Daily Life Field Note
I’d like to introduce you all to my wonderful host mother, Bhavani! She grew up in Secunderabad (Hyderabad’s twin city) and moved here in 2006 when she began working at the University of Hyderabad. She later moved to Gopanpally, where we currently live. Bhavani is a Hindi teacher for the Study In India Program here, but also gives private lessons in Hindi and Telugu (the local language) and does freelance translation as well.
I have been living with Bhavani and her four-year old daughter Tanvi since January, and I can’t begin to say what an impact she’s had on my experience in India. My roommate and I help cook dinner most nights, so I am slowly learning her recipes. Aside from her culinary skills, she is awesome at translation and helps us with our Hindi homework. Her English (in which this interview was conducted) is fantastic, which is a relief when we’ve come back from a long day surrounded by Telugu and Hindi speakers.
I was interested in why she chose to share her home with international students. She has a full career and a young daughter to care for, and yet managed to live in the international hostel for two years as resident director and later host students in her home. Bhavani says that her “confidence in knowing a lot about American students since 2006, learning their accent, knowing their culture and their love for Indian food” gave her the incentive to take that step.
The benefit of living with a host family in a new country is clear. She says, “I think people who live in host families have more experience than [those] who live in hostels at campus, because of course, each host family has their own thing, but everyone has the ‘Indian’ experience… Like every day, living through the Indian cultures, rituals, and a lot of things, because each family celebrates festivals in different ways. Either way, host family students will have… more exposure to India.”
She also acknowledges the transportation experience that students gain. Finding one’s way to campus is a lot more complicated when having to flag down an autorickshaw or navigate the city bus system. Living with Bhavani was crucial to my understanding of auto negotiations, and after the first few weeks I felt that I was managing just like a local.
Living with international students has made a big impact on Bhavani’s life. She lived in Tagore (the international hostel), in which she interacted with foreign students every day. She says that “staying with them affected a lot… I’ve [learned] a lot about how children are brought up there to, you know, cope with problems, and do it on their own. And that’s why although they are just between 19 and 21 years, they come all alone to a different country, and that’s not very common with Indians. We are very scared about our children, too much concern. And children are also very scared to get out of the country on their own.”
She adds, “It just gave a really new meaning to little things in life, like helping or doing something together.” It did take a little while to adjust. She explains, “it’s not that Indian friendship is not very strong, it’s just there’s so many things that I have learned from the American culture. I learned it because before meeting Western students, I had a very bad image of the West. Maybe that was because of the Hollywood and stuff like that. But I have seen in my personal experience that they are not like Hollywood movies, totally different and much, much better in many ways.”
Living with young foreigners has affected Tanvi as well. She lived in Tagore as a baby, learning how to speak English without a hint of an accent. Her etiquette and behavior were developed as well. Bhavani says that “saying ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’” aren’t common in India, since “parents don’t expect that from students, children.” Bhavani says, “I am really happy and proud that [the international students] could put all good things in her, and she could take it really well… It makes me so thankful to all the students.” Every time the students see Tanvi on campus, it’s like a celebrity has appeared. She even has the nickname “Princess of Tagore”! It’s clear that the international community on campus is happy to have Bhavani and Tanvi around.
Once you get to know Bhavani a little closer, you’re bound to fall for her. She is well known in our little housing community and her kind smile and infectious laughter are heartwarming. She loves to write in Urdu, especially poetry. She also loves decorating the apartment. I’ve come home a few times to find a new collage hanging on my wall, one about animals, another about sights of India. She says, “I’m just too much into interior decoration sometimes.” It’s such a cute surprise!
One of her major passions is cooking. Her favorite dish to make is tomato biryani. Biryani is a wonderfully spicy and flavorful rice dish, for which Hyderabad is famous. Bhavani’s tomato biryani is the only dish here that I’ve eaten for dinner, late night snack, and breakfast the next day. She also loves a sweet dish called bread jamuns. It’s made of bread balls stuffed with dried fruits, and it’s totally delicious.
I often go to Bhavani for day-to-day and personal advice, as she is very wise for her 32 years. When asked for advice for American students coming to India for the first time, she says to think about health issues and preconceptions of India. For health issues, she says not to trust all of the food. “Homemade is, of course, very good. However bad it tastes, homemade will not make people sick. But outside food, it looks very fascinating and colorful outside, but I don’t think it should be tried.” I followed the same advice and haven’t been sick yet.
As far as preconceptions of India go, Bhavani says, “Some people come here thinking India is very backward, and get confused when they come here. Some people are glad that it’s a little better, but people who over-expect have bad experience because certain things don’t exist here.” She cites Wifi and pollution regulation as things that aren’t present everywhere.
There are also “internal things, like how office people respond to you. Like when Indians promise something, they may not all of them do it on this time.” Schools or professional organizations will probably be punctual, “but if you just randomly tell some office guy, or tailors, for example, they may say one week but they’ll take ten days.” The time discrepancies really annoyed me when I first got here, but I’ve learned to be patient and wait for things to come around when they do.
Living with Bhavani has certainly helped with that, as her level head and optimistic outlook have kept me focused. She’s helped me adjust to Hyderabadi and Indian life so well. The students that come and go and the University and local community here value her greatly. I’m sure you all will find similar support and kindness in the people you liv
e with here!