Sep. 13th, 2009

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Only one week in, and Michael is a celebrity! It's not at all good. He says he now knows what Harry Potter must feel like.

We were mobbed by MBA students. I've written a separate entry on the good parts of the event.

Michael and I went back to our apartment and changed into our new fancy Indian traditional costumes, "gerba wear".  We arrived back around 9 PM, and sat in chairs at the back of the festival, away from the loud music. A couple students came up wanting to take our picture with their cell phones. That's fine; they don't see foreigners much, and never dressed up like us.  So a few pictures are fine.

Then the couple students turned into a handful.  A few more stopped by to see what was going on.  A student asked Michael for his autograph.  Shrug. Sure, okay.  Then another student pulled out a ten-rupee note and also asked for an autograph.  Soon everyone was doing it, and we were both signing.  The crowd grew to 40 or 50, all pushing and trying to get Michael's autograph (and mine).  We were feeling crowded, and the mass of bodies completely blocked off the light.  The security guards came over and pushed through, and we grabbed our chairs and moved to the edge of the dance tent. 

The dance was okay for a few minutes. One of the female faculty pulled me in to the circle to dance (I failed miserably, but enthusiastically).  I was pouring sweat, so I went and sat down to drink some water for a moment.  The students started gathering around us again, just as before.  It was so bad that my husband, who never dances and had a broken toe, got up and hobbled around the circle once just to get away from them.  I couldn't even see him, ten feet away, because of all the people in between.  Soon after that, we left.  We were only there for about 40 minutes.  We just couldn't stay there.

We mentioned this to our host the next day, and he was very embarrassed. He apologized and politely said, in effect, the MBA students aren't as mature as the undergraduate engineering students and they don't have much sense.  But yes, Michael is a celebrity.  We hope it doesn't happen much again.
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Our first event was full of strange prayers, speeches, and us in funny clothes.  This covers the fun parts.

The MBA program held its annual welcome/awards/festival event, "Blossoms 2009", on Sunday.  Michael was the Chief Guest of Honor. I was also one of the other Guests of Honor; five total, also including the university's Principal, the Director of the MBA school, and an older gentleman.  They had asked us to dress in our Indian wear.  Turns out, Michael was the only man there in a traditional Indian kurta pajama; the elder men were in button-down shirts and slacks.  At least several of the female faculty were dressed like me in salwar kameeze.

The time was "Indian Stretchable Time".  It was planned to start at eleven; they picked us up at 11:20 and we were drinking tea beforehand with the honored guests for probably half an hour.  Then we all went out as a group.

They started with a prayer - a ten-minute song, chanting in either Hindi or Gujarati (I still can't tell the difference in speech). Then they immediately read from Genesis 1:1-4 ("let there be light"), and all five of us honored guests lit an oil lamp to symbolize the light illumination provided by knowledge.  Then came the speeches, at least one in incomprehensible-to-us Gujarati.  We honored guests handed out the awards for the previous semester. The academic awards were almost all won by girls; a few boys won awards for extracurricular sports.  Michael gave the official launch of their new Web site and their brand-new English Language curriculum, "Learn English with Fun and Joy".

Michael's speech was excellent. His theme was that India today is the right place and right time to be a student entering the work force. He spoke of the increasingly close ties between the US and India, and how his personal view of India changed over time. In childhood, he had visions of India as a magical land of Maharajas and elephants. Then in graduate school, his advisor and all his lab-mates came from India, and he learned more about its real culture. Michael talked about technology and its importance, and the value of tinkering and invention.  He told the MBA students to seek out the nerds and get to know them and the technology.

They asked me to speak too. My speech was hastily thrown together, and it didn't help that I somehow missed a page of it and had to ad-lib. I greeted them as a fellow student for a master's degree in [Information] Management, and tried to tell them a bit about my background in information/systems engineering and IT project management. I was nervous and over-caffeinated, and probably came off as rambling a bit. Between the echo in the microphone and the language barrier, I'm not sure anybody understood much anyway, since English is a third or fourth language for most of the students.

As presents, they gave us "Gurpa dress" - fancy special-occasion attire for Indian festivals and weddings.  Mine is a fringed turquoise dupatta (sash/scarf) worn over a heavy, spangled two-piece choli (short top), and a skirt in purple/gold/turquoise, all covered in silver beads and sequins. Michael's outfit is much plainer, a simpler gold-colored kurta-pajama with a long red-and-gold silk stole. He looks very handsome in it.  The female faculty also helped me dress and do my hair, and one of the alumnae there (Ishita) made a present of an elaborate metal necklace and forehead-bob.

The student talent show was fantastic.  There were several phenomenal dancers and singers, and a couple group skits/dances to Bollywood tunes complete with choreography and elaborate costumes.  We need to make sure to see more live entertainment and dancing while we're here.  Only the stand-up comedy parts were lost on us, since we don't know Gujarati.

The dance was the capstone to the event.  This is India; dancing is a Very Big Deal here. The female faculty attempted to teach me how to dance a very simple, three-step Gujarati circle-dance. Now, I do not dance. Ever. (I need that icon, "Overly Caucasian--do not place on dance floor.") I told them I don't know my right from my left; they didn't quite believe me until they saw me.  Indian children grow up with Bollywood movies, memorizing all the choreography and dance moves. Dance is tied to religion here; many girls have dance lessons from a young age.  Michael and I were already the center of attention and it was kind of expected.  So I got in the circle and tried to dance. I failed miserably; I have neither rhythm nor coordination.  Professor Hiren Patel's wife, Chandtra(sp?), jumped in next to me and helped show me what to do, despite her four-year-old clinging to her. I tried to mimic her and did marginally better.  At least I tried to take advantage of the opportunity; no regrets.  Michael also hobbled along one lap around the dance circle, but I couldn't see him due to the press of people.

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