Fieldwork

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The Citadel in Halvad

In the final week and a half, we all scrambled to get as much out of our suddenly limited time as possible. It’s crazy how a month can feel like a year and a day all at once when so much is happening. This process was unpredictable as we were running on “India time,” which meant someone may not show up for an interview scheduled for one day, but someone else may unexpectedly show up for an interview another. There was a lot of miscommunication, and sometimes it wouldn’t be made clear to drivers or interviewees that we were sent to conduct certain interviews. Some students had a clear idea all the way through what their research focus was, and others like myself were drawn toward several subjects. The chaos of India time and trying to figure out how to focus or adapt our research based on the field work we were able to access in a limited time frame was both very frustrating and exciting.

 

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Last-minute escaping into town with Nirvan, Shaniece, Lilly, and Nangorlee

Shaniece and Camilla went several times to visit some of the palace staff women in their homes. Barrett and Camilla started regularly visiting Jesada, a Bharwad (shepherd caste) village, in order get to know the people and help Bapa with a film/photography project he and a deceased student/colleague had started several decades previously. Jeremy continued his daily study of the harmonium with a group of musicians, and Chrissy went to Ahmedabad to study and teach at a dance studio. Lilly and I got the chance to go to Kankavati to interview Amritbhai, the lead actor of the Bhavai group, with Shaniece and Millie filming. The Bhavai are both Hindu and Muslim, as they were converted several centuries ago, which is when their distinctive performance tradition emerged. After performing with our fellow “queens,” we were curious about what it meant to him and other Bhavai performers to embody female roles, and he explained to us in Gujarati, with the help of Jayshree, Rina, and Vish’s translations, their dressing-room ritual process of invoking and embodying their goddess. They enter what seems to be a trance, in which they forget they are men and focus completely on embodying the goddess.

 

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Jayshree and Amritbhai

Out of curiosity, I also went with Nangorlee to speak to some local doctors. Nangorlee was conducting research on food insecurity, so she interviewed an Ayurvedic practitioner, Dr. Komal, as well an allopathic pediatrician, Dr. Patel. At the government-sponsored Ayurvedic clinic, Dr. Komal gave us a brief explanation and history of Ayurvedic medicine and showed us her garden, explaining some uses of several of her many plants. She was a huge advocate of Ayurvedic medicine and did not use allopathic remedies at all. Dr. Patel, the pediatrician, helped us to better understand how healthcare works in India and some of its strengths and weaknesses compared to America, where he lived for several years. Healthcare and medicine are much cheaper in India, and more accessible due to the lack of interference from insurance companies. People pay reasonable prices out-of-pocket and avoid long lines and waiting rooms, as doctors don’t have excessive paperwork to deal with. Vaccines are virtually free. Food insecurity is not an issue as it once was, but people often get infections from drinking water that has not been boiled. It is easy to get treated as long as the person is aware of local healthcare resources, which is unfortunately not always the case.

 

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Nangorlee documenting Dr. Komal’s Aryuvedic garden

Finally, I was fortunate my last week that Diptaa, despite dealing with the loss of her father, was able to take Shaniece and I several days in a row to speak with Dipakbhai, a local astrologer (Jain cosmology) and guruji. It was with Dipakbhai, his son, his daughter, and his wife that I made the strongest connections. Although Dipakbhai did not speak a lot of English, his presence was comforting, his home was relaxing, his shrine to his goddess Ambe was intriguing, and he and his family were extremely welcoming. He read Shaniece’s and my horoscopes, and having dabbled a bit in Western astrology myself, I was quite impressed with his perspective, which was more remedial than deterministic. That resonated deeply with me, as I have a strong interest in energy healing and divinatory techniques in that remedial sense. We interviewed him, with Diptaa’s help, about his background and religious beliefs and practices. Shaniece interviewed him and his wife about their wedding and marriage experience. Diptaa really helped to push us to ask lots of questions including quite a few “passport questions” regarding their backgrounds and situations in life. Although we haven’t gotten a chance to translate his responses to our questions in depth, his son Darshan educated us quite a bit about Hinduism and Jainism with his passionately crafted journal entries, which he would enthusiastically read aloud to us each day. Dipakbhai’s place certainly was a home away from home away from home. And before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye.

 

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Dipakbhai’s home (top), Saying goodbye (bottom)

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