Reflections on a journey of 1,242 miles

By Lidis Garbovan, PhD student.

“It is 33 degrees Celsius today and we haven’t had this weather for the past 50 years!” the taxi driver informed me while on the way back home from Canterbury West Railway Station. I was returning in a heatwave from more than two months doing fieldwork in several parts of India. Looking back at these months with a reflexive, critical eye is not an easy task.

While trying to find a common thread that could resonate with the work I have been doing since July in India, I can think of James’ (2016) approach to research in a daily life setting: “Embracing messiness and failures was an important first step in moving away from the certainty of scientific method and for opening the ethnography to the untidiness and errors of everyday life.” (p. 7)

This untidiness and messiness of social life has been more a part of my research than I had anticipated. One month into my fieldwork, I was happy to observe and participate in the life of the small Tibetan settlement in McLeod Ganj, in the Northern State of Himachal Pradesh. A beautiful place in the mountains, where I was teaching English with a local NGO and had the privilege to meet young monks and nuns, political activists, writers and poets, businesswomen and graduate students, each with very different stories and narratives to share that enriched my understanding of their social and political setting.

I felt that my research was on the right track and I was progressing according to the plan and methodology I had designed prior to leaving my comfortable office in the Priory, at CCCU.

The last two weeks of my research period had to be spent in the Tibetan settlements in Karnataka, in the South of India. But one day before travelling, I was informed by the Tibet Bureau in New Delhi that I needed a Special Permit from the Indian Government to visit those places, and this document takes three months to be issued. As I had received this email when the tickets were already booked and my suitcase packed, I had to decide what to do.

After having travelled more than 1,242 miles from New Delhi, I was 93 miles away from the Tibetan settlement in Mundgod, Karnataka. Nevertheless, the restrictions on my travelling there were too strong, and the ethical implications of not following the rules were too heavy to ignore. So I had to embrace messiness and failures in my fieldwork. As Mason (2002) writes, in qualitative research decisions are ongoing and are grounded in the process and context of the research itself.

Instead of visiting the Tibetan settlements without a Permit from the Government, I decided to visit the region close to Karnataka, and the shores of the Arabian Sea. Unlike the state of Himachal Pradesh, which is located in a hilly and mountainous region, and unlike the capital New Delhi, which is the fifth most populous city in the world and has traffic congestion and infrastructure, the Southern part of India is a land of palm trees, lush vegetation, natural reservations and wildlife sanctuaries. I am wondering what kind of contextualised narratives would I learn from the Tibetans living here?

On the next research trip, in 2017, I will be going back to Karnataka, and to the Tibetan settlement in Mundgod, carrying a Special Permit issued by the Indian Government that I will have applied for three months in advance.

References

James, Malcolm (2016). Diaspora as an Ethnographic Method: Decolonial Reflections on Researching Urban Multi-Culture in Outer East London. Young 24(3) 1-16. Available at Sagepub.in/home.nav. Accessed: 17 September 2016

Mason, Jennifer (2002), Qualitative Researching. Sage: London

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