Delhi Downpour Delays the Day

Sept 11, 2011

I was supposed to catch a train back to Chennai two days ago, but the weather had other plans. Even though I left about an hour and a half early, it was not enough. On the day of my departure, Delhi received 60.6 mm of rain in one day. The drains could not handle the influx and streamed out onto freeways, causing major traffic jams all over the city. It is monsoon season after all, and many other regions in the country are flooding, displacing hundreds of thousands of people.  

(The Hindu)

Kaushal and Aishwarya at the Society canceled my ticket and got me a new one for September 13th, the earliest one available. Many thanks to them. So I have been hanging at the Arora’s getting a much needed opportunity to start writing the guidebook for the Alternative Winter Break trip.

Today I also sent prayers to the families of Americans lost in 9/11. It is strange that ten years have already gone by. I was 13, and at the time it seemed so far away, 3,000 miles lay between me and the smoking chaos. But I do not doubt that it has been a gruesome symbol of the last decade’s wear on my generation. We have grown up in the shadow of no towers, a shadow that has left a hole where hope should be, no jobs, no end to the wars, no plans to protect the earth. For many, both the quest for God and love of country seem laughingly impossible.  I resent their apathy, but I don’t blame them. Being the change you wish to see is hard work. Will it be rewarded? It is safer to survive in the insulated world of frapuccinos, our perennial earbuds drowning out the dark noise. I am hard on my generation because I do not give up on them.

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Delhi University Elections

Sept 8th, 2011

Delhi University: It’s student government election season! I was delighted to find daily coverage of the Delhi University elections in the City section of the Hindustani Times. Can you imagine if the city of Eugene covered ASUO elections? Delhi Uni has about 500,000 students, constituting 52 colleges. Campaigns here are big–very big. There are political parties, such as the National Students Union of India (NSUI) and Akhil Bharatiya Vidhayrthi Parishad (ABVP). My understanding is that these parties are student versions of the main regional parties. Cool!

Every campaign must adhere to the recently instituted spending cap of Rs. 5,000, about $125. It is unbelievable that this shoestring budget is possible! (An average ASUO campaign costs between $3-5,000.) Instead of using shiny printed posters, campaigns are saving money with handmade posters, which cover almost every available wall of the university. “We have about 60 volunteers who are making posters. We have so far made 8,000 pamphlets and about 8,000 posters,” reports a NSUI campaigner. T-shirts are also used to promote campaign brands. Facebook, Twitter and blogs are a must to appear professional and, of course, to show off how many followers they have.

Campaigns also employ celebrity twitter endorsements from Bollywood actors and MPs (members of Parliament).  Awesome!

Campaigns are no longer allowed to use printed posters, stickers, loudspeakers or animals (lolz). Out of 41 total candidates, 14 are presidential candidates. The polls open tomorrow. May the best campaign win!

An ABVP rally (www.du.ac.in)

Sept 11 Update: Here is the khus winner of the Presidential race, NSUI candidate Ajay Chikara, while the three other posts were swept by the ABVP Party. This is the first time that ABVP has not one the Presidential seat in the last four years.

(Photo:Sandeep Saxena)

Delhi Haat and Hosts

August 29, 2011

Having lasted twelve days, Anna Hazare’s fast is over, having reached some sort of compromise. I think some of his bill’s components are going to be added to Parliament’s version of the anti-corruption bill.  Last night there was a candlelight celebration, at India Gate in Delhi, attended by thousands. I wish I could have been there. If the fast had lasted another day I would have gone to sit among the peaceful throngs.

^^^^^^^^^^^

I just finished dinner with Arti and Vitsan, Maneesh’s aunt and uncle. They are such wonderful, caring people. “Ratkaana kellyay shukriya!” (Thank you for dinner!) Dinner is made up of the words night + food, literally ‘food of the night.’

I visited a lot of places today. After settling in at the Arora’s house, I hopped on the metro to go to the market Delhi Haat for lunch. It was a bit too touristy for my taste, but the food was pretty good.  Rice, a crispy chapatti, a very bamboo shoot curry, beans, dahl, and tomato and onion. Bon appetit. It is too touristy here, but at least it is quiet, a respite from the smell and fumes of the heavy trafficked-streets.

I’m not really interested in shopping, as anything I buy will feel like another millstone around my neck. Not only do I have to carry it home on the train, but having too much possessions is stressful, it starts to owns you.  Before I moved out of the Campbell Club I went through all of my clothes and got rid of everything that I don’t wear. Not just things I don’t like, but things that I never wear. I gave all of them to St. Vincent DePauls. I don’t really miss them. I do have memories attached to certain articles, but what’s the point of it sitting in your closet when it could be put to good use by someone?

After Delhi Haat I took the metro to a mogul tomb, built in the 17th century. It cost 100 rupees to get in, so I just took photos from the outside and then kept moving.

Next I stopped at Haus Khaz, trying to find the artisan village. I got a bit lost until I saw a sign reading ‘Aurobindo Market’ which intrigued me. I perused the shops and then found a copy of Hindi for Beginners to fill my desire to know all the nerdy details of tenses and syntax.  Did you know there are 400 million people who speak Hindi? Apparently the written language is very phonetically written. Perhaps I will learn to read a bit after all… As with most worthwhile endeavors, the effort of language is its own reward. Today I stopped to ask two uniformed schoolgirls for directions. I thanked them with a confident “shukriya!” to delighted giggles. Tomorrow I’m going on a whirlwind sightseeing bus tour. Photos will be back online!

The Eye and I Creative Writing Workshop

August 27th, 2011

“I am not afraid of dying. I am afraid of being forgotten.”

“And when I die, and when I’m gone, there’ll be one child born in this world to carry on.” –Blood, Sweat and Tears

 

It’s almost 11 pm but I can’t sleep. My head is buzzing with the processing of the workshop activities and other hilarities of life. Our group of about 15 students is so wonderful. I am one of the younger participants, and the only foreigner. I am joined by many education professionals, teachers, principals, and published authors who are all lovely and have come with open hearts. My elegant and intelligent roommate Rama, currently snoring in the bed next to me, serves as a principal at a fancy residential school in Puree, a town in west India.

The Delhi ashram is a very nice facility, built in the modernist era when everyone thought concrete was God’s gift to humanity. Every room and wing of the ashram guest rooms is built in the shape of a hexagon, after Sri Aurobindo’s symbol. There is a health center, a library, classrooms, and a large, beautiful meditation hall.

It is interesting to see another branch of the Sri Aurobindo ashrams. The dining room is much smaller, and the food has a bit more variety than in Pondy. (They have chai at breakfast!) In Pondy you also need a meal pass to enter, here you just go eat.

Our workshop activities have been a combination of sensory free writes, a group story, object descriptions, and a free write inspired by our favorite song. One activity was meant to get us to stop observing with our minds and use our senses instead. The blindfolded person in the center had to touch the faces of those around her to guess who each one was. Hint: it’s really hard. Our days are punctuated by tea and samosa breaks and lively conversation. It’s going by as quickly as my usual bag of guavas in my backpack. (I love guavas. A source of amusement for my colleagues, I try to explicate that we do not have the yellow fruit in the lush but gelid pacific northwest.)

I have written a lot in the last two days, some good, some that I am unsure where it came from. I will post some after the workshop is over. It has felt wonderful to get to write for no one but myself. Writing blog posts is a different thing, with a consistent theme and audience. Blogging has certainly gotten me in the habit of writing everyday, allowing me to dive into my expression at a deeper level right away. In these activities I lose myself, free to scrawl whatever bubbles to the surface.

Tomorrow evening I’ll be heading to Arti’s house, which is fortuitously in South Delhi as well, only a few subway stops away.  The Divine above has definitely been watching out for me so far.

The Train

August 25, 2011

“A tourist does not know where he has been, a traveler does not know where he is going.”

Today is the second day of my train trip. My lovely friends Rathi and Bini (the inseperable BFFs) went with me to the train station yesterday morning, sending me off.

After being filled with warnings and stories of unclean bathrooms and greasy food vendors, I was expecting the worst. But its actually quite nice here. I am sharing my cabin with a very nice family and a girl who is in her last year at the ashram school. Her name is Piyu and we chatter away in French about everything (ashram students usually speak about 5-10 languages, and everyone knows French). She’s in her last year at the ashram school, and is also going to the Delhi Sri Aurobindo Ashram for a doctor visit. Our cabin has passed the time watching movies, sharing food and playing with the family’s six-year-old daughter. I am very happy here, knowing that the journey is part and parcel to the arrival. Tomorrow we arrive in Delhi (pronounced dul-LEE by the natives) at 4 am. Then I will take a quick rest before the workshop starts at 9 am.

 

Delhi, ho!

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”

– St. Augustine

I have been hatching a plot to go to Delhi for a creative writing workshop. Society staff member Harvinder, who used to be an IB school principal before coming to the society, will give the workshop. Now she writes curriculum that incorporates integral education for mainstream schools. Really cool stuff. Harvinder is a fiery, no nonsense poet, teacher and English major herself. The workshop is three days long, and I’ll be staying at the Sri Aurobindo ashram there. Delhi is the society’s Center for Media and Communication Arts, so I’ll be interested in what’s going on there.

After the workshop I’ll be staying with Maneesh’s aunt Arti near Delhi University for a few days. The Taj Mahal is only a day trip away!

I am taking the train almost the whole way. It takes two days to get to Delhi on the train, so I’m leaving on Wednesday. Taking the train is a trip in itself, and I’ll get about 5 whole days of train travel to read, write, and stare wide-eyed out my window.

My last stop will be in the far north, in the Punjab region, in the city of Amritsar. I’m very interested to see the differences between the north and south India, in food, dress, climate, everything. India is so diverse and varied; I love it.  Amritsar is famous for the beautiful Sikh Golden Temple, built on the water. I’m staying with my good friend Shabd’s friend, who is now a teacher at the school they both attended together.

I found this map online. I’m going north, north, north, then coming back on the same track. You can see how how far New Delhi is from Pondi, about 3/4 of the length of the country. Amritsar is on the northwest border, printed very small.

I will be back to Pondi in about two weeks. I don’t know how often I’ll be able to post, but I will definitely write about all of my adventures. I will likely find internet every few days then post a lot at one time.