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The luggage tag that bears testimony to my lack of clean clothing on the day of my arrival

Exactly a week ago, give or take a few hours, I was pumped. Pumped and ready to take on the world. To be more specific, pumped and ready to take on the challenges that were laid out for summary disposal by TechBridgeWorld. Pumped and ready because I was excited at the prospect of some actual meaningful field work and deliverables after what felt like weeks and months of coursework, prep sessions and orientation training. Pumped and ready because the rest of the team and I had worked through dozens of hypothetical scenarios that could throw everything in jeopardy. Exactly a week ago, I was ready for anything the fates had in store for me.

Reality check. It is a little past midnight. I am in the dark living room of our accommodations (generously provided by the Mathru Educational Trust for the Blind), bathed in the soft warm glow of my laptop screen. My tech team lead, Poornima, has just slid shut the door from the front verandah, finally giving up her barely reliable 2G wireless internet reception in favor of the bug-free confines of the cellphone deadzone we 8 iSTEP team members are to inhabit for the next 8 weeks. 8 weeks – wow – that’s 1/5th of the way through this research internship. Does it feel like it? Not so sure – mainly because the last week has just been such a blur.

The blur is both literal and metaphorical – having quite conveniently broken my glasses right as I was about to start work. Needing -3.0 cylindrical power lenses for both my eyes, I’ve had to do a fair bit of furrowed squinting and text magnification to get along with my work. Am I blind? No. Am I functional? Yes. Should I be allowed to drive? No. Working for the Mathru School for the Blind over the next 8 weeks, is this situation ironic? Very much so.

I believe the correct way to describe this past week is that it’s like a complex many-headed logistical challenge. Our accommodations in Yelahanka, Bangalore (or Bengaluru, take your pick, really, see if I care) are conveniently located a 5-10 minute drive from both of Mathru’s centers in the Yelahanka region. However, Yelahanka itself is a developing satellite town to Bangalore, and getting into town, so to speak, involves a somewhat taxing 30-45 minute crowded bus ride. Throw in a lack of dedicated personal transportation, a somewhat significant language barrier and a negligible knowledge of the local public bus routes and for the moment, it’s safe to assume that the situation has escalated to Defcon 4.

(Update: Poornima’s desperation for internet connectivity has just driven her once more to brave the bloodthirst of the legions of mosquitoes that await her on the other side of the mesh screen door.)

The language barrier is of particular interest to me – it tells me a lot about my country’s culture that I failed to explicitly realize in my 20 years of existence. I present 2 of my preliminary hypotheses: (1) No matter where you are in India, there will be someone around who will not understand what you are saying, even if you exhaust all the languages you speak; and (2) No matter where you are in India, you will always be able to find someone to talk to in Hindi. Blatant generalizations, I know, I know, but if you think about it for a moment, it’s not a completely unrealistic proposition.

Scenario time. Exhibit A. The employee at the Sanjay Nagar Airtel office who warmed up to you considerably once the two of you realize you’re both from New Delhi after you spoke to him in fluent Hindi. Exhibit B. The somewhat surly Kannada-speaking bus conductor that you must somehow communicate the stop you need to get off at to (which you yourself are uncertain about) without using Hindi or English. Solution. Leverage Exhibit A’s local knowledge to extract the information needed to satisfy Exhibit B’s requirements. Context? A final trek into the city to end a several-day-long futile search for a microSIM prepaid connection.

(Update: Poornima, overcome with either fatigue, frustration, a combination of both, or hopefully, a sense of euphoria, is retiring to her quarters (Always wanted to use that phrase in a piece of writing (Compound parenthetical text does not belong here (Or do they?)))) /* Hope this is the right number of close parens */

You know you’ve had a somewhat of a rough week when not receiving your checked-in baggage at the luggage carousel at the airport is actually the least of your worries. A series of very tight connecting flights that the entire team miraculously navigated unfortunately proved to be a little too much for the luggage handling staff at Heathrow Airport and British Airways had no choice but to send my bag over to Bangalore the next day. A very useful way to justify buying a new set of clothes. Rookie mistake – I did not pack any clothes in my carry-on baggage. Never again. Just no…

And yet, somehow, in the midst of all this, my work schedule has remained largely unaffected – Poornima and I are keeping Stand Alone Braille Tutor (SABT) development on track, teacher training planning is purring along smoothly with Maddie, and I have more or less drilled in version control rules into the heads of my tech team partners-in-crime (albeit with slightly veiled threats). I hope that this merits a potential day off tomorrow to spend time with my mother, who decided a semi-surprise visit to Bangalore was necessary (I don’t disagree), and brother (who lives in Bangalore and patiently drove me around on Sunday as I tried to pick up the shattered pieces of normalcy in my life).

And the moral of the story? No number of scenario response sessions can comprehensively cover every single potential disruption to a normal dose of field work. Scenarios are useful not in themselves, but because they make you take a step back and think on your feet, so your brain doesn’t just fall apart in the heat of the moment in the field. Last time I checked, the old noggin’ was chugging along fine, if only a bit winded from the events of the past few days. I can only hope that the rest of the internship proves to be equally eventful, if only in a much more positive sense.

Also, I stand corrected from the beginning of this post. Exactly a week ago. I was pumped. But I wasn’t ready. Not by a long shot.

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One thought on “!(COMFORT_ZONE)

  1. Hi Vivek, I am Madeleine’s father and I love reading your posts! You are a great writer. Hope you can get your glasses situation worked out.

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