Stories from the field

Author Cam Giannotti

Cam Gianotti – Blog 6: Traffic of Dhaka: An Overview of a Daily Commute

As I reflect upon my internship in Dhaka, Bangladesh- one of the memories that stands out to me the most was the city’s traffic and how this influenced my daily commute to and from the office.  Due to Dhaka’s population density, the lack of transportation infrastructure, and the differing speeds between auto-rickshaws, bicycles, buses, trucks, cars, and bicycle-rickshaws.. my daily commute could take between twenty-five minutes to two and a half hours depending on traffic and conjestion. 

In the mornings, I would generally try to beat the rush hour traffic by waking up at 6am to get to ther northern part of the city, where my office was, before the rest of the city was on the move. This proved beneficial as my morning commute wouldn’t take too long and  I could eat breakfast close to the office before the day began. 

However, the commute home at night would take much longer with times varying, depending on whether you took a CNG (auto-rickshaw) or two bicycle rickshaws with a short walk in between. Personally, I preferred taking a bicycle rickshaw due to the feeling of being connected to the city or being a part of all the chaos that was happening around you. The first bicycle rickshaw ride would generally take an hour before reaching the central point (Karim Bazar) before crossing a major intersection and getting on a second 20 minute rickshaw before reaching my apartment. 

I would like to include a set of videos showing:

1. A short segment of a CNG Ride:

2. A segment of a rickshaw ride thorugh Niketan, Dhaka:

3. A segment of a rickshaw ride through Karim Bazar:

4. Crossing the Street in Dhaka:

Unfortunately, these videos fail to capture the energy that is unique to Dhaka but I hope they provide a vague idea of the intensity that is the traffic of Dhaka. 

Blog 5: Indian Marriage and Online Dating Applications

Online dating has been remarkably successful in the Western World and is beginning to spread across various cultural contexts. This introduction of online dating has led to different implications for traditional societies in comparison to the West. A key example of this can be seen in relation to online dating and arranged marriages in India. Online dating typically caters to singles, providing the opportunity to find potential dates beyond their traditional social networks of friends, school, work, places of worship, and community. Due to technological advances and an increasing number of users, online dating is growing at a rapid pace in the Indian context. However, marriage is generally viewed differently in India when compared to the West, where marriage is largely a matter of individual choice. 


In India, marriage can be seen as a union of two individuals leading to an extensive relationship between two families. Weddings are usually prolonged events that mark the end of lengthy negotiations between two extended families including aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, parents. Yet as globalization, urbanization, and the increasing influence of western pop culture permeates into Indian society- various changes are becoming visible in the structures of certain Indian Marriages. Traditionally, Indian parents start the process of arranging their child’s marriage around the age of 22/23 for Females and 26 for Men. This process may be put on hold if they are pursuing higher education or delayed until individuals start collecting a sufficient income. Following an individual being of age to marry, their family will seek the help of the extended family to begin thinking of possible mates. Potential partners are determined uponthe status of a family, character, prior relationships, astrology, habits, and reputation.. with screenings often being done through informal networks of friends and relatives. Once an acceptable match is found, the prospective families and the potential bride/groom meet to assess compatibility of the families and prospective partners. This process is then finally formalized through complex negotiations about the logistics of the marriage (when, where, dowry, who will attend, etc..), followed by a formal engagement via exchanging rings in addition to the wedding ceremony. 

In December, I was fortunate enough to attend a three day Indian Wedding in New Delhi with one of my close Indian friends. It was here I witnessed the union of two individuals whom met via an online dating application dedicated to matching potential partners for marriage.  The criteria for matching on this online dating application included: job, family wealth, education, interests, etc.. It was though this dating app, both individuals met before later familial consultation and approval. Following the approval of  each family- the wedding was underway with extensive planning over the months leading up to the ‘big day’. Finally at the wedding, both families were able to meet each other for the first time- having several dances, meals, and social opportunities throughout the wedding process. This notion of family was even more present when the bride and groom exchanged vows- as both addressed how they would treat the other’s family as if their own. They agreed to meet the needs of the other’s family such as respect for siblings and taking care of one another’s  in laws as if their own. Both families at the wedding were seriously engaged with the union of both families, as the service was very traditional and much focus being placed on the service. On the other hand, friends present were the life of the party. The many dances, spiritual blessings performed, family and friends present, and great cuisine at the events make Indian weddings so unique. Attending an Indian wedding was a very enjoyable experience and it was striking to see the amount of money and effort that is put into the three day event.

Upon reflecting on my experience at this Indian Wedding, I found it important to look at how social and geographical mobility have changed in past decades throughout India- This shows as extended family structures are becoming increasingly replaced by a more nuclear familial structure, with less dependence on Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, etc.. In turn, this deterioration of family connection has led to families having difficulty finding suitable partners for their marriageable children. Due to the absence of such social networks- online matchmaking services, classified advertisements, and online marriage services are becoming more prevalent. Therefore matrimonial websites and dating applications in India are providing a new setting for examining the changes occurring within Indian society and Indian marriages. No longer dependent on familial social networks, those who use online dating sites and applications – have access to a significantly larger pool of prospective partners. With profile information allowing users to perform queries to filter and screen potential partners before communication begins via online chat or e-mail. Since technology does not require the role of family members, this online version of meeting is beginning to introduce a more western model of individuals finding their own partners. The introduction of this new application needs to be closely examined to determine the changes in power and control structures and the relationship between technology and society. As certain parts of India have more access to this digital form of dating/arranging marriages- it will be interesting to watch how society or certain sub-groups of Indian society change and adapt to this new form of arranging weddings. 


Blog 4: The Commodification of Yoga

Yoga – The practice that makes one think of Indian yogis on Himalayan mountaintops or incense burning hippies and working professionals on their on their lunch breaks. This spiritual, physical, and mental practice of yoga has transformed rapidly since its’ early origin on the Indian Subcontinent. As yoga can be described as an attitude, a philosophy, a set of practices, an exercise, or a way of being in the world- one may wonder how the practice has evolved with time, moving from its’ birthplace on the Indian Subcontinent to become the global phenomenon it is today.

The transformation and commodification of yoga became evident to me this past November, as I visited Rishikesh, India aka the ‘Birthplace of Yoga’ or the ‘Yoga Capital of the World’. It was in this small city on the banks of the Ganges and at the foothills of the Himalayas- I found an influx of yoga studios, ashrams, vegetarian/vegan restaurants, guesthouses, astrologer offices, and boutiques. In Rishikesh, one could see the fusion of the old practice of yoga and the current westernized version- as Indian holy men and western tourists walked amongst each other. The fluidity and nature of yoga as a cultural practice made me question what factors led to such changes to the ancient practice, the change in those who practice yoga, and how the current westernized version differs from yoga’s traditional values. It was here I found myself questioning how yoga became such a trend, in the western world- with more and more yoga studios opening annually across the western world.

As commercialized yoga classes in the western world can differ greatly from those traditionally practiced in parts of India- it is crucial to reflect upon the differences and similarities between each. With ‘western yoga’ being  focused on physical movement, reducing stress, and connectedness- there are several close links to  traditional forms of the practice… yet in a more commercialized manner with fitness and stress reduction being key marketing terms for yoga studios and lifestyle shops.  Upon thinking of how yoga has changed- I wanted to look further into how/when yoga was first introduced to The West.

It was only in the 19th century that wider audiences in the USA and Western Europe began to learn about yoga. As exposure was derived from a series of public lectures given by Indian Swami Vivekananda, with his lectures detailing the exercise in a commercial manner. Through telling North American and European audiences about the spiritual and physical benefits of yoga- Vivekananda successfully commodified yoga leading to the creation of a market for the practice in Western society. Yoga, described in Vivekanada’s lectures and pamphlets, became a ‘spiritual good’, something of value that could be acquired and circulated 

among the literate middle class people within India and The West. The spiritual commodity of yoga has an explicit exchange value evident in the exchange for spiritual wealth in India and material cash resources in The West. Styles of contemporary yoga practices vary from individuals twisting and stretching themselves in various positions to more meditative positions strictly focusing on breathing. While various practices similar to ‘yoga’ are common throughout India- it is interesting to see how ‘yoga’ became the cultural export it is and other meditative practices aren’t. 

Furthermore, the commodification and popularity of yoga is likely due to three reasons:

1. Shift in Traditional Values: While yoga was traditionally considered a domain for spiritual enlightenment for Hindu males- Vivekananda’s re-interpretation shifted the focus of yoga to health and freedom. Health is one of the primary goals of ‘the self development process’, of which is widely accepted by our ‘modern society’. 

2. Way to Connect with Spiritual World: This is seen as a way of reducing stress, regaining health and freedom and ‘connecting with a higher being’. This commodification and branding of the practice can be seen as the spiritual awakening of the western public.

3. Re-circulation of Ideas and Practices: Yoga became entranced in our global society leading to extensive fascination in regions outside of India. This oriented yoga as to be a set of progressive, self-processed unifying identity leading to a a ‘better life’ Due to this shift in the manner yoga is practices- more and more studios/classes are popping up across the western world. This is evident as yoga has been labelled the ‘exercise of the 21st century’ with more and more engaging in the practice annually. However, while the practice continues to grow it is important to be mindful of its’ historical origins and to critically reflect upon how

As yoga continually changes- it is important to reflect upon how one can incorporate traditional aspects of yoga into the westernized versions we may practice here in Canada. It is through this one can have a greater understanding of the daily practice and appreciation for the culture and history of Yoga. Through looking at yoga in a more critical manner- one can gain a deeper appreciation and see it more than a commercial good.

Cam Giannotti – Podcast 1: Introductory Interview

In my first podcast, fellow CAPI Intern Kip Jorgensen asks me a few questions about myself and my upcoming placement with BRAC in Dhaka, Bangladesh. 

Cam Giannotti – Blog 2: Dengue Fever

For my second blog, I would like to provide some basic information about Dengue Fever (symptoms, where it occurs, and how one can avoid becoming infected) along with sharing my experience of having Dengue Fever while in Bangladesh. 

Cam Giannotti – Blog 1: Ramadan

For my first blog, I provide some basic information about the holy month of Ramadan (general aspects, changes to daily life, etc.) and share my personal experience of Ramadan in Bangladesh. 

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