Thunder Storms and Sambar

I am sitting in a wicker chair in my room reading, “Globalization and its Discontents” and listening to the thunder of an impending storm. The rain will arrive, the power will go out, and people will either grow quiet and studious or become goofy and rambunctious. After the storm, the climate will cool, the still wet laundry in our rooms will smell mildewy and the power will return. The unpredictability of the storms lately fits well the mood of the last two weeks: tumultuous.

It started with a Students Federation of India (SFI), the communist political group, strike on-campus on the same day I had scheduled to interview the SFI leaders. The interview was cancelled; I knew when I heard flag-bearing SFI members chanting in a protest around campus. I saw a few SFI leaders take a padlock and lock the gate of the campus (the main and sole entrance and exit). I heard rumors of a “list of demands” and a “meeting with the principal.” Lunchtime arrived and the gate remained locked. I refused to miss my rice and sambar, so I marched myself to the gate. A familiar SFI face quickly opened the gate and let the American girl leave.

The next day I got the details. SFI demanded around twenty changes from the principal, most of which were reasonable and granted on the spot (a source of fresh water for students to drink on campus, for example). The gate was locked until the meeting adjourned around 2:30. The same day a teacher attempted suicide by drinking poison from one of the labs (not at all connected to SFI actions, it was a personal matter). The campus was buzzing.

My head started to hurt and my back ached, but there was so much to do! I left college early to meet one of the members of South East Asia Missions to help with the “Manna Mission,” which provides food for the people who can’t afford food during in-patient stays at a local government hospital. I arrived at the hostel and I was “five minutes too late,” Ammamma said. I was disappointed and frustrated. If I had arrived early, I would not have missed his phone call asking if I was still planning to come. I arrived on time, but by that time he assumed I was not coming. My head really began to hurt. I checked and realized I had a low fever, so I cancelled my afternoon activities and rested. By nightfall my fever was 101 degrees. The next morning it was 102.6 degrees. Off to the doctor I went, in a bumpy rickshaw no less. “Too much sun, “ some said, “too much walking,” others reprimanded. I think I was just sick and stressed. I received some magical medicines and returned to the doctor the next day feeling much better.

The next day, however, by night fall my head was in a bucket and my headache had returned full force. It was a mind-splitting, lights off, whispers only headache. Back to the doctor. “Too much sun,” “too much walking,” Ammamma and the students said. “Migraine,” I cried. “Gastrointestinal problems due to mango juice,” said the doctor. More medicine and my first buttocks injection.

Today I felt better. My headache is present and I am watching my food. The rice and sambar I had to escape to eat a few days ago doesn’t sound so good now. All of these events fall around Deepavali, the Festival of Lights. Somehow I was able to convince Ammamma to get fire-crackers and sparklers, a special treat for us at the hostel to celebrate. And even more miraculous, I was feeling fine on the night we set them off! My tumultuous two weeks, cushioned on both ends by a headache, fire-crackers in the center, ends with a thunderstorm.

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