Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Wearing Ties and Washing Babies

Imagine with me, that I be an Oxford scholar: blue blazer coat of arms adorned on the right side, neatly ironed trousers, cleanly shaven, genteel speech. Well, first I would have to work on the accent. Apparently, I have been accused by a refined local of having the vocabulary, attitude, and accent of a sassy American black woman. I don't really know where that came from or if I agree, but in any case, I don't know if my tawdry speech would fly in England's premiere academic institution. In any case, while the prospect of going to school in England would have been laughable even a year ago, after falling in love with the UK and visiting the Oxford, it now does not seem so distant.

Craig Jeffrey is a fantastic scholar, the bulk of his work focusing on the underemployment of the young educated class of North Indian with particular attention to Dalit or untouchable class. His work has nuanced the conversation about the absolute utility of education as a development strategy put forth by my one of my favorite scholars, Amartya Sen.

Jane Dyson is a fantastic scholar. Her studies have focused on the work strategies of young people in the Himalayas drawn from a year and a half of very interesting field research following children out to the forest for collect lichen. She actually did her fieldwork quite close to the Ashram where I worked, just one district away.

Craig and Jane are married and both are at Oxford. Talk about your South Asia intellectual power couple!

Prof. Dyson and Jeffrey were at the University of Washington during my Hindi studies at the same institution and I was quite keen to work with them when I returned from my last trip to India. But, with budgets being slashed in the US, Oxford offered them an excellent opportunity to return to most prestigious college in their native country. Hard to pass up.

En route to a screening in Cambridge, I decided to try to meet the two scholars to talk about possible graduate work. They invited me to their home for what I had thought might be a brief and formal discussion turned into a quite pleasant evening.

After talking about their research, my academic interests, and possible programs, their one and a half year old son, Finn with his adorable mop of blonde hair and long, wrinkled face, wobbled out of his room after a nap. Then their little four year old bundle of joy, Florence, came bounding in from nursery school a little later, which pretty much extinguished our academic discussions. I quickly learned that two young children pretty much equals the entirety of your energy and attention.

But who cares, I got to play with kiddies! For some reason these children fell for my awkward charms and soon I was fishing in the pond with Finn and pushing Florence on the swing. Jane soon took her leave to go visit a friend and Craig was fast at work making dinner, so I was left to look after the kids. And let me tell you, Florence is no easy one to control, she knows how to get her way. And with her sweet British accent and button nose, it is pretty hard to fight it. So I spent the next half hour trying to keep Finn from wandering back into the house while keeping Florence occupied with a frisbee. Eventually, I had to convince young Florence the merits of going potty inside instead of in the bushes with only marginal success.

After supper, it was bath time for both the kids. While Craig tended to Finn, I was put on Florence washing patrol. Considering that I have never washed a child before in my life and given that my the parents of this child might be my graduate advisors, I found the experience a bit strange. But, you must admit that the level of trust place upon me during the first meeting is pretty encouraging for getting into the program. Or else they are vetting out prospective students unable to babysit for them.

After the kids were wrapped up in their jammies, Florence demanded that I read her a bedtime story which I did graciously, given the that picture book that she wanted was about children growing up in Scottish fishing towns (swoon!). When I finished reading the story and started making my goodbyes, Florence asked, "Are you going to be here in the morning?" I replied that I was staying in a hostel and would be leaving for Cambridge the next day.' Apparently, with my thick American accent, she thought I said I was headed to Sainbury, which is the local supermarket, and replied, 'Well after you bring back the groceries tomorrow, then could we play.' Cute. When I finally established that I would be leaving the UK soon, she said, 'You like it here, you will be back, and we will play.' After my couple days in Oxford, I wouldn't mind if she was right.

(PS- ignore any mistakes in the above blog. I started writing this in London but now am in India and have been awake for almost 45 hours now.)

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