moment we are living with 2 French girls – Celia and Floriane, and 2 French guys – Gautier and Hugo.  They’re lots of fun, with beautiful French accents.  Maybe Erin and I might even be able to reignite our (limited) French knowledge.

P.s. Floriane and Hugo just went to buy chicken for dinner.  Here this does not mean going to the supermarket (there are almost no supermarkets here; in class yesterday our teacher was trying, unsuccessfully, to explain one to the students.  I always thought supermarkets were universal).  Anyway, Floriane and Hugo went to buy chicken, which to me means going to the supermarket and buying a bit of stuff wrapped in plastic that in no way resembles a chicken.  Here this means going to a little hole in the wall lined with chicken cages, choosing one and having it killed and plucked on the spot.  It’s probably good to be forced to stop being complacent about all that stuff, to be aware of the things that have to happen in order to enjoy a nice meal and a good life (death, colonialism, slavery).

chicken2

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One Response to “new courses and a brand new flat”

  1. dave Says:

    im so glad you are using your blog! i love you! so much!


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