Friday, February 17, 2006

Arrival Stories

I’ve read a number of ethnographies that begin with “arrival stories” – about one’s early days in the field, interesting encounters with informants that shape one’s project in important ways, and sometimes, reflections on one’s position in relation to informants/questions/community, etc. And returning “home” to do “fieldwork” makes arrival stories all the more interesting. I was ready for arrival stories of my own. I wasn’t at all prepared, however, for arrival in the U.S. at the end of one phase of fieldwork.

After a long time spent in the field, isn’t returning home also an arrival story? Customs. The friendly immigration officer. Winter. Cold cereal for breakfast. Calling cards to hear mum’s voice. The silence – after 4 months spent in busy neighborhoods in cities like Bangalore, Bombay, and Delhi, a quiet neighborhood in a town in upstate NY, in the middle of winter, is quite a jolt. It has taken me nearly two weeks to get back into the rhythms of life in the U.S., two slow and long weeks.

Have I thought about blogging these past few weeks? Yes. Did nothing blogworthy happen the last few weeks? Sure, plenty. So, why the silence?

Arriving at the end of fieldwork simply means entering another site, one where you are alone with your interviews and archival materials. You have to come to terms with why you left in the first place. Dissertation. The space between fieldwork/research and writing is most certainly not easily divided – research means going back and forth, letting the fieldwork shape the writing and in turn, allowing the writing process to shape further inquiry. But the first time you cross over and are confronted with having to write is one that is very, very anxiety inducing.

Was the fieldwork any good? The interviews sounded good, but how in god’s name are they going to lead to inferences and arguments in a dissertation? Do I have to do more archival research? Maybe I should plan another trip…

Such thoughts and more defined my arrival.

As I gradually move out of this liminal space of arrival and begin dealing with the pains and pleasures (?) of dissertation writing, I will rethink and revive Bollyspace. Stay tuned.


  • aswin, couldn't agree with you more on the question of arrival... lodged between the rough slums of calcutta and the quiet neighborhoods of buffalo, i find it very hard for my writing to speak to this stark contrast!

    By Anonymous niharika, at 2/23/2006 10:20 AM  

  • Hey n - didn't realize you were part of a growing tribe of Bollyspace readers (well, at least folks in buffalo know). So are you working your fieldwork experiences into your diss narrative? One of my favorite ethnograhpies that does this beautifully is Kirin Narayan's "Saints, Storytellers, and Scoundrels". I have a copy if you're interested.

    By Blogger Aswin, at 2/23/2006 3:39 PM  

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