Fulbright to India Guide – 2021-2022

Living in India

Daily living in India can be challenging as well as interesting.  Inside major cities, India has world-class hotels and medical facilities, and a small but increasing number of Western-style stores, coexisting with traditional and very numerous open-air shops. Open air shops sell everything from fruits, vegetables, grains, live poultry, to exquisite silver and gold jewelry, refrigerators, cold medicine, and Internet service. Most things available in the U.S. can be purchased at these shops for much cheaper, but often not by recognizable brand name.

Boiling and filtering water remain the most effective and economical ways of obtaining safe water to drink. A UV light pen is a handy way to disinfect water, and it runs on rechargeable batteries. Use filtered water when you brush your teeth.  Plastic bottles of local and imported spring and mineral water of different brands are available in a variety of sizes and prices.  Restaurants frequented by Westerners use reverse osmosis (RO) filtered water. You may, however prefer to order bottled water.

Avoid wet plates and utensils, uncooked vegetables or fruits which cannot be peeled, un-boiled milk, and cold foods which may have been contaminated by handling. It’s important to remember that in-home water filtration systems need to have their filters changed regularly, so make sure to ask your landlord when the last time they changed the filter was. Intestinal troubles are common, but a little caution and common sense will go a long way towards minimizing their effect.  It is smart to always carry some Pepto-Bismol or a minor diarrhoea medicine on hand to settle your stomach in a hurry.  Avoid eating street foods until you feel that your body has adjusted to the local foods about two months into the grant, and do not eat any street food during monsoon season!

Wheat and white flour, sugar, milk, butter, rice, pulses (dried lentils, peas and beans), fresh vegetables and legumes can be bought anywhere in India.  Meat consists chiefly of mutton (goat meat) and chicken.  Beef and pork products are available only in some parts of India.  Ground lamb can be used as a substitute for hamburger. Fish is also often available. You can find soy milk and breakfast cereal in grocery stores of all metropolitan areas.

Some of the things that you often won’t find in India and especially not outside of metropolitan cities are kale, celery, avocados, berries, cheeses (other than paneer and very processed cheese similar to American cheese) and lettuce.

In smaller cities, consuming alcohol is not common, especially for women. It is very uncommon for a woman to purchase alcohol at a shop, or to go to a bar/lounge alone. Go with male friends, in a group.

For both men and women, dressing conservatively (covered shoulders and long pants) helps create a positive and lasting first impression.  Although customs are changing, especially in major metropolitan areas, where Indian women are more likely to wear Western-style clothes, it does not hurt to be on the side of caution in fashion terms, and observe what others wear around you. It may be helpful to ask people in the city your grant is in what people of your gender usually wear and airing on the more cautious side as you start to get to know people.

Some holy places require visitors to remove shoes and leave them outside.  Head cover is required in some places of worship, so it is a good idea to bring a scarf when visiting temples.  For example, Sikh temples require both men and women to cover their heads.  Jain temples also require that visitors leave outside leather garments or items they may carry.  As always, be mindful and observant.

Necessities include a pair (or two) of sturdy walking shoes or sandals, running shoes and other special sportswear, an umbrella and, perhaps, a light raincoat for the monsoon season.  Most general items are available in cities in India.  Note that women’s shoes larger sizes (U.S. 9 or larger) are not always available or are available but in more expensive imported brands.

Cotton is more comfortable in the heat than synthetics.  Local laundrymen (dhobis) do not always understand the care of synthetics or delicate items of clothing.  To preserve these types of clothes, you will need to wash them yourself.  Acquiring a few ready-made garments locally or having them tailored is something you may enjoy and it will not be too costly.  Dry cleaning is available in most towns and in all cities.  A woollen or fleece jacket will be necessary for the cooler months (November through March) in northern areas of India, and in mountain areas.  Ask Fulbright alumni who lived in the region of India where you are going what the dress code was for professional activities.  For more advice on clothing etiquette, read “Five Tips on What to Wear in India,” by Beth Whitman in Wanderlust and Lipstick.

Depending on where you will live, it may be the convention for you to wash your own clothes and there may not be a washing machine available. If you don’t know how to do this, people around you will certainly be willing to help!

The power supply is 220-240 volt, 50 HZ alternating current (AC).  Imported appliances of this voltage may require a multi-plug adapter available at small hardware shops in Indian shopping markets. A power bank is a handy accessory, especially when traveling to rural regions. As electricity in India is in short supply, power cuts are common in smaller cities and towns, especially during the hot season.  Be sure to ask about the electric supply in the place to which you are assigned before bringing any electrical equipment from the U.S.  Step-down transformers will be required for U.S. equipment. As India’s electrical demands far exceed the production of power, the government imposes scheduled blackouts across the country.

A less-common feature of daily life in parts of India outside of the major cities is “load-shedding.” 

The load shedding hours vary from 6 to 16 hours a day when the power supply is stopped. The worst months are in winter and spring-from December to May-and during these months people resort to various means to store electricity or plan your day keeping this in mind.   Grantees should bring battery-powered headlamps, and consider bringing an “emergency light” with them.  You might also consider bringing solar rechargeable lights, and long-life computer batteries.  Many smaller cities including Varanasi still operate with load shedding on a regular basis.

Centrally heated or cooled houses in India are not usually available. Consequently, most people use air-conditioning machines mounted on walls in certain rooms of the house during the summer and monsoon months (often April through November).  Most educational institutes in India do not have air-conditioned classrooms or staff rooms, and rely only on fans for cooling. Often because there is little access to clean drinking water, it is recommended to carry sufficient water bottles in order to stay hydrated. Many households have installed gas or electric water heaters (“geysers”) for showering with hot water during the winter months, which allows for 4-5 minutes of warm water.  Most houses also have showers, but many still rely on the bucket shower method as most efficient and in order to minimize water wastage.

There are no laundromats or public laundry facilities, and washing machines within households are rare. In most cities, local workers rely on business from apartment complexes and buildings by washing clothing, cooking, and cleaning homes on a weekly basis. Many residences often taken up by Fulbrighters have men and women who are already working within their building who offer and take up these jobs for a reasonable fee.  Laundry services run around 200-500 rupees per week, cleaning services around 200-500 rupees per week, and cooking depends on the amount of meals and frequency during the week.  Many Fulbrighters opt to hire this help for one or more of these services during their stay. It is smart to speak with your landlord and neighbors to help you locate maids and cooks and to inform you what a reasonable salary is for them in your area.

The political situation in India has been fluid and subject to sometimes very rapid changes over the past twenty years.  General strikes by banks and transportation are fairly common both at the national level and locally.  While some strikes are announced well in advance, some are called very quickly.  In light of these strikes, it is very useful for grantees to remain flexible in planning work and travel schedules and to keep a stock of provisions in case there is an extended period of time when transportation, business and other general services are affected.  Communications about the security situation are regularly sent out by the Regional Security Officer (RSO) at the U.S. Embassy in India and forwarded to Fulbright grantees.

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