Tuesday, July 29, 2008

An appetizer

Everyone got a little taste of what’s coming last night.

A group dinner arranged for students, faculty and staff at one of Bloomington’s Indian restaurants, Shanti, gave us all an opportunity to get to know each other better.

Over samosas, deep-fried patties stuffed with potatoes, peas and spices (pictured here), Butter Chicken, Lamb Korma, a vegetarian dish and a flat bread called Naan, all the students were introduced to chaperones.

M.A. Venkataramanan, who I’ll refer to from this point further as Professor Venkat, offered welcoming remarks about his hometown, Chennai (formerly Madras) and some sometimes serious, often humorous, advice about what not to eat, personal safety and “representing Kelley,” particularly when they met with business and government officials.

India, he said, is a place where people don’t like to say no, but the extent of their kindness obviously is affected by the manner in which it is received. Previous students have heeded his words well, since they’ve had opportunities to meet with Indian cabinet officials and national business leaders and see places most Indians have never seen in person.

It will be interesting to see what arrangements our friends have made for us this time.

I got to know the three of the four students who are assigned to me – Courtney, Dana (who you see enjoying the samosas) and Brian. The fourth person, Aashish, is back home in India and waiting for us.

Because I respect their privacy, I won’t reveal too much about them and about our conversations. I’ll leave that to them and their Facebook pages.

However, I will say that I’m impressed by the fact that all of them have traveled extensively around the world. After recounting all of the places she’d been, including in Africa on safari, Courtney added a couple of minutes later that she’d also been to China.

Aashish likely will be popular on this trip, particularly because of his vast familiarity with his country’s customs and culture, particularly those aimed at 18-25 year-olds. He’s from Delhi and his father still has family in Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located.

Last year, it was fun traveling with his friend and fellow cricket player Royan, who I was “responsible” for as a chaperone. I fondly recall last year how Royan, a vegetarian, was looking forward to returning home to India, a place where he’d find more for his palate. We traveled to India last November and after three months of maneuvering the American fast food scene, he was ready for home cooking.

In an e-mail exchange, Aashish says he feels the same way, especially since he’s already back home. "I hope to see all of you soon here," he wrote as a comment to this blog. "I am sure you will like my country, a country with a slight difference."

Perhaps he can join Royan and our other Group Five friends this fall when we have our planned reunion at the Bombay House, Bloomington’s other Indian restaurant. Royan can fill us in about his summer internship with a major investment firm with offices in Mumbai.

For Courtney, Dana and Brian and the others, everything will be new. It will be a week somewhat outside their comfort zone, without certain foods, a lot of bottled water and experiences they’ll never forget.

And perhaps some bargains at Delhi’s Dilli Haat craft market and Chennai’s Spencer Plaza mall. Everyone, no matter their national origin, likes a good deal.

Note: If you’d like to learn more about Venkat, you can read a bio about him at http://newsinfo.iu.edu/news/page/normal/2205.html

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