Monday, July 30, 2007

Missing Home

I have been in India for over a month, marking the most time I have been away from home for as long as I can remember, likely for the longest period in my life (I don't count college because the Bay Area is like home since I grew up there partially). The other day it caught up to me and I started feeling homesick.

I miss my house, miss my room. I miss riding my bike and listening to NPR. I miss driving up to the city or Fremont to meet up with friends and family. I miss restaurants like Tofu House and all the burrito spots I frequent. I miss cooking spaghetti and garden burgers, and going to In'N'Out when I have no other food options. I miss going to the Opportunity Center and hanging out with my people. I miss giving nods and smiles to friendly faces on the street. I miss dinners and hikes with Greg, miss watching TV and cracking jokes with Jo and Yoric. I miss going home to Sac to hang out with my parents whenever I like. I miss my gym terribly.

I miss the feelings of Palo Alto... the weather, the vibe of the people, the trees, the roads, all so nicely manicured. I miss coming into my school's campus on my bike and feeling lucky that I'm getting paid to get a degree from this place. I miss broadband in plentiful supply.

Of course I miss my friends and family, but strangely not as much as I miss just the feeling of being home. I think it's because I'm still in touch with most everyone I normally am with, and in roughly the same capacity and with roughly the same frequency. Technology is amazing.

At the same time that I miss home, I also know that once I leave this place, I'll miss it terribly. In fact, even from here I know that after a week of being home I'll wonder why the hell I was so homesick. There is that sort of natural tendency to long for a place or situation that is unreachable (grass is always greener phenomenon).

But one thing I know is that I love Northern California. When I talk to people here about where I'm from, I tell them California is the best place on Earth. Usually I rip on my country's president, foreign policies, and other deficiencies along with them, but I would never go against my home state/region. I tell that to Kapilbhai all the time... this place is great, but there's something about your birthplace that makes you feel a special attachment. It's bound to happen if you've stayed in the same area your whole life as I have. I was describing it to Raju as "the familiarity... the nuances" that come from knowing a place really well. It's something that I think will get in the way of me ever considering another place home. For me there's only one. At least for now.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Indian Habits

There are obviously many cultural differences between Indians and Americans. Some that I have ran into that I find amusing:

1. Phone etiquette. People in India do not greet or say goodbye. So for someone like me who expects cues such as a hello and an identification, it can throw you off. Also no one says bye to acknowledge that we're done talking, so most of the time I feel like people are hanging up on me.

2. Passing gas. People have no problem burping or farting during normal interaction or even formal settings like a meeting. At the OFAI meeting a couple days ago, someone farted and no one even blinked an eye. The part that throws me off the most is that women do it too. A woman burping is a pretty novel concept to me. Seriously, how many times have you ever heard a woman burp? And I don't mean something under the breath, I mean a full out "aaaaaarrrggggghhhhhh" but in a feminine sort of way. It's pretty hilarious.

3. Eating. This one drives Maneka crazy. Indians are so LOUD when they eat. Slurping and sloshing around. According the her, I'm one of them myself, but I think I pale in comparison to others I've seen/heard. People have no problem munching wildly, food churning for everyone to see.

4. Loose Interactions. Indian people have a habit of maintaining a very loose notion of person-to-person interaction. This manifests in many ways: when you're walking in a public place, you can very rarely make eye contact or smile at people. When you talk to someone like a auto driver or a vendor, they will often give you as little feedback as possible about what they are doing or whether they got what you're saying, etc. In meetings, people not only leave phones on but have no problem taking the calls in the middle of your conversation. An attendant may go on a break in the middle of processing your transaction, only you realize that he's gone on his break 10 minutes later because he never actually said anything to you. In this environment you start to do the same things yourself, but I don't like it. At home, we make eye contact, give a person your full attention, turn off cell phones, are helpful to customers, etc. We put a lot more effort into our interpersonal interactions, I would say. Not sure whether one's the right way, but I know what I'm used to and have come to expect.

Welcome!

Welcome to my India blog! I’ve been here in Baroda, Gujarat for over a month, but have only recently had access to a reliable Internet connection. So though this blog is very late, there is some good news: In anticipation of this moment, I have over 20 pages of blog posts in a Word document that have just been transferred up here. Combine that with over 500 pictures which I have added from where appropriate, and you will be caught up in no time!

I’m not sure what the theme of this blog is, but so far my writing has been a bunch of experiences and reflections during my day-to-day life here in India. Some of the stuff will be related to my research internship (explained below), but I’d say the majority of it is about observations and memories that I think are cool. In the past I’ve blogged about service, but since this blog has a bunch of random and (attempted) humorous material nothing to do with service, I’ve decided to keep these posts in a separate blog. And also unlike in that blog where I had a clear point to my posts (for my own personal reflection and recollection, and also secondly to let people know what I’m up to), in this case I’m sometimes writing for my own recount of events (like when I go into deep detail of my one and only bout with stomach illness), and in other cases I’m writing with the vain hope of entertaining you, the gentle reader. So please bear with me. I like journal writing to have very limited editing and review, meaning I tend to write posts quickly without looking back and editing for coherency or to make sure I’m making my point exactly how it is in my head or heart. I think that although this at times makes things nonsensical, open to misinterpretation, or miscommunicated on my part, it also leaves the thoughts unadulterated which is nice. But please keep this in consideration when you read… I may offend people or say something non-PC, but that’s not purposeful. I reserve the right to take back anything I write here and to change my stance at any future time that’s convenient to me.

So now that all that admin is out of the way, I thought you might want to know a little about why I’m here, so you’ll get a context to the posts which in many cases is necessary. In case you didn’t know/I didn’t tell you, I am a grad student in the CS department at Stanford. I chose to pursue academic Computer Science research in the hope of developing an understanding (and attention in general) to the Information Technology needs of underserved populations, particularly in the so-called developing world. You can also read my homepage for more on all of that. Anyway, in the pursuit of this research direction, I scored an internship with a grassroots technology company in India called Ekgaon through a colleague of mine named Tapan Parikh, who actually was a big inspiration of mine to make the decision to come to grad school to pursue research in technology for development. Tap and Ekgaon connected me with Kapil Shah in Baroda, who runs an NGO called Jatan which leads the organic farming movement in Gujarat. Jatan trains, educates, and supports farmers in organic farming (called “Sajiv Kheti” which literally translated means "living agriculture") techniques. Kapilbhai is a legendary guy from a legendary family of social workers in Gujarat, and together with his brother Bharatbhai live at the Vinoba Bhave Ashram in Baroda. Bharatbhai is an MD and runs a Naturopathy hospital out of the ashram where patients receive “nature cure” treatments including massage, steam and mud bath, acupuncture, yoga, diet consultation, meditation, etc. The results are pretty impressive, including diabetes patients who left no longer needing insulin shots, and stroke patients whose paralysis has been cured. So impressive in fact, that my mom will be coming here in a week or so to get treatment after her diagnosis of GBS.

Anyway, I’m working with Kapilbhai to develop IT systems to help small farmers, particularly organic farmers. Organic farming essentially means farming free of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and GMOs, but Sajiv Kheti is more that just that; it’s a life philosophy in which a farmer takes care to look after all of the living organisms in the land through practices that do not exploit natural resources or result in long-term harm to the environment while still producing competitive yields. There are social as welll as environmental aspects to Sajiv Kheti. Essentially my hypothesis is that because organic farming is a knowledge-intensive way of farming (compared to input-intensive chemical farming), information systems may play a useful role in the way in which farmers practice it. Currently we are working on a bunch of ideas, including a certification and labeling system, an organic farmer and produce tracking system for consumers, tools for farmers to share techniques and advice, and others. If you want to know more about the work side of things, it’s better if you email me and we can talk; I don’t see that being the focus of this blog.

Note that I have back-dated posts to coincide with when they were written.

So I think that’s it. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Disneyworld of Organic Farms

I just spent the day at a 40-acre wonder, the organic farm of Sarvadamanbhai Patel, located near Anand in Gujarat. After spending only 30 minutes there I knew it was unlike any other farm in all of India. Kapilbhai, who knows a thing or two about organic farming, told me it is the most diverse and systematic organic farm in all of India.

I couldn't see why not. The place was just stunning, I can't do it justice with pictures and words. You enter from the main road and are met by a store where he sells his organic produce. The amount of vegetables in that shop was more than the three organic shops in Baroda combined, and this was just from one farm! And he had organic vegetables that you rarely see in Baroda (though he is a limited supplier to Amidhara, Jatan's organic produce outlet in Baroda). The shop itself was lovely, with a beautiful golden wood roof and pleasant arrangement of products. We had a phenomenal breakfast of sweet corn, fafras, bananas, pears, pakoras, and sugar cane juice/tea/coffee. I was in heaven. The food was amazing, I didn't want to stop eating.

We then walked around part of the farm to see some other wonders. This is where the Disneyworld title comes into play. All the attractions, all the thrills you can ask for on an organic farm are here. Sarvadaman literally has the best compost/manure consistency, the most earthworms per kg soil, the happiest cows, and the most efficient use of water and wood of any farm. He has the coolest machines not because of their horsepower or modern parts but because of their creativity. For example there is a fountain pond which is used to essentially "massage" the water that will go into a crop. The fountain makes the water fall unevenly and mix in special ways so that the microbes in the water get stimulated and multiply which will be good for the soil that it goes into.

And the way in which things are laid out, the process by which the labor works (most of everything including turning the manure piles is by hand), etc. are so well thought out. When you hear Sarvadaman speak, you know how much thought went into everything. He is like an organic farming encyclopedia; he lives and breaths agriculture. You can tell it's his passion. If you ask him about any topic related to agriculture, be it how to increase or decrease the pH of your soil, the benefits of horse manure over cow, the importance of sawdust as a compost input, the correct concentration of manure in compost (way less than one would think), the proper time of year to turn your compost, the best time in the lunar calendar to sow corn, the benefits of biodynamic methods... you name it he knows it because he's tried it in his natural laboratory. To be fair, he is western educated and has an advanced degree in agriculture science, but his achievements are nonetheless extraordinary. His grandfather was a legendary politician and social worker in Anand, and is credited for establishing the nation's best agricultural academic institutions in Anand. Sarvadamanbhai himself is also a renowned gardener, "the best in Gujarat" says Kapilbhai, managing the Sardar Patel memorial garden and other famous landmark gardens in the area.

The purpose of our visit besides to see the farm was to hold a Managing Council meeting of the Organic Farming Association of India (OFAI), the most prominent (and perhaps only) national-level NGO focusing on organic farming promotion for marginal farmers. The council members had flown in the day before and Kapilbhai/Jatan was the host of this month's meeting. It was a privilege to have been a part of the meeting. Kapilbhai and I even presented the latest version of our scorecard system, which now had a labeling scheme along with it. We had fancy colored handouts showing how the system worked, but overall it was not positively received. I'm afraid we have much to do back at the drawing board, but Kapilbhai seems less moved by the criticisms. I think we are heading in the wrong direction with our approach in a few ways, particularly with respect to the level of complexity we've introduced to a system that's meant to be understood by ordinary consumers and eventually maintained by farmers. It will be interesting going forward where we will take this.

The meeting was held in the middle of an amazing bamboo forest. It was there that we had an amazing lunch of organic shaaks and lovely makkhi ki roti (corn roti) along with other awesome stuff all on a long narrow table made from a tree trunk cleaved in half and laquered to an amazing golden color. Honestly, it was the best day of food I've had during my stay in India. It almost certainly had to do with the environment I was in and the freshness and purity of the ingredients. It was while sitting there enjoying my lunch that I realized that this farm is the hope for the future. It is an indicator of what is possible with organic farming. I'm not saying it makes organic farming the answer, but I think it once and for all silences the critics about its potential.

After the meeting and lunch we toured some more around the farm, and I took more pictures and walked around with my jaw on the floor. 40 different varieties of vegetables grow on this farm, and another probably 10-15 fruits. The way it's set up is so beautiful... as you walk through it between plots you see something different growing to the left and right, ahead and behind. Kapilbhai told me that at any single time of the year, you can come to the farm and see some crop being sown, something else at mid-stage, and something else being harvested. That kind of balance and diversity is the secret ingredient.

I could probably go on and might have missed something, but really this is a sight to see in person, right up there with the Taj. Really. I'm already planning my trip back. My mom must see this place (which reminds me, have I mentioned the my mom will be coming to India in two weeks? She will be staying with me at the Ashram where she will be receiving treatment in the Naturopathy hospital as she continues to recover from GBS. I'm totally excited and I'm pretty sure the treatment and relaxation will do her good).






Multilingual

I just got back from a wondrous place, Sarvadamanbhai Patel's organic farm, which deserves its own post so I'll save that topic. But on the way there I was sitting in the back of the Sumo with three other people; one of them spoke English, Gujarati and Hindi, one spoke only Gujarati, and one spoke Hindi and English, and then there was me who can speak English and kinda the other two. It was amazing how as we communicated, conversations switched between the three in such a way so that everyone was included… it was not a "translate-each-sentence-into-all-languages " brute force type of system… it was much more fluid and unstructured, almost like its own language. During the conversation I was thinking that this can only happen in India… the mother of all multilingual societies

The Hole

I realized something this morning while squatting over my hole. Which waste receptacle is really more advanced – the Western toilet or the desi hole? You would assume the modern toilet, but I am now not so sure. You might say that the hole is dirtier because the floors are more prone to getting soiled with waste and dirt. I’d argue that the toilet has more nooks and cranies and is much harder to clean than a flat floor. I’ve done both many times and I find spreading some water over the tiles a lot easier than scrubbing hard-to-reach corners of my toilet. You might then raise the toilet paper issue. In desi toilets, you don’t clean yourself with paper… you use your hand and water. But for anyone whose ever tried it, they know that using water cleans much more thoroughly. It’s obvious. If you’re hands are soiled, what’s better: a napkin or running water? Then one might raise the issue of using their hands to clean themselves. Really? Have we gotten so hifi that we are too scared to touch our own ass? Also, the insight I realized today is that the whole act of squatting is part of the superior cleanliness of a desi toilet. When you squat, you spread your butt cheeks out and so the area gets far less dirty than if you’re sitting on a toilet. Until know I couldn’t figure out why just a few splashes of water did the trick.

I think it’s just like us Americans to feel grossed out by cleaning up after ourselves. After all, if we have any legacy in this world, it’s taking shits in places and not cleaning up the mess with our own hands.

UPDATE: Since I originally wrote this post, I've realized there is one additional argument to squatting as a superior technology to sitting on a seat: After doing it for some time, I came to realize that squatting makes going easier and faster. It somehow puts the right amount of pressure on your belly, and in the right place. I am convinced that there is science behind the squat... it's not accidental.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Rural Life

I spent the last three days with Kapilbhai in a remote rural village called Dheduki. It is about 80km away from Rajkot. To get there, we took a "luxury" bus from baroda towards Rajkot, and got off in a truck stop area where there were a bunch of shops selling pottery, supplies, and food. From there we got onto the back of a truck with a bunch of rural people and headed down a road on a bumpy ride for about 45 minutes. During the ride Kapilbhai gave me some of the background on Dheduki and what we would be doing there. The area is 95% subsistence agrarian. The farmers have plots of 2-4 acres and farm mostly BT cotton. They are heavy into chemical agriculture, mostly because it is by far the most profitable. Kapilbhai doesn’t push for organic with the farmers because there simply is no scope for them to convert their land, both in terms of knowledge and money.

He told me we would be staying with two social workers, Chetanyabhai and Sonalben, old friends of his. Both were college educated and came to Dheduki 20+ years ago and started social development programs there and with 11 surrounding villages. Their work turned into an organization, Lok Mitra (“Friends of the People”), which carries out programs currently. They work with children in arts and crafts programs and even have a computer that the kids partially funded through selling their crafts in market field trips that Lok Mitra organizes for them. Some kids recently got back from a trip to Tamil Nadu. Besides child programs, Lok Mitra also supports the farmers with agricultural development, including water management projects like building check dams and farm ponds to store water. The agriculture there is extremely dependent on rainfall.

Kapilbhai has been working with Lok Mitra to help the farmers with advice and support for three years. He comes regularly to walk in the locality and stop by at the farms, chatting with the farmers about their problems, concerns, successes, failures, etc. This time I would be walking along with him.

Needless to say it was a phenomenal experience. Getting to see the life of these farmers, hear their stories, see them work, was great. Although I didn’t do much talking, the times that I did talk were highlighted by the farmers amusement that someone from America had come all the way to their farm to meet them.

There is so much to say about the experience, here is a description of the trip through some observations:

The Rural Home

Kapilbhai and I stayed in Chetanyabhai and Sonalben’s home, which was granted to them by the village so they could live while they ran the development programs. By my observation, it was one of the nicer homes in the village. The structure was half roofed rooms and kitchen, half open garden with a bathroom outhouse in the far corner. The first thing I noticed was the flooring. Like in any Indian household, there was a threshold where you remove your shoes. But what you walk barefoot on isn’t flooring or carpet… it’s dirt! It consisted of a rocky sand which was quite uncomfortable for me to walk over. The roofed part of the home had cow dong floors, which was much nicer, though I never adjusted to the fact that spilling water on the floor was damaging to it. But in both cases, it was quite a change from what I’m used to.

Another interesting part of the rural home is the dining room. Sonalben cooks in a tiny, and I mean tiny, kitchen area where there is just enough room for a small gas stove and an old dusty cupboard where she keeps all her ingredients. In the corner was a pit for washing vessels. We sat down to eat on the cow dung kitchen floor. What a use of space! In America we have separate rooms for different activities; here we multiplexed about 25 square feet of space in 3 different ways: cooking, eating, and washing.

Eating

This deserves its own description. Eating in a rural home is a unique experience. First is the fact that you’re sitting on the ground, cross-legged. This is not too new for me and many of you readers, but I’ve never found it completely comfortable. For example I always end up spilling on myself and walking around with food stains on my pant legs, and you can’t tell me it’s easy to spoon liquid into your mouth if you need to take the spoon from ground level to mouth level.

Besides sitting on the floor, the next feature of any village meal is the flies. During the day hours (lunch), flies come in swarms while you eat, getting on the food, utensils, and containers. Sonalben told me that when you eat in the gaam, you use both hands; the right to take food and the left to constantly swat flies. And literally, you sit there moving your hand back and forth for the entire meal. Villagers probably don’t even notice, but to an outsider like me, that was an adjustment.

Food served was simple, basic, nutritious food. Remember that these are farmers, so they eat hearty. Bajra rotlas as thick as your palm are commonly served as a farmer’s specialty. Also there are serious quantity of milk products consumed. At every meal I was served thick milk, makhan (butter), buttermilk, or chaas, and everything was loaded with ghee. I guess that’s how the farmers get their strength. There was also always a big pile of gore (sugar), pickled mango, and salted chilli peppers.

No Soap

One habit I don’t think I can get used to in the village is no use of hand soap! Before or after meals, even after using the toilet. There was not a bar in sight. Luckily I had brought my own, but my hosts and Kapilbhai carried on without it. I wasn’t sure what to make of this. Obviously, villagers are around dirt more often and may have developed the immunities to the germs, but isn’t it basic hygene to use handsoap after using the bathroom, especially desi style?

Brushing teeth

I thought it was curious that when brushing my teeth in the mornings, Sonalben asked me to spit near a tree growing in her garden. Not sure why, but interesting

The Roads

There are no smooth roads in rural areas. Combining this with the fact that you’re usually travelling them on the back of some vehicle or other with no padding, your ass is not happy after 15 minutes. I only felt the pain a day after I got back, but it was there. The vehicles are obviously multipurpose: can transport goods, people, animals, and of course Indians no how to pack them in. Kapilbhai told me this type of vehicle could fit 25 people.

Sleeping

Beds were a rare luxury. I saw that people mostly slept on thin floormats. At Sonalben’s, we slept on thin cushions out in the open air, with mosquito nets. It was nice, not hot at all. The grand achievement of the weekend was the night we spent out on a farmer’s land itself. Yes, I took a dirt nap, complete with a dirt pillow. My bedmates were some young cotton plants. Don’t worry folks, they were organic (the only organic farm in the locality). It was a wild idea to me to be sleeping out in a farm field right on the dirt, but I’m glad I did it just to say I’ve had the experience. I think we were lucky that there was a nice breeze that night that kept it cool and mosquito free. I slept without interruption. In the morning, I did my business out in the open next to a cactus patch (no injuries were suffered). While I was going two farmers walked by on the road about 100 feet away, catching me in the act. I was mildly embarrassed but then I figured that the sight was nothing they hadn’t seen a million times. Gotta love the rural life.

The Kids

Rural children are bashful but playful. Not sure if I described a dwarf or a human being with that but that's the best I can do in a sentence. They are shy but at the same time mischievous. They are noticeably well-behaved and disciplined but at the same time know how to play, sing, run around, and generally have all the fun any other kid has. The kids in Dheduki, as I mentioned, are also creative and quite talented with their arts and crafts. The computer that they were able to partially fund is mostly used for Microsoft Paint. It's worth noting that rural Indian kids (I've now seen them in two different villages and this is true in both) like drawing things like trees and hills and sunsets and flowers, whereas last I checked American kids like to draw people shooting guns and mansions with their family in front of it.

One of the kids got really obsessed with my laptop. I couldn't make him understand that even though the keyboard and monitor are connected and it's small and thin, my computer did everything his desktop computer did so there was nothing special to see. Mostly I think he was fascinated with my typing. Not many people in Dheduki (maybe one) knew how to touch type, and not even that one person, Chetanyabhai, was what you would consider a proficient typist. The youngster was blown away by how fast I did stuff, and stood peeking over my shoulder for a solid hour watching me prepare powerpoint slides, explaining that he was learning how to use the computer by watching me. Every so often he would ask me when I was going to paint something, almost like he understood the main use of a computer to be to draw rainbows and apple trees. He also got a kick out of me saving a file with his name onto my desktop. When I did that he ran and got all of his friends and pointed it out proudly to them. These kids are just so sweet. Though it was a little frustrating trying to work with him watching and asking a lot of questions, it's really very hard to put a lid on the pure-hearted curiosity of an innocent kid getting a rare glimpse of technology. In retrospect it was my privilege to show him.

The Warmth of Rural People
As we were driving away from Dheduki to catch our bus home, just having said our goodbyes to our hosts and other friends, this was the first comment I made to Kapilbhai. There is a special warmth in these people. They are all heart. When we went on our farm visit walk, we would be greeted by a gentle hand up and a "Ram, Ram". When you shake hands with a farmer, he cups your hand with both of his, clasping it loosely in a way that was like they didn't want to offend or hurt you with a firm grip. When it came time for a meal, they would practically drag you into their homes and offer you all kinds of food that they probably were keeping for themselves. Even when we brought out or tiffins out in the farms, they would bring more food like chillis and shaak and milk to supplement your already plentiful supply. In fact Kapilbhai calculated for this and was hoping we'd eat at a farm where he didn't know the farmer. He knew they would go all-out with food and other things which he didn't want them to take the trouble to do.

But it didn't work out that way. We ended up taking our lunch at this farmer's plot (pictured), who seemed to have an old relationship with Kapilbhai. He was hilarious. He would rip on Kapilbhai for not eating enough and not drinking chai, then on me for being from America. He had a loud, raspy voice and would just crack jokes and put everyone in good spirits. He even took my camera and delightedly snapped a few. He was very proud of one of his cows and had me take pictures of it from like 10 different angles. He mentioned that some Indicorps volunteers had come to stay at his farm recently and how they tried to do farmwork but it didn't quite work out. His whole vibe seemed to say "you westerners think you're all modern and smart, but this is the real life". I couldn't really argue with that.

One last memorable episode was dinner the night of the walk at Samatbhai's home. After eating, we laid out in his yard looking at the night sky which was absolutely lit up. It was a Yosemite-level beautiful starry sky. So Samatbhai, one of Gujarat's most advanced organic farmers but who has zero formal education, started asking Kapilbhai and I about the stars, how far away they are from Earth, how the planets revolve around them, the concept of a light year, the debate of extraterrestrials, and other things a grade-schooler may ask his parents on a camping trip. I just loved it. His reactions to our descriptions of a universe of unfathomable size, diversity and mystery were so child-like and he was just in awe of everything we said. It was just a great moment being in that company... I could have sat there talking to him about the stars forever.

And actually that night when we took the dirt nap he and I stayed up talking about America, what people do for money there, whether they are happy, whether Indians have a community, what the farms are like, and other things. His curiosity was insatiable. It was such a great experience getting to know him and the other farmers in Dheduki and Dharai. I only hope that I can hold on to that warm feeling that they left in me and pay it forward tomorrow and maybe even forever. If I'm lucky.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The "NRI advantage" a.k.a. the "American Upgrade"

Most people with an outsider’s knowledge of India will tell you that it is a place with rigid social structures and oppressive gender relationships, etc. They will mention caste (along with the other 2 C’s, cows and curry, to complete the clich├ęd characterization of India). Most NRI’s who feel attached to their homeland may defend the system as maintaining balance and order in society, and others still will argue that the rigidity that we assume is no longer there. I have for a long while subscribed to these sorts of arguments. But so far, I am seeing that caste and social hierarchy are very much present in society, even in the cities. Gender inequality is also pervasive. Women put up with a whole lot more, work harder, and get less recognition for it. Surajbhai told me that women here feel it is a part of their life and thus do not resist their difficult situations; in fact, they would feel more uncomfortable if you tried to help. I told him in America it is customary for a husband to help his wife cook and clean. He said that here, husbands have ego and social pressures to make their wives do these tasks only, and the wives themselves feel that they should be doing these things for her husband without help, because it is her role and it would be embarrasing for her if people saw that she was "making her husband work". In a rickshaw, I saw one driver ask a low-caste kid to put the money for the ride straight into his shirt pocket, so that we wouldn’t have to make physical contact with the kid. The kid obliged without hesitation.

Surajbhai talks about his ex-girlfriend who he can never be with because her parents insist on an upper caste boy. The working class people in the ashram keep their distance in certain activities and conduct themselves with deference around me. In the villages, it is more pronounced still. In Dheduki, we were sitting on Samatbhai’s farm, near his well. A Harijan from a neighboring plot came over to take some water from the well, and Samatbhai said he could, and asked him to fetch it himself. The Harijan refused, saying that Samatbhai should fill the bucket for him. Kapilbhai explained to me later that the Harijan felt uncomfortable getting water from the well by himself because people from the society believe that he would pollute the water if he touches the well. This was despite the fact that Samatbhai himself gave him permission to take the water, again because he didn't want Samatbhai to get in trouble with the society for allowing his well to be "polluted". We see in these instances not only top-down oppression, but that the discrimination has been so ingrained that those discriminated against often participate in preserving the discrimination, as it is the accepted way of society. Thus it is difficult to say whether it’s right or wrong or that the practices should be ended, since both the discriminator and the victim have a mental dependence on the roles they create.

Anyway, my original point was that the social hierarchy has manifested in the way people treat me because of my NRI (non-resident Indian) status. Though we may not have it for long, foreigner Indians enjoy a privileged social status here. It is awkward for me because I do not expect it and sometimes don’t want it if it makes me stand out. When Kapilbhai and I went to Anand Agricultural University to have a meeting on Jatan’s new student scholarship for research on organic farming, we were in a room of students and faculty members. When the meeting broke off into informal discussion groups, I was expecting to be met by the students, who were my age. But the faculty members were the ones approaching me and making me feel like a peer, while when I finally got a chance to talk with the students they seemed scared. It was awkward because they saw me as up there and I saw myself as down here. And at Indian universities the divisions between faculty and students is so pronounced, you have to just pick a level and stick with it. So I spent that day on the faculty peer-level, meeting with the school’s dean (headmaster? President?) and the other faculty. In this way I think it’s cool that my status as an NRI gives me the access to influential people who wouldn’t have paid any attention to me had I been a student there. I intend on taking full advantage of the privelege, but hopefully can draw a line at exploitation. What a difference a birthplace makes.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Shuttle Rickshaw Concept

I was introduced to the concept of the shuttle Rickshaw for the first time here in Baroda. Basically it is a rickshaw sharing scheme where the driver fits you and as many other people as possible in the rickshaw who are going in the same general direction. You have to be willing to get off at a major landmark, like the Baroda train station or a big building or park in the city. If you are going somewhere specific, you can take the shuttle to the closest big landmark, and take a “special” rickshaw for the internal part, saving you money. Oh yea, and you save money… it’s Rs.5-7 for a shuttle rickshaw, depending on how far away the landmark is. The same ride normally is costing you around Rs.15-17. I love the shuttle rickshaw esp. since most of the places I want to go are at landmarks that a shuttle will stop at. The crappy part is getting crammed in with a bunch of other people who may or may not have bathed that day or month. I’ve sat in a shuttle with 6 other people, and I’ve seen even more. It’s interesting to see how ambitious some rickshaw drivers are to squeeze a last person into the rickshaw. When people sit up front with the driver, he squeezes up to the corner of his own seat so passengers can sit right by him. So even though he has no angle to see the rearview and his driving handles are jammed into his stomach, at least he’s earning an extra Rs.5 on the tank of petrol!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Maneka's Baroda Visit

It was with great pleasure that I welcomed Maneka to Gujarat for her first visit there. I was very anxious to make sure she had a good time and left with a good impression. Consider that mission accomplished.

In retrospect, the job wasn’t too hard. All I had to do was stick to a simple formula: Spend more time shopping. Probably 65% of our waking time here was spent shopping or doing shopping-related activities. And as she was able to get access to things she liked, it made for a fun time.

Maneka and I stayed at my Masi’s place for the weekend. She, like the rest of my family, was super excited to have Maneka over and to meet her and talk to her, etc. And of course the uncle questions and wedding questions were ready to be rolled out. My family means no harm; they are just excited about Maneka and want to make her feel like part of the family. And they want to get to know her better, and these are ways to strike up a conversation. What I didn’t expect was that other distant relatives would come over to meet her too, which I thought was rather awkward and when I got the inevitable wedding question I could feel some anger rising up. But that’s family, what can you say.

Masi went out with us to the shops, the first time she had left the house in a month due to illness. Obviously Maneka’s shopping adventure in Baroda was a big deal to her. But I’m totally glad she came. Watching her in action bargaining is a blast.

The first store we went to was a family favorite… every girl in our family gets hooked up by this guy Deepak at his store Shiv’s dresses. Deepak was a hilarious salesman. He wasn’t particularly pushy, but he was what could only be called FOB metrosexual. While showing dresses, he would say stuff like, “but the most awesome thing about this is the work on the churidaar”, or “this will look absolutely gorgeous on her perfect figure” and “this dress never will go out of style… it was worn during the time of the Mahabharat”. Sure enough, we ended up getting the “Mahabharat dress”.

We rang up quite a bill at Shiv’s but there was one more store that Maneka wanted to go to for saris. Apparently she had liked one that Jigna Mami had worn in one of Hash’s wedding pictures so we wanted to check out that shop since it happened to be in Baroda. That place, Thakoors, was more commercial than Shiv’s and I thought the selection was less impressive, but we ended up getting some good stuff from there. At one point Maneka got so into it that she hopped over to the seller's side of the partition and looked at the saris herself instead of them being shown to her. Bhoti and I had a bunch of laughs after I explained to her what “crap” meant in English, after the 50th time I had heard a dress salesman prounouce “crepe”, a commonly used sari material, as the other word. She could not stop laughing whenever the salesman would show us the “fine Italian crepe”. Needless to say he nor Maneka nor anyone but Bhoti and I were amused.

Maneka and I debated about a black sari, which I thought could be dropped" but she insisted was awesome and worth getting. At this point our bill for the day was about Rs.60K, which is a lot, but in the end we pulled the trigger on the sari after we calculated that all the shopping was still within reasonable budget, especially since we were getting hooked up with 20%+ discounts thanks to my Masi.

The next day I took Maneka to the ashram to show her around, and we had a special lunch with Kapilbhai and Dhartiben. Kapilbhai said after that he really liked her, which I could tell. We then went to hang out at Kamatiebaug, a famous park in Baroda, where we met up with Arch who had come from Amd for the day to see Maneka off. We talked and walked for a while, then headed back to Masi’s flat so Maneka could try on the clothes which had now been sown for her fit. She looked awesome… some of these outfits will be debuted at Sidd’s wedding, and I expect nothing less than jawdropping reactions. This is some high-quality stuff. Keep your eye out especially for the wine-colored dress.

We got a little boost of goodwill when Deepakbhai called to settle the bill, and Masa got on the phone with him to correct some bad math on the bill. That was enough of a pretense for Masa to ask Deepak for his own discount, on top of the one he had given Masi. Sure enough, he knocked off another few thousand Rupees, and we were happy.

And so she left back to Delhi with one extra stuffed suitcase of Rs.60K worth of high Baroda fashion. Gujarat Zindabad.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Food

I haven’t really described what I’ve been eating here yet, but it’s definitely worth mentioning. At the ashram I get three meals a day. Breakfast consists of black tea (called “ukadu”) with milk and either a couple bakris or some small nastaa. For lunch we have a shaak, bakris, some sort of salad (fruit or vegetable), and a variety of kichrdi. I was surprised to see that there are many different types of kichrdi. For dinner there is more bakri/shaak, along with a freshly-made vegetable soup. Both the shaaks and soups are made from vegetables that come fresh from the organic farm next to the ashram. When I first came here, I was in love with the food. The shaaks and soup are incredibly tasty, and I couldn’t get enough of it. Thinking about it now, the meals would be orgasmic for Greg, who likes few things more than soup and Indian food (imagine when they combine forces, Greg…). Because I’ve been constantly getting three big meals a day, I have barely dug into my stash of Nature Valley bars and Clifbars, because I’ve not been hungry much.

But at this point I’ve realized that there is a big difference about how and what I’m eating here that has taken a toll on me and may have contributed to my recent illness. First, two meals a day of Indian food is very heavy for me. At most, I’ve had one Gujarati meal a day in my life. Eating 6-8 bakris a day is absolutely too much. Second, I realized that my old pattern was eat when hungry; now, I eat according to a schedule, set by the kitchen staff that cooks my meals. This means I eat even when my body tells me that it doesn’t need food. When I’m at home, I usually wait for my body to tell me that it wants food before I begin hunting for it. This means that I go hungry a lot more but I eat only as needed. I like this system better, though I’m not sure which is better for your health. Nevertheless, I’m used to eating in this way and since I’ve come here I’ve been having trouble coping. Added to the problem is that I don’t have the freedom to skip a meal if I want… the kitchen staff prepares the meals especially for me and if I don’t eat it goes to waste. I feel obligated to eat because they are preparing it. Also, it seems like the mentality here is that it’s a good thing to gain weight through eating. The ladies in the kitchen (and Surajbhai) have explicitly said how they have not done a good job unless I get fat. Well, sorry to disappoint people, but I can’t sustain this diet.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sickness

I’ve just gotten through a bout of sickness, my first real taste of it since I got here. I started off feeling unusually tired yesterday afternoon, and didn’t feel right through lunch. After eating I went to lay down and continued to feel quite weak. Then I started feeling aches throughout my body; head, back, stomach, and legs. Soon I went and vomited. This was not the first time I threw up since I’ve come to India; the first time was before I left for Bhuj when I exercised too hard in my room and lost it. This time it was real sickness.

After throwing up the first time, I felt a little relieved, and was able to sleep with less pain. But in half an hour, I woke up again with a lot of pain throughout my body. On top of that I felt very weak, like the strength had been sucked out of me. I vomited again, and again I felt relief from the pain. Also I was sweating which was good in the face of fever, which I was also starting to experience. The third time in this cycle, I was just throwing up whatever small amount of food I was taking in, and so I started to figure I had some sort of virus in me. I was calm during this time, expecting that the bug would pass through by my throwing up cycle. I was, however, in great discomfort with all the bodyaches and stomach chaos.

During the 4th time I threw up, I sat in my bed for a long time, battling the pain and the oncoming nausea. I was breathing very deeply and concentrating, and was feeling that I had a chance to control the illness and not have to throw up. It was intense pain and concentration for what seemed like several minutes. In the end my concentration broke and I threw up, and got the temporary relief. At this point Surajbhai came and said that I should go see Bharatbhai, the head doctor. I did not resist and Bharatbhai basically said that I may have a virus, and that I should just lessen my diet for a while and keep an eye on my temperature. Walking to the office, I really noticed how weak I was. It was laborious just to walk, and I noticed that my legs would fatigue from the weight of my body. I also noticed that my limbs would fall asleep if pressure was applied, indicating poor circulation.

Kapilbhai came by later on in the evening and told me that I would be fine. As soon as he came in I started to sweat for the first time, breaking my fever. He joked that he had that effect on a lot of people. It was good seeing him, Dharatiben, and Tapas, and I saw that my energy level increased with them present. After they left I went for a short walk outside before I tried to sleep for the night. I was painfully weak and went halfway around my building. When I came back I reached the rare “hole confusion” level of food/stomach virus: I went to the bathroom feeling like vomiting, but ended up squatting for some diarrhea. I’ve risen to this level only one other time… my freshman year in college when I had food poisoning and spent an entire night crawling between my dorm room and the floor bathroom because it was too painful to straighten my torso and walk normally.

During the night I had a difficult time sleeping, as I felt very hot. This was probably due to waves of high temperature, which was probably in the 101-102 range at the peaks. It was very uncomfortable laying in bed, since I felt too weak to get up and in too much pain to fall asleep. During the night I also had a really bizarre dream where I was helping Kapilbhai organize thousands of documents which we arranged and rearrange and categorized and bundled and recategorized. Really weird and vivid because I thought that the documents were sitting on the bed with me.

Today I felt my strength coming back and feel that I have definitely gotten the illness under control. I rested the whole day which made me restless at the end, so I did some exercises which made me feel a little better. I really miss my gym, and the feeling of sore muscles after a good workout. I also am glad to have gotten over the feeling of weakness, which made me understand better how my mom must have felt during her illness. It’s a really frustrating feeling not being able to move as you normally do, and it made me thankful for the good health that I’ve had in my life thus far.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Bhuj Conference and Sajiv Kheti Manch

Today Kapilbhai and I returned from the workshop on market opportunities for small producers in Bhuj, in a region of Gujarat called Kuchchh. The conference was great exposure for me as I become more familiar with the type of work going on for small agriculturists in India. More importantly it was a look inside the mentality of active social workers on the ground in India today… what do they see as the main problems for rural poor today? Answer: access (to information, infrastructure, capital), lack of organization and thus bargaining power. Who/what do they consider the “enemies”? Answer: Big business, inept and unsympathetic government. What are the currently accepted and necessary tools for empowerment and mobilization? Answer: cooperatives, government policy that looks after the rural population, ICTs and other infrastructures for connecting rural production to lucrative markets. It was helpful in solidifying in my own mind the types of ideas and models that are prevalent in Indian social work today, so that I can attach appropriate weights to the concepts I have up until now only read in books. In that sense I learned something, as opposed to learning about radically new ideas or models, which I was more hoping to come across but was left in disappointment about.

I was also able to meet prominent individuals working in rural India today, including NGO leaders, individual activists, academics (including IIM faculty), etc. Unfortunately there didn’t seem to be any other technologists there but me. As I had suspected, playing the Stanford card goes a long way here… I am learning that in India just being a foreigner makes you of higher status… when you then drop name brands it makes you a "sir" with no hesitation, and I am suddenly a peer of tenured academics homegrown in India.

Finally I had the distinct honor of attending a Sajiv Kheti Manch; a semi-regular meeting of about 10 core farmers and agriculturalists who began the organic agriculture movement in Gujarat over 20 years ago. The movement can be said to have originated from Kapilbhai, and then was grown to include this group of old friends who all have taken up farming according to the prescriptions of “living agriculture”, Sajiv Kheti. The meeting was held on Manojbhai’s organic farm outside of Bhuj. It was an absolutely delightful locale.

Out in the fresh air, with just farmlands in all directions, the environment having a vibrant green and brown color. On top of that we held the meeting in Manojbhai’s newly built favela, an absolutely unique construction with a straw roof, wooden pillars and stone and sound footpath, with a “green wall” in one corner and a “green garden” in the opposite.


It was seriously one of the coolest things I have ever seen. The meeting began and talks went informally. They generally had the feel of a meeting of venerable elders; they spent much time debating the future of the Sajiv Kheti movement, especially the threats and obstacles, of which they concluded were many. Although Kapilbhai seems to be the leader of the group, everyone spoke and was treated with reverence. Here was a group of giants, I thought, and here I am as a lucky outsider as a fly on the wall to catch their reflections. There was not a trace of arrogance to the way they conducted themselves; they were practical all the way. And it was very clear that they were very close to each other, strong friendships built over personal and common struggle over many years.

Manojbhai has a main farmer who seems to be the one who runs things hands-on. One of my regrets after leaving the farm was not taking enough pictures of both the favela and this farmer (though both are pictured to the right), which I didn’t do out of fear of embarrassing him and myself. He was an awesome sight. If you had to paint a Gujarati farmer, you would paint this guy. Turbaned, deep eyes, dark and thick skin, broad shouldered and thinly clothed. He moved smoothly and had a childish smile. He had his own organic mango farm and shared some of his harvest with us… absolutely divine.

Towards the end of the meeting I had the opportunity to present some of my initial work with Kapilbhai on an organic scorecard, which was received very positively. It was nice to have been able to show the work and feel that I had contributed to the meeting. I felt honored throughout.

After the meeting we went to a local restaurant and had a traditional Gujarati thali dinner, featuring organic vegetables. I was in heaven. There was this absolutely fantastic soya shaak, as well as awesome daal, kadhi, and kichrdi. We also had some fresh mango lassi, courtesy of the restaurant owner, who was the son of Manojbhai’s farmer. My dad often uses the term “Jatt Gujarati” to describe himself, but it’s never really been accurate for our family. But this restaurant owner, the farmer’s son, was the personification of Jatt Gujarati. Like his father, he was well-built and muscular. And he was just massive, one of the biggest and sturdiest-looking Gujarati’s I’ve ever seen. And I could see why: if you had a steady diet of soya shaak and kichdi, I see no reason why you couldn’t have that type of bulk. And all with wimpy vegetables!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

My Hands-Holding Partner

In India there is a peculiar social habit that people from the States particularly will notice. When you go out and observe men, you may notice that they are especially touchy-feely with each other. When they walk, they walk shoulder-to-shoulder, very close. They put their arms around eachother frequently. When they shake hands or greet, their hands linger in clasp, and sometimes you see men stroking eachother’s hands, wrist, and fingers in a caressing way. All of this sounds pretty gay, especially if you’re from the States. We joke about it frequently at home. The typical “friends”, both male, walking down the crowded street in India, holding hands or clasping at the finger. But it isn’t gay; it’s a cultural thing. My hypothesis has always been that because Indian society suppresses open physical contact between men and women (e.g. kissing scenes in movies draw held breath), men release the pent up physical/sexual tension on each other. I’m not saying I condone it, but I understand (somewhat related to this is a joke I heard recently about how in India you can “piss” in public but not “kiss”, and it’s the opposite everywhere else in the world. Punchline: so India allows you to take off your clothes to defecate, but you can’t peck a person on the cheek)

At the ashram, I’ve gotten to know one of the naturopathy doctors, Suraj, very well. He’s 23, so we are close in age and the only early 20s people here. And more importantly, we share similar thoughts, morals, inclinations, etc., even though we were brought up in drastically different cultures. Suraj is a straight arrow (like myself), who has achieved much and has big dreams. At the same time he is quite humble and committed to service and family. Very mature for his age by all accounts, and we frequently get into spirited and interesting conversations about our lives growing up, college, friends, social traditions, etc. where we can compare and contrast Indian and American experiences. One of our most interesting insights is that on a cost of living basis, a India is as expensive of a place to live as America. It's only when a person takes American earnings and spends in India do you see the relative wealth jump up an order of magnitude. All this means that if you are earning in Indian Rupees, the cost of gas, food, clothes, etc. is not any cheaper despite the fact that arguably quality of life is worse (i.e. living in Palo Alto vs. living in Baroda). So if you're a young Indian like Suraj, you're saving and earning the same amount in real terms for an inferior quality of life. No wonder many want to go abroad

Anyway, Suraj and I have gotten along very well, and hang out quite a bit. We take our meals together at special times in the day as we both prefer to eat lunch and dinner later then the scheduled time for the naturopathy patients. He's helped me a ton with errands and getting settled, taking me around on his bike. I’ve showed him pictures from home; he's shown me pictures of his ex and described his best friends from college and his family which lives nearby. I’m really glad to have met him and expect that we will stay in touch well after this summer.

Recently we’ve been shaking hands as a greeting and when we part, and I have noticed that he’s gotten a little more touch-feely over time. What was once was a handshake has become a shake with a back pat, and then to a back rub with hand squeeze. The last time we parted, I got the distinct image of Suraj someday trying to hold my hand when we go out. Needless to say, I was horrified. So is this the beginning of my first pseudo-homosexual Indian hands-holding relationship? You never know.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The (Not So) Simple Life

Over the last two days, I’ve come face to face with simple work and failed to stand up to the challenge. Yesterday, I found Rameshbhai outside in the farm and quickly went downstairs to see if I could help (The Ashram has an acre of land where it does organic agriculture, and Rameshbhai is the man in charge). I at first played it cool because I didn’t want to seem over-enthusiastic, so I asked him if I could help him move the pile of grass he had created while weeding one of the plots. He said it goes in the compost bin, but declined my request. Then I stood and watched him for a while. He was weeding the plot with a “Dantherdu” (pictured), pulling up grasses and small unwanted plants. His technique was efficient, like a surgeon. Frequently he would pull up earthworms, of which I was surprised to see so many in the soil. When he “unearthed” one, he would use the tool to deftly cover the worm back up to allow it on its way back into the soil.

After watching him for a while, he finally asked if I wanted to help, which I said yes to, trying my best to curb my enthusiasm. He was going to get me another Dantherdu so we could work together, but he got called into his house to meet some guests. I indicated to him that I could carry on, and started to mimic the technique which I had observed him doing. He didn’t really give much feedback, but in the end he said I was doing it right. He then left me and told me to do as much as I was comfortable with. I looked at the side of the plot he had started, and figured I could finish that section (about 8 feet of soil, 3 feet wide). So I started going at it. Within 10 minutes my back started aching, and my knees wouldn’t allow me to squat for too long before I needed to stand straight and take a rest. It was *really* hard work. Later on I realized that I didn’t have the stamina for it because the muscle groups I was using weren’t the ones I use when I go to the gym. Rameshbhai probably couldn’t benchpress as much as me, but he would smoke me in a weeding competition. Anyway, in a half hour I was done. I really was struggling for the last 15 minutes of that time, trying desperately to finish the section I set out to do. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it (To the right are before and after pics of the plot I weeded).

Today I had my second taste of defeat. I set out to hand-wash my clothes. I had a couple underwears, wifebeaters, a kurta shirt, a pair of pants, and a collared shirt. A few days earlier Moneyben, the woman who cleans my guesthouse, had shown me the basic technique of washing underwear. It looked easy enough when she did it, and I figured I could extrapolate the technique for the larger items. So this morning I filled a bucket halfway with soapy water and put the clothes in to soak for a while, as Moneyben had shown. So far I was doing great. After soaking, you take out each garment one at a time, apply some more soap, and scrub with hands and a brush. After that, you rinse and move on to the next. The problem was my technique was really bad. I didn’t know what I was doing with the soap, whether I should scrub with my hands, use the brush, and in what combination.

The clothes seemed to be clean, but I also wasn’t really sure whether I was doing that sufficiently. Rinsing was also a problem. I couldn’t quite get out all of the soap from any of the garments, nor could I squeeze them enough that they were no longer dripping water. For the pants, I couldn’t scrub out several mudstains that had gotten on them from the farming fiasco the day before. Also making it difficult was the fact that I had to sit down on a small stool near ground level so that I could use the ground to squeeze the clothes of water… again my back quickly began to kill me and I couldn’t get comfortable for long. I was at times definitely feeling helpless doing this chore, and all I was doing was washing clothes!

The worst lay ahead. After scrubbing to the best of my ability, I laid out the clothes to dry on the line outside my room. After going downstairs and eating breakfast, I came back up to check on the clothes, and what do I see? The wire lines have put rust stains onto my clothes! There were red lines across my shirt, pant, and kurta. I went back to the buckets and scrubbed as best I could, but the stains remained, however faintly. At this point I felt totally hopeless. Where was Moneyben!?! I was shocked that I could bungle such a seemingly simple act as washing clothes.

My two encounters with simple living were in my estimation a disaster. In both cases I left with aches in my back with only failure to show for it. I realized I have a long way to go to achieve any sort of self-sufficiency in my lifestyle. Will I try again? I’m not looking forward to it, but I must. I’m hoping that the learning curve is steep, but for now the last thing I’m thinking about is scrubbing or weeding. The one positive of my experience is a growing appreciation for manual work, which I’m glad to no longer take for granted.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Rain, Rain...


Today I took a rickshaw to Masi’s house and immediately it started raining. Hard. I was supposed to get back to the ashram the next day but there was too much standing water in the roads to be able to get to Gotri. Instead we sat inside the flat all day. It was a pathetic existence… sit around, talk, eat, sit again, sleep, etc. I felt completely lazy and missed my gym more than ever.

Masa and I went outside to try and go to the train station so I could buy my ticket to Bhuj, but we turned around in the middle because the water was too high in the roads. It was an amazing sight… I wish I had brought my camera. The water was calf deep and people were splashing through the streets on motorcycles, rickshaws, bicycles. We got splashed on by one guy going too fast on his scooty. After that I was satisfied to stay inside.

Inside I spent a lot of time with Masi and Bohti, talking about family mostly. Masi looked at my pictures twice, and especially liked Reshita’s sari pictures and the video of Laxmi and Dad’s garba video. No one really laughed at the watermelon video, which I still find hilarious.

Bohti told me about her school situation and how she is very interested on becoming a teacher. To do so she will need to pursue another year of school to get a B.Ed. Right now she is finishing her M.Comm after completing her B.Comm last year. She says she still likes the Business track, but really likes to teach, 7th standard and below. Ideally she could teach commerce, but that’s pretty low status.

The rain is really intense. The drops are fatter than what I’m used to seeing at home, and it comes down with the intensity of heavy rains at home, whereas it seems normal here. I was surprised by how heavy the drops felt and also by how it isn’t really cold while it rains.