After an interesting stint away from Charchit and Bikram I was ready to come home.
Over the next week I settled into my research. The routine was: go to a cafe, buy the cheapest thing, and email people who knew way more than me about production and resource use.
We settled on the idea of following a product through its lifecycle (as a way of looking at climate change). So the research started out by looking for a lifecycle that was broad enough to encompass the large contributors to climate change: agriculture, energy, transportation, manufacturing. After about a week of research we decided a t-shirt would be best.
I started to buy groceries and pay for the internet (which is metered here) because the living situation was becoming more and more housematelike rather than the expected host-guest dynamic. This made me a little self conscious because as close as I was becoming with Charchit and Bikram (we would cook for friends together, I went to visit Bikram’s parents in Chandigarh) I still wasn’t confident that they would kick me out if they didn’t want me to stay.
After a wonderful 10 days with my first hosts, Charchit and Bikram, I decided that I was pushing the envelope for couch surfing so I looked for a new home.
I arrived as Mr. Singh’s house late at night on a Thursday. This was what I had imagined. The decorative vases, table cloths, and functional air conditioning units of Charchit and Bikram’s were replaced with cramped living spaces, spotty electrical work, and harsh lighting, what remained, monolithic, was the Indian hospitality.
The next day we left for Rishikesh on a trip that I had apparently consented to going on the night before. We arrived and crashed in a hostel. We spent the weekend in Rishikesh riding and walking aimlessly around, stopping into temples and picking restaurants based on convenience. After three days of this it came out that he had been operating under the assumption that we had been brought together by god in order for me to produce a documentary on him.
Sidebar: He is a yogi with over 12,000 followers, his organization is operational in 40 villages and he is planning a month long event that will bring the best and the brightest from those villages to compete at his yoga camp.
Once it became clear that I was supposed to come to his yoga camp for a month I dipped. I booked a ticket on the next bus to Delhi, which was the next morning. Before I left though I had agreed to do some photography with a guy at a motor bike rental place.
We met the next morning we met at 5 AM and watched the city wake up. Then he took me to have breakfast with his family. Though their house was just a large four person bed, and an attached kitchen they too exhibited what seems to be the Indian constant–incredible hospitality.
After arriving in Delhi airport at 12am I finally made it out of the airport some 11 hours later. I confidently walked the course I had plotted in my head to the taxi stand and ordered the no A/C cab because in that moment I needed to feel like a tough guy. After 10 minutes I was soaked, and after 20 I was surrounded by yelling men and my cab driver was being forcibly evicted from our little island of safety (the cab). We had gotten into a small crash and the guys from the other car were upset and we just happened to pull over under a bridge where another 20 guys were hanging out. If I hadn’t been trying so hard not to poop my pants I would have found the unfolding politics interesting. After my cabbie was pulled out of the car a passing moped driver stopped and appointed himself arbiter. He separated the parties and after much shouting worked out an accord which saw us driving down the road to an auto body shop where the cabbie would pay for repairs to the other gentleman’s car. That’s where my first couch surfing host picked me up.
I started last semester as a Cellular and Molecular Biology major, a vestige of my pre-med days. Then, as I do most semesters, I found myself going to eight classes a day “just to see”. One of those classes was on documentary photography. That was the beginning of the end. My sister and I had done environmental research during the summer of 2015 in China and had agreed to meet in India summer of 2016. By some surreal coordination we both elected to make a go at journalism and over the course of a weekend we decided that we would do an environmental documentary, applied for grants, and sketched out a plan to spend 4 months documenting what buying imported products really means for the environment and what impact it has on humans.
SiSA was the first to fund our project and when that email arrived the whole plan, including the significant life path adjustment for both of us that went along with it, went from “wouldn’t it be cool if…” to something that was actually happening. It’s hard to describe how it feels to have all you’re dreams and plans for your future dissolve to make way for another path. I’d spent countless hours since high school imagining my life as a doctor, thinking about what that would mean, researching med schools, downloading MCAT apps, talking to doctors, watching videos of surgeries, only to have it fade away into something I used to want to do.
I can’t say how excited I am to try my hand at something that may become what I do with my life. The opportunity to go dig deeper into the human and environmental costs of habits that I and I think many others in the U.S. take for granted feels important in a way that nothing I’ve done up to this point in my life. That’s not to say this project will be so important but just that it’s a small step in a direction that I’d feel proud following for the rest of my life.