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india, rugby

“soo…how’s india?”

How is it December?!

as a born and bred new englander, i'm still trying to wrap my head around the idea of sunshine and sand in the winter time. ayrel and aaron are seen here in goa

How did this happen and where did it come from and how to hell did December creep up like this? And — the most pressing questionhow am I going to bake Christmas cookies with no oven? We’ve mastered the scrambling-brownies-in-a-pan technique and the deep-frying apple pie samosas (props to chef Ayrel!), but something about scrambling/plopping little gingerbread men in hot oil seems…barbaric. But possibly delicious?

tis the season! ok, so these are not gingerbread men (as i was just talking about) nor rugby balls (what this blog is about). but these are my pups ted and shybaby dressed up like christmas wreaths and, if you’re on my fam’s greeting card list, arriving in a mailbox near you soon. (i actually just wanted an excuse to post this picture.)

I’ve had a lot of downtime in the past month the flesh out some project particulars. It’s wild to think that my time here is almost halfway over. The beautiful thing about this grant: complete freedom. Butttt, being incredible and lovely as that is, it can be totally frustrating when you don’t feel like you’re making mad headway or being productive or, yanno, changing the world? I’ve been working sans advisor for the entire time here but have finally (…four…months…later…) located some sociologists in Mumbai working on the gender/sports issue. I had to LOL at one of their e-mails:

Welcome to one of the most under-researched area in the social sciences in India!  There is little enough on sports studies in general in the region, but even less on women in sports!  And in particular sports…oh my!

Ah ha! Though I’ve been frustrated, I’m a bit reinvigorated at the idea that perhaps this is really something cutting edge…

I initially set out on said adventure with the intention of taking lots of photos and putting together a narrative of these rugby ladies.

hanging with some pint-sized ruggers at the second tournament run by the tagrugby trust. photo credit: nina rangoy

hamming it up at tournament #2 with the sai international school team and spence, former captain of the english women's side. photo credit: nina rangoy

…but hit a few roadblocks.

a) Rugby is in the off-season (I caught the tail end of it at the end of August, through September and into October with the All-Asia tournament). b) A lot of the teams I’ve labeled on my little rugby India map aren’t super-functional right now. c) And, the two places that I was stoked about going to — Jammu & Kashmir and Manipur — have been nixed because of political and terrorist agitation. Eek.

Nowwhat to do?

There’s a few schemes a-brewin’…

  • a) Take a better amount of my time and check out a few different teams that are representative of different sample populations (city, tribal, slum, village) as opposed to running all over the place.
  • b) While on the ground, investigate some of the research questions that I have, including the social implications of bodily injury to a female athlete, and consultations & rehabilitation after injury/retirement; how sexuality plays into sport within the Indian context: i.e. the high prevalence of undisclosed sexual harassment and why, unlike in the Western setting, homophobia doesn’t seem to exist; how rugby is is a cog in the works of globalization and how the sport is significant in rural development.
  • c) and… the looming question — how will this all be translatable back home when I leave? The whole essence of the Fulbright is to establish a sense of cross-cultural understanding: here, I bring some skill set and leave something behind; when I go home, I take this experience and knowledge along with my 25kg of luggage and do something with it.

I had a flash of genius last night when I was being all grumpy, unshowered and pantless in my apartment at 4 p.m. yesterday afternoon (a sight to behold, really). Feeling at bit better about where this is all going… especially for when I head back to the states. But I’m letting no cats out of the bag yet. 🙂

So that’s India for now! But, if you’re looking for something of the more herm, bleeding heart variety (of if you’re not, stop reading now haha) this following little ditty (and actually the reason I had started this post) was written for my dear friend Laura, the editor of Marist College Globetrotter Magazine


Five months ago my bags were stuffed and with an e-ticket in hand, I was headed off into the Great Unknown. Now here I am, propped up in bed as I write this and settled as can be. All is quiet in my apartment. I’m surfing away and listening to music. But, the same question still lingers in my inbox and flashes on Gchat: ‘So…how’s India?’

The gears in my brain come to a screeching halt. Merriam-Webster has plenty of words to describe this place – it’s simply that, picking through my mental file, I have no idea where to begin…

Locking eyes with a little girl on the train station platform

Maybe I’ll say “Oh, it’s simply grand.”

It’s grand like the ubiquitous Taj Mahal sighting amid the squalor in the city of Agra; it’s wintertime trekking in the mountains that soar up in the shadow of Everest. It’s as grand as the elephant I caught taking a Sunday walk and that December wedding with 20,000 guests. It’s the 1.2 billion people that reside in this country; it’s the girth of the well-fed aunties draped in bedazzled saris and clad with walking shoes in the park. It’s the bulging wallets of the Mumbaikars and it’s the sheer number of people who live on under $2-a-day. It’s the size of the dancing Ganapati parade on the street below my flat, of the giant elephant god himself being hauled down the road in a truck bed. It’s the number of fireworks exploding across the horizon on Diwali – innumerable. Counting them was like watching a a meteor shower and trying to count the fleeting tails of the shooting stars.

Or tell you that “it’s totally perplexing.”

It’s how the physics defying autorickashaws recklessly — and safely —careen through the city streets; it’s finding peace on the back of a motorcycle as it guns through traffic because I know if we crash, it’s not my fault. It’s the bribery and corruption that’s on public display, the changing money in exchange for favors. It’s the tin-roofed slums constructed along the walls of the 5-star hotel. It’s the pelvic thrusts of the Bollywood superstars on every highway billboard and the saddled-up camel that trots beneath. It’s sitting on the roadside amongst Dorito-eating rats while watching a man mold rubber prosthetic legs. It’s the Burger Barn restaurant that doesn’t serve hamburgers. It’s in buying a brown sack of sugary jalebees outside of the crematorium. It’s the dueling newspaper headlines on the bride-burnings and gossip about Kim Kardashian. It’s the woman you walk by on the road with acid burns on her face. It’s the doorbells and truck back-up alarms that chime Jingle Bells in October, it’s the barrels full of drinking water marked “TOXIC: for industrial use only”; it’s the signs to please obey the traffic laws (what traffic laws?).

Sometimes, “it’s tiring.”

It’s the countless inches of travel by planes trains automobiles and more; it’s the solo cab rides to the airport and having your second layover by 10 a.m. in the morning. It’s having no place to stay and crashing in eight different beds in two weeks. It’s the suicide runs at the early a.m. hilltop rugby sessions and the sleepless night when the rabid dogs outside won’t stop howling. It’s the night-to-morning Skype sessions with loved ones around the globe. It’s the sensory overload of blaring horns and the stench of fish flesh and piss sizzling on the pavement in the sun. It’s being told that you can’t you can’t you can’t by trying anyways. It’s being okay with the answer “because.”  It’s in learning how to eat, to move, to talk and to understand again for the first time. It’s embracing a whole new set of rules to play by.

“It’s hot.”

…just like the steaming masala chai found by the sticky sweet thimble-fulls on every street corner;  it’s the ghee dripping from your aloo paratha that singes your fingertips as you dunk it in your watery dahi. It’s the night bus with the malfunctioning air conditioner you curse as you forcibly spoon your friend in the tiny berth; it’s the Goa sunburn that’s peeling your skin from the bridge of your nose layer by layer. It’s the rum-flush in your numb cheeks and from dancing all night at a music festival; you feel it in your face at the embarrassment for being chided on your funny accent. It’s you kitchen heating up from the gas burner after coming in from photographing in the monsoon, but it is most certainly never, ever your hot water heater.

An honest answer would be “it’s sometimes scary.”

It’s putting your faith in other people and trusting someone who you may have never met. It’s hoping for the best outcome but guarding your expectations as the most concrete answers can still be uncertain. It’s watching someone crashing their bike headfirst. It’s crashing your bike headfirst. It’s seeing a little girl have a gun aimed at her face, it’s the stares and whispers and was that a hand I felt? as you’re alone passing through a crowded place. It’s sometimes having absolutely no mode of communication — no Facebook, no email, no Gmail no smart phone, tweets, updates — in this hyper-connected world. Even with those modes of communication, it’s being unable to communicate with those around you. It’s in your body physically responding feeling vulnerable. It’s comes in the understanding that you are often at the mercy of this place and of other people, and taking the good with the bad. But, there is always good.

But — “it’s worth it.”

You feel it in the small victories: it’s ordering vada pav from the roadside and having the on-lookers nod their heads in impress; it’s giving directions to a local; it’s getting the newspaper and fresh papayas after owning the road with your running shoes before the city wakes up. It’s finding the freshest sugarcane juice in town and being able to confidentially tell people, spicy? what spicy? It’s watching a team of deaf children learn to play rugby. It’s the kids wearing toothy grins and giving you candy and decorating your hair with flowers. It’s in learning to dance again.  It’s in dyslexic games of Scrabble Slam and sharing dramatic post-dinner readings of the Pune Mirror’s ‘Ask the Sexpert.’ It’s finding the right berth on the sleeper train on first attempt and having your Indian friends be entirely thrilled by your pancake-making skills. It’s feeling like, in a strange way, that you belong here and you can keep up with the game.

India is unapologetic. She entices a visitor to love her but her honesty may cause them to despise her. She romances the traveler with ideas of the exotic only to hit them with  gruesome realities. She is blatant, intentional, and if you let her be (and even if you don’t), coy and mischievous. Trying to tame this beast would be beyond the realm of reason, and who would be fool enough to try? Being here is about believing in luck, even if it’s using up your last shred of hope in a last ditch effort. It’s in letting go of all misconceptions and expectations and developing a patient sense of anticipation. It’s about going for the ride that you’re on. India awakens your introspection that comes from being okay with surrendering control.

It’s about believing what you are seeing, even if you can’t find the right words.




7 thoughts on ““soo…how’s india?”

  1. Great entry Robin. You are making a difference, even in increments. You’re awesome. That train picture is stunning and I love your dogs.

    Posted by Ciara Lehane | December 1, 2011, 8:50 am
  2. Robin! This is very well written, you explain the unexplainable 🙂

    Posted by Mursal | December 1, 2011, 10:01 am
  3. Awesome Robin! Keep on goin’ girl! Can’t wait to hear back about more!

    Posted by jen herman | December 1, 2011, 2:22 pm
  4. so how is india……………….. 🙂

    Posted by Cside97 | December 1, 2011, 3:44 pm
  5. i love reading these entries and im so impressed and inspired by yo

    Posted by Leanne | December 1, 2011, 7:41 pm
  6. Amazing, as usual. Your photos and your words continue to stun me, and you always make me glad that I took a time out from this 140-word culture to read a well-crafted, well-thought-out piece of writing. Word by word, and photo by photo, and conversation by conversation, you are changing the world.

    Posted by Amy | December 1, 2011, 9:47 pm
  7. Your writing is amazing (and probably a lot of other awesome adjectives but my mind just keeps repeating that word)! I am advertising this on facebook to all my friends who don’t know you so they can read it and learn about you and India and rugby. Can’t wait until your next post!

    Posted by S. M. Holmes's Writing Blog | December 7, 2011, 7:56 pm

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The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of State, the Institute of International Education or the Fulbright Program.


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