Regular readers of my blog will have noted my fascination with character-faced animals. Usually it's goats, but I am equally fond of water buffaloes. I was therefore very pleased when the Times of India put one magnificient exemplar on their "dance of democracy" pages yesterday, where they cover the upcoming state elections in Uttar Pradesh. Apparently, a certain Dinesh Yadav, candidate from Bakshi ka Talab constituency, went riding on the back of his favourite water buffalo to announce his candidacy do the general public (the full article, for those sharing my fondness of buffaloes, is here).
Once I think about it: Indian newspapers are full of such stories (though it's not always buffaloes). But here is the thing: I was not surprised in the slightest. An electioneering politician on top of a buffalo? But of course - what do you expect? It felt completely normal. Obviously, I have gotten used to the beasts over the last couple of months. As I got used to many other things: clerics screaming their voice out of their head, "Muslim parties" allying with the BJP, restaurants offering all kind of fare but nothing from their menu, and of course bureaucrats honking the soul out of their cars. You see: I even got used to the thought that cars have souls! Have I come to expect the unexpected a little too much? And would that be good or bad in terms of an epistemology of fieldwork?
On the one hand, my not being surprised anymore might signal a welcome decrease in my own orientalism. The world around me seems so normal because it actually is normal - it's the same world we all live in. Being continuously surprised and amused at India would actually be rather unprofessional: should an anthropologist not embed him- or herself thoroughly? My second supervisor for instance even spent a good deal of her ESRC grant on acquiring her own buffalo - named Stella.1 And I was not surprised when I read that, either...
But on the other hand, there is arguably a danger of getting too used to one's surroundings as well. If everything seems just so normal, how could one discover all the many slight oddities in the everyday which give ethnographers epistemological guidance? How can one remain curious without turning orientalist? Maybe I should just take a holiday to foster my creative energies. Or I should talk more to people for whom my life here is, in fact, as odd as Dinesh Yadav on top of his buffalo. A German engineering student, maybe?2
Either way: I would definitely welcome any recommendations of how one can prevent to get too used to things. Or too used to buffaloes, for that matter.