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Stories from India


Introducing our Student-Produced Series – over this week and next week, each of the six Communications Team Work-Study Students will produce one piece in its entirety for the blog.

By: Communications Team Work-Study Student Maria Rowe

“You won’t believe what happened to me!” When you walk down the corridors of the MV Explorer the evening we leave any port, it is impossible to miss the enthusiastic exchange of stories between members of the shipboard community.  Every story is perfected with an almost excessive amount of detail and suspense, recounted in the present tense for eager listeners to experience the moment just as you did.  No stories, however, can compare to our stories of India. These stories are pretty much guaranteed to ease their way effortlessly into dinner conversations with friends and family; our stories of Incredible India.
“Expect the unexpected.”
“Only In India.”
These phrases became our mantra of understanding the culture shock that was India. Even though we expected the unexpected, there were many times when India still found ways to leave us confused and mesmerized, all at the same time.

On the first day, my friends and I decided to hire a cab to travel south from Chennai to Mamallapuram, an area rich with heritage sites.  Our cab driver pulled over an hour into the journey, and picked up a man without any explanation. We soon figured out that this man, who sat comfortably at the front with our driver, was a guide familiar with the temples of Mamallapuram. Confused as to how much his services would cost, we asked him nervously, to which he said, “You pay whatever you want, depending on how satisfied you are.” He gave us a bow and accepted our money gratefully, and asked if we had a pen on us. Thinking he was going to write down his contact details to pass on to other interested students, I handed him my pen that I had used in every test on the ship till now. He took the pen, nestled it in his shirt pocket, said his goodbyes and left the car. I was left scratching my head. I was pen-less. Turns out I had exchanged his services for a beloved pen without even knowing it.

Over the next few days, my friends and I were on a trip that explored New Delhi, Agra and Varanasi. Our guides were very generous with time, giving us lots of room to shop at lunch stops on our way to Agra from Delhi. Our attention was thinning with every hour that we were on that long bus ride. We started to get anxious as to whether we would make it to the Taj Mahal before sunset. Our guides insisted we had nothing to worry about, and proceeded to give us a brief history of the Taj on our way there.  He repeated history at least three times as our bus tried to meander its way through the dense traffic. The Taj was “just a few minutes away” for a good thirty minutes. This story basically ends with a mental image I will never forget: 44 Semester at Sea students running at full speed towards the Taj Mahal equipped with cameras, while everyone else at the Taj was on their way out.

Just as we thought heading back to the ship meant the excitement of India was coming to an end, our cab ride from the airport proved to be an event of its own. Our driver could not speak a word of English, and depended on the directions of two other cabs that were carrying faculty and students too. An hour into the cab ride, students in the first cab rolled down their window and shouted, “By the way, does your guy know where he’s going?” It did not take us long to find out that the three cab drivers were following each other, assuming at least one of them knew the way. Each cab resorted to different means to best convey ‘Port of Chennai’: some drew diagrams of boats on whatever bits of paper they had, some used an iPhone application that played an audio translation on repeat, while some tried to describe ship-related words in every language they could think of. “Port? Water? Harbour? Ship? Boat? Agua? Titanic?”As if getting that message across was hard enough, most roads that led to the MV Explorer happened to be closed for the night.

Giving away a pen I loved without even realizing it, nearly missing out on the Taj Mahal to the merciless sunset, nearly arriving at the MV Explorer only to pull further away again due to road diversions… How can I even begin to sum up my stories of India? My experience of India, through the accumulation of these near-disasters, was near perfect. The perpetual honks of the Chennai auto-trishaws still ring in my ear, just as these stories of India would resonate within me for many years to come. What else can you do but look back and smile?

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