An American in Punya-nagariBret Battey has a Doctorate in Musical Arts and researches a mix of music, computers and algorithms. On a Fulbright scholarship from September 2001 to August 2002, he spent time in India researching "Hindustani classical music and creating software for modeling of ornaments and pitch curves in the melodic tradition". During this trip, he also carried with him a laptop, a camera and a microphone, and penned a fine journal of his experiences of that time. He called it The Bat Report: A Fulbrighted Bat in India.
I chanced upon The Bat Report (when I was verifying questions on Pune that I was setting for a quiz) because Bret Battey stayed in Pune, in fact he stayed about a couple of kilometers away from my house and described in detail his stay in Pune and his travels throughout the country. He also took some good photographs of everyday life (not the usual wide-eyed tourist snaps) and recorded sounds that are a part-and-parcel of India (such as cheers at a cricket match, the monsoon).
I spent a lot of my spare time reading the Battey Journal and it was completely worth it. He spent enough time here to see beyond the usual facades that are presented to the normal firangii, and his observations are free from stereotypes providing a great insight into Indian lives. He shows a genuine interest and tolerance for a different way of life, though it did get rather annoying and frustrating for him at times, despite his personal attempts to retain his equanimity. A spiritual angle emerges soon, he talks about the Vipassana course he undertook and the difficulties in what seems rather simple at first.
This is a whole-hearted, unqualified plug for the journal written by someone who is genuinely interested in the world around him. I wrote him a mail of appreciation and he was kind enough to respond. Suddenly, all the quotidian sights around me seemed to have been refreshed with the new perspective of someone who found it a novel experience.