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Saying goodbye to Jamia – and some tips for visiting scholars to delhi

My visiting professorship at Jamia ended a few weeks ago, and I've been traveling since. A colleague from Jamia, Adnan Farooqi, sent me this nice newsletter prepared by students at Jamia's Political Science Faculty. Between the articles, most of whom were by my students, and the photos, it was a nice reminder and a nice sendoff for me.

Over the course of the winter term, I had an idea about a post that would help other scholars who were going to do a sabbatical or act as visiting scholars in Delhi, including some hard-won tips. I might still spell it out, but for now, here are a few in bullet form:

* Carry an unlocked cell phone with you, and plenty of adapters for Indian plugs. You can acquire both in India, but it's great to arrive with them.

* Carry passport-sized photos with you. You need one for lots of things, most importantly getting a SIM card for your cell phone.

* Get the SIM card at the airport. It won't work until you activate it hours later, but it is the easiest place to get one. You'll need to give them a lot of information, including the address you'll be staying at, your passport sized photo, a copy of your passport and visa, etc.

* Use google maps to get a sense of distances before you set out in an autorikshaw, prepaid taxi, or radio taxi. One particularly hard lesson is, you can't expect taxi drivers to know the city - the idea is that you are supposed to direct them, both to your departure point and your destination. There are many tools for estimating how much trips should cost, but I assumed something like 10/km for an auto (regulation is 6.5) and 20/km for a radio taxi, and night and other charges on top of that.

* Radio taxis are expensive, but reliable. I have had some harrowing experiences with other taxis that aren't radio taxis, so I wouldn't recommend them for people who don't know the city very well.

* Buses are very cheap, and if you don't mind having to stand and being crushed at times, it's reasonable for short and medium distances - far cheaper than an auto.

* The subway system is also great if you live on it. Jamia's subway station hasn't been finished yet (sound familiar), so I would have had to take an auto to Nehru Place to get on the system. For that reason, most of the time, I ended up taking autos all the way to wherever I was going. For the last two months, when I had some Hindi, this was quite convenient.

* When you try to get an autorikshaw, you tell him where you want to go, and he turns away and drives off, don't get demoralized. They are concerned about their small tanks of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), getting stuck in traffic, and other calculations for their business. In non-peak hours, you have reasonable bargaining power. In rush hour, you will have a lot of auto drivers reject you before you find one.

* I found in the last two months that for medium or longer trips, the auto wallahs were willing to use the meter. Otherwise, though, they'll try to give you a price either when you get in or when you arrive. The custom is to negotiate before you leave, and that's also when you have the most bargaining power. If you don't know how far your destination is, you are totally helpless in your negotiations, which is why I mentioned you should know the distances and aim for about 10 rupees/km. Locals can get better prices, as low as 6.5/km which is what the meter says, but I was only able to get those kinds of rates after two months of being there and after acquiring some Hindi.

* Any Hindi you can learn goes a long way. I studied for 3 months before leaving, and arrived virtually useless in Hindi. But two months later, as I continued to study and be immersed, I eventually experienced a strange 'cascade' where almost everything suddenly became understandable. I still don't speak very much, but here too, a few words go a long way, especially if you can develop some comprehension ability. When I didn't know Delhi well, I assumed that I wouldn't need Hindi there and could get by in English. In fact, you can do much less and are much more dependent if you have only English.

* There are many great places to see and much to do, which I won't get into here, but I will say that street life is still constrained by the non-separation of car space from human space, which basically means that every moment on the street is one of fear of getting run over, at least for people who aren't used to this.

If you are at York, I look forward to seeing you again in a few weeks.