Sunday, August 3, 2008
Sunday, July 27, 2008
I had my palm read by a woman this morning - very interesting experience. There is a lot of interest in astrology and palm reading in India on top of many superstitions. Early this morning I attended a Thread Ceremony at the hotel. It is a boy's coming of age ceremony with family and friends. It was very touching although I could not understand the language I was moved by the ritual and the touching behavior of the family members. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity as it is related to my curriculum project - the role of school assemblies in building a culture of high performance. Allegedly, the daily morning ritual of prayer and motivational assemblies at every school in India is derived from the ancient Thread Ceremony rather than a British tradition as I had assumed.
It is drizzling outside now. The monsoon has been slow in coming to West and South India. There is a city proposal to start putting water meters on non residential places to curb usage by charging for water. Adequate water is a big issue. In the rural areas and urban slums running tap water is a rarity. Even at our five star hotel we do not drink water from the tap or even brush our teeth using the tap. The rivers are so polluted. The untouchables sweep the streets each morning. People just throw paper down with no regard. There also does not seem to be enough public toilets - men have it easy with just finding a wall!! India has so many social issues to solve. In ways it shines and in other ways it is drowning!!
Cultural sites were the focus of the day. The collection at the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum was impressive. India has such a rich history to tap. It is sad to see how dismal the conditions are in the museums - no air-conditioning, no restrictions on flash photography, and many rare, priceless pieces accessible for touching. A visit to the Aga Khan Palace reminded us again of the tremendous influence that Gandhi had on the people of India. He and his wife were interned at the palace for nearly two years when he was creating a great deal of unrest in India. The palace had a simple memorial to him there on a beautiful site. The next stop was a cave temple. This is a rock cut excavation dedicated to Lord Shiva - one of the three main gods in India. There are shrines all over India. Ganesh - the elephant headed god - seems to be a favorite. He is the "remover of obstacles".
An evening concert of fusion music at a local "open sky" amphitheatre was a treat. A noted American saxophonist teamed up with a famous Indian keyboardist along with many other musicians at a concert called "Rain Raga". This was a wonderful evening experiencing another first - global music trends based on Indian music patterns. We got to mix with the musicians afterwards. The local conversations with people are often the richest part of the trip.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Biotechnology and Mangroves!
Tuesday, July 22 A visit to an agricultural research center gave me new appreciation for the mangroves so common in Florida. With little fresh water to maintain India's rice needs biotechnology research has isolated the gene in mangroves that make them salt tolerant. They have succeeded in injecting this gene into rice and wheat to increase production in water starved areas. An outreach program works to convince farmers of the importance in trying this new variety. Another key project involves getting the community to plant mangroves along their shoreline for coastal restoration. The tsunami in 2004 had minimal effect in an area where they had succesfully established a mangrove forest. The institute is attempting to use this example to convince people to plan mangroves trees.
At last we visited the prestigious India Institute of Technology (IIT) that we hear about at every secondary school we visit. This is the equivalent to our Harvard, Princeton or Yale Universities. There are currently seven IIT schools all of which specialize in engineering. There is an obsession about ITT. It is the ultimate ambition of every child and parent. Most of the graduates head to the US for jobs in Silicon Valley. It means lifetime prestiage. All bright students study incessantly for the exams. Over 300,000 take the exam for 6,500 seats. They have an affirmative action program mandated by the government that relaxes the cut scores for the Backward Caste applicants and the Scheduled Tribes. We got a sample of last years exam (six hours) and were blown away! It costs students about US $750. a semester!
An evening Ayurvedic message was a cultural experience. This oil massage has an ancient medicinal history. This was truly a Crisco experience that I can not do justice to in a blog!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Saturday, July 19 How refreshing it is to see coconut trees as we exit the airport in Chennai, capital of the state of Tamil Nadu. It appears much like Hyderabad – far more modern, cleaner, and a more organized infrastructure than Delhi or Kolkata. Its six million people still stun you. Much like Hyderabad this town is a driving force behind India’s new technology and software industries. Once unpacked we grabbed a couple rickshaws to head to the beach. It was not what we had imagined. After a long walk trudging through rust colored sand we found ourselves among the masses there enjoying their seashore – in regular street clothes. Only a few young boys were in the water. Of course, we had to kick off our shoes to step into the Indian Ocean. A long row of vendors sold a little bit of everything. We were the sight for those there.
The evening included a demonstration of native Tamil Nadu dancing with past Fulbright scholars in attendance. The dancing was impressive. The movement and facial expressions convey exaggerated emotions - truly an art form. The influence of religion is apparent in all forms of expression in India. The origins are in temple dancing but is now taught and performed across India as part of their nationalist movement. India is such a young country (1947) with a rich heritage.
Sunday at the Basilica, the beach and a temple in Chennai
Sunday, July 20 Mass in English a St. Thomas Basilica will be a highlight of the trip. The Basilica is built over the Tomb of St. Thomas. Chennai has a large Christian population. It is one of three basilicas in the world that sit at the site of an apostle’s tomb. We felt so fortunate to have stumbled upon an English mass as six services are held. The primary language here in South India is Tamil so a Hindi phrasebook won’t get you far. English is still the official government language.
The auto rickshaw took us next to Marina Beach where over 200 people were killed in the 2004 tsunami. We were drawn to a section where the fishermen pull their boats ashore to empty their nets while their wives’ take the catch to the adjoining market to display and sell. This part of India lies within the steamy Tropic of Cancer. It feels very much like Florida. The sand is a rusty color with the strange absence of sea gulls. The families live in one room hovels that sit across the street from their make shift display of prawns and fish. These pitiful hovels are stacked atop one another in a close knit community. We ambled through their village – building trust with a personal introduction and friendly conversation. A colleague brought postcards of his home state with an introductory message on a label adhered to the back. It was a great ice-breaker that opened the door for photos to be comfortably taken. They loved to view themselves in the photos afterwards. Attempts to draw the globe in the sand to show where we live relative to India bewildered them. The poverty was extreme yet they were among the fortunate with a livelihood to feed the family.
Monday, July 14, 2008
India is teaching me much about humanity. So much can not be translated into words or captured by pictures. The images that have captured the world's attention of India as the pinnacle of information technology and offshore call centers defies the reality of a country of stark contrasts. The represents perhaps 10% of the country. The remainder is very 3rd world.