The India Program (My Life as a Bollywood Movie)

By: Sara Birkenthal and Julia Keinan | Feb 26, 2013 | 348 Views Life |

At the Taj Mahal

From December 28, 2012, through January 19, 2013, our group of twelve Claremont students spent winter break on Claremont McKenna’s first January Program in India. Led by Chief Technology Officer and Associate Professor of Religious Studies Cynthia Humes and Assistant Director of Financial Aid Catherine Mayfield, the program focused on Contemporary Religious Leadership in India. Based in New Delhi, we spent our three weeks immersed in not only the study of Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism, but also in Indian society as a whole.

The program, organized jointly by CMC and study abroad provider IES, included lectures and various educational excursions. The lectures, given by Professor Humes and a local Indian professor, covered topics ranging from Gandhi’s life and legacy to modern Indian democracy and the partition of British India.

The truly memorable experiences, however, happened outside of the classroom on excursions throughout northern India. During our stay in New Delhi, we visited significant sites including Humayun’s Tomb, Ghandi Smriti, and the Delhi High Court, among many others. We also spent a weekend in Rajasthan, a state in northwestern India known as the “land of Kings,” as well as a week in Agra and Amritsar.

There are some pretty obvious differences between life as a CMCer in Claremont and life as a CMCer in New Delhi, but we wanted to point out some of the more interesting ones.

Here at CMC, we live the Green Beach lifestyle in North Quad, but in New Delhi, we lived at a small business hotel called Hotel Centrum. Some of the highlights of our Hotel Centrum experience included ordering greasy French fries and overcooked fried rice from room service and only being able to shower with warm water at certain hours of the day. Although North Quad showers are far from perfect, while in India, we longed for their spa-like warmth and water pressure. Just as Boswell is conveniently located a mere 30-second walk from Bauer, our New Delhi home was located just a short walk from our classroom.

One of the greatest perks of being a CMC student is access to the Athenaeum and its nightly speakers (and desserts). While in India, we did not miss out on the Ath experience, as we had the opportunity to hear a number of memorable speakers. Most notably, we met with a Swami, a Hindu religious leader who catered his speech to our CMC-inspired passion for leadership, giving us his advice on how to be good leaders.

The group with the Swami

At CMC we are spoiled by access to a number of high-quality dining halls, not to mention chocolate-covered strawberries at tea and nightly snack at Collins. In India, as expected, our food options were not quite what we were used to. The average meal consisted of a blazing hot thali and lots of yogurt and lassi to balance the heat and sooth our amateur taste buds. Our need for snack food was satiated by daily masala chai and samosas.

A typical thali served at a cafeteria-style restaurant

Back at school, our inboxes are flooded with Jim Nauls’ announcements about Friday night movies. In India, without weekly entertainment provided by CMC, we were forced to seek out fun for ourselves. In the process, we discovered Bollywood movies, and not just any Bollywood movie, but “Dabangg 2.” Although the film was only in Hindi, who needs English subtitles when the plot involves a hunky police officer fighting crimes while singing and dancing with beautiful, sari-sporting women?

While we are accustomed to dodging longboard traffic at CMC, nothing could have prepared us for the hustle and bustle of rickshaw riding in New Delhi. For a mere 200 rupees, or whatever price we managed to bargain, we enjoyed an open-air tour of the city, exhaust fumes and all.

Finally, CMC’s campus is currently abuzz with anticipation for the upcoming Wedding Party. However, this wedding fever cannot top the obsession we developed for crashing an Indian wedding. Although our lofty goal was never accomplished, and we never managed to become true Indian wedding crashers, we got close. On one of our final nights in India, we happened to stumble upon an engagement party. In typical CMC fashion, we arrived as a pack, and the band was no DJ N2ition, but we still got our dance on.

As much as we missed CMC, adjusting back to life on campus has had its challenges. Because of extreme jet lag, syllabus week was anything but relaxing. In a blur of jet lag-induced exhaustion, food from Collins required copious amounts of Cholula hot sauce. Out of instinct, we continued to reach for bottled water to brush our teeth, and we were disappointed to discover that our rupees didn’t work at the Hub Store. Luckily, we have managed to get over this confusion, but with the Wedding Party coming up, we might be tempted to break out our Bollywood dance moves.

Our first rickshaw ride!

Sara Birkenthal and Julia Keinan spent three weeks in India riding elephants, feeling tall, and telling anyone who asked that they are sisters.

  • HGM

    Great article and sounds like an amazing experience.. sorry you guys didn’t get to an Indian wedding!!

  • Tohruxtan

    200 rupees isn’t a bargain! LOL. at least you had fun ;)