April 8, 2007

India, a wonderful headache

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What can we say? It was:
filthy and fantastic, depressing and invigorating, sad and sensational, difficult and delightful. We hated it and can't wait to come back.

Before we docked in Chennai, one of the best highlights of India was meeting Sharachchandra (Sharad) Lele and Prajval Shastri.
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Sharad and Rocky say farewell at the Ship's Bar

Sharad is the Senior Fellow and Coordinator of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment & Development in Bangalore. His wife Prajval is a scientist at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics. Meeting these fine folks and their delightful children was a pure joy. They were so bright, warm, fun and gracious. They were also very generous in that they agreed to speak to all three of Rocky's classes during their short voyage from Mauritius to India. Sharad spoke in both the sustainable communities and energy courses (he has written extensively about sustainable development in India). Rocky and Sharad both got their Ph.D.s at UC Berkeley. Go Bears! Prajval and their two boys were guest lecturers in Rocky's course on schools. The boys (two very bright, polite and fun-loving kids) attend a unique middle school with a focus on service, environment and contemplative practice that American schools would be wise to emulate. They spoke eloquently about their views on education and the significance of life.

Our time in India was mostly spent in a small fishing community a few hours south of the big city. This was an area hit by the Tsunami. There is profound evidence of both the devastating destruction and the hopeful rebuilding. The photo below shows the ruble left over from four years ago along with recent new construction.

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One of the fisherman invited us to his home for a cup of tea. How many of us invite total strangers into our homes? We talked about the Tsunami (it crushed his hip), raising a family, and Hinduism (one of their three small rooms is totally dedicated to their religion).

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None of the buildings in the village have toilets, so the beach is riddled with human waste that sits waiting for the next high tide. Watch your step!

The next photo shows the pre-Tsunami traditional wooden fishing boats and the new fleet of fiberglass boats donated by German citizen groups. Rocky and Ryder on the right.

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Here in India you can have a profound impact on someone's life with a small donation or micro-loan.

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When we encountered a woman digging in the sand, searching for the day's meal of sand crabs (see note about the beach above), we decided to do our part. We handed her a small donation of about one month's salary (if you had a good job) and a smile. It felt like so little, and yet in a way it also felt huge. Back at Sonoma State they've spent years seeking tax-deductible donations for a symphony hall.

Back in town, we rolled the dice and on several occasions hopped in an "auto rickshaw."

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These trips were the real life version of "Mr. Toads Wild Ride" at Disneyland. Our favorite journey started with the driver trying to charge us 10 times the appropriate fee and then reluctantly settling on a rip off price (still cheap to us) to go to an agreed destination. Next, in the middle of nowhere they tried to extort us for more money (the Indian version of "hey, the meter must have been broken"). Finally, they dropped us off (with baby Ryder) in the blazing sun several kilometers from where they agreed to take us. Makes New York City cab drivers seem like Mother Teresa. Car seats, seat belts? Dream on. Here are two views from the backseat. Sorry but you'll have to add the ear shattering zoom zooms, constantly honking horns, rapid swerving turns, frantic traffic, diesel clogged air, and 110 degree heat.

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India is caught between the Third and First Worlds. We love the photo below that shows a golf club membership billboard hovering over slums with no running water, electricity or basic sanitation.

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When we came back to the ship, the entire vessel was covered with a souvenir of India.

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It took the ships' crew several days to wash away the funk, but the memories of this amazing place will stain our souls forever.

Posted by rohwedde at April 8, 2007 6:47 PM