It is strange to leave this place, isn’t it?

May 5, 2010

It is my last day in India. Happily, for the past couple days I have been staying with Mr. Michael Haslett, whom you DC friends will likely know well or have chilled with at least once. He is relocating to Delhi after living in Andhra Pradesh to set up the pilot scholarship program of his NGO, the D.deVoe Foundation, which funds the primary English-based education of underprivileged children in the Chittoor District of AP. Take a look at this video of a the bright and adorable 5-year-old for whom D.Devoe is providing a full education through grade 12 (all costs total $650), Bhavya Sai, leading her classmates in India’s (very long) pledge of allegiance:

So, we are in luxury here in Delhi, i.e. staying in the beautiful marble-floored apartment of his like-an-an-aunt-and-uncle. They run the National Campaign on Dalit and Human Rights— definitely an organization worth checking out. Relatedly, I had the luck of seeing Arundhati Roy speak when I was in Delhi last month– she is an Indian journalist/activist whose focuses on the disgusting atrocities experienced by Dalits, Avadasies, Untouchables and other marginalized groups of  India.  Perpetrators (e.g. Tata Steel, Rio Tinto, the Indian Government, IMF, World bank– recognize these names??…and I am sure many more) have destroyed their land, displaced their communities and dismantled their culture, among other fundamental human rights stripped away. This happens mostly in the name of creating damns and mines, rhetorically for increasing access to water and electricity, but in reality for money and power. She is controversial in her standpoints, but speaks out in ways most wouldn’t dare. Check out her piece on the recent Maoist insurgency. Personally, I think  brilliant, fascinating and inspiring woman for sure. Roy is also the author of The God of Small Things, a book that is on the top of my reading list. Oh, this reminds me of another story that I must tell:

Although it seems like the bad guys always win, there are some uplifting stories I have heard about local resistance movements while traveling in India. In Himachal Pradesh, I had a good conversation with a British guy who has made the little village of Vashist his home for the past several years and indefinitely. We started talking about the damns that seem to be springing up everywhere. In the mountains, American and European companies come in and claim to build damns that will provide electricity to rural communities. In turn, they get international cap-and-trade points that allows them to build and pollute more in their own countries (yeah, great climate change system we’ve got in place). In reality, if the damns even get completed at all (and of course after the companies get paid), the electricity goes to the national grid and those small communities see none of the promised benefits. In the meantime, the land is taken away, people are displaced, etc. etc. But, in one case, a European company (I forget the specific name), made a deal with a greedy enough towns person who owned the piece of land on which they wanted to  construct. Well, this land happened to be the site of a very holy shrine to the local village. Regardless t land was sold and the company started to build. Well, late one night, a crew of townsfolk climbed their little mountain and took hammers to that project, providing for a nice little surprise the next morning. The project commenced again. But then, late one night….local resistance. Now, know one knows what will happen in the future, but let us hope.

Anyways, I am back in hot, sweat inducing, polluted Delhi…though I must qualify that there are definitely good bits to this city. I arrived via train (a mode of transport that deserves a blog both itself) from Amristar, Punjab. The main site there is the holiest Sikh religious site, the glorious Golden Temple (when I get home I will post a day and night photo– def check it out). Amristar is also home to Jallianwalla Bagh, the site of the 1919 massacre by the British that killed thousands of Indians during a peaceful protest against Marshall Law before Indian independence. Aside from being extraordinarily overwhelmed by the brutal heat and massive, massive crowds (re-entry shock back in real India!), I was amazed by this place. First of all, they provide free shelter for “pilgrims”–Indians basically sleep anywhere and everywhere in the complex, from the temple floors to proper rooms in the huge complex, and foreigners have a separate shared area lined with beds (though we were welcome to the floor as well).  The toilets were free and super clean and totally free. Best of all was the volunteer-run mess hall, serving food 24/7 for somewhere between 15-30,000 people every single day. I doled out hundreds of chapatis as my duty, and received many grateful, amused and gleeful looks as a western woman serving food to all. It was fabulous. About an hour’s drive from Amristar I also experienced absolutely hilarious and weird spectacle that happens at the India-Pakistan border every day (video clip forthcoming).

Like India’s multitude of contradictions, I feel both sad and quite ready to leave this place. There have been so many moments when I feel absolutely desperate to leave, e.g. getting dropped off way too far away by the rickshaw driver and walking down the completely overcrowded streets with guys on scooters shoving by and the smell of piss and fried food takes over my senses. Or getting pushed by around by impatient women (have I ever written that Indians don’t believe in proper ques?) while waiting for the toilet in Amristar. Or getting stared at by some man while minding my own business on the bus. But then something miraculous happens, and I am rejuvenated. A shop keeper gives us a free snack, obviously filled with joy at how much we liked his food. A kind woman drags me into a bathroom stall with her (huh??) and, after cleaning the teeny little pants that her daughter made an accident in, I realize she has just secured me a place to pee. Or I look that stare in the face, and a huge grin appears coupled with a head bob.

This is India– no combination of adjectives can really describe its crazy magic. I think what I will do is simply leave you with this, i.e. what I am about to relive in t-minus 2 hours as I head to the airport:

Traffic in Delhi

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