Women in India

Introduction

More Experiences

A Work of Art

Ever since taking a Philosophy of Art and Literature class at the University of Cape Town, I’ve grown a new appreciation for the discipline.

Finding a piece of art is like finding a piece of yourself, you know when you’ve found it.

The fact that the artist I ran into in Kerala, India had her studio next to the makeshift display room I found this painting in (and her lovely personality) made it all that more special.

The Roots of Chocolate

My hedonistic love for chocolate made finding a cocoa tree one of my most pleasurable discoveries during my time in South India.

Unfortunately though, making cocoa powder is harder than one would imagine.

The Line of all Lines

Waiting in a line of Indian men trying to get their hands on some of their favorite alcohol (while I attempt to get a bottle of water) made for quite a moment and experience during my trip to Munnar.

Women in India

Women in India have played roles less than ideal in a dominantly patriarchal society for centuries.

One of the most troublesome ways women have endured inequality throughout Indian tradition is the specific roles they fall into and how these roles have to be kept up and continuously proven. They traditionally play wife, housekeeper, cook and mother simultaneously (among other roles) while being dependent on a man to uphold the lifestyle they lead.

Because of this dependency, men traditionally have had the power to put women through unscientific (to say the least) and superfluous trials to continually prove their strength and purity.

A woman is commanded to walk through fire to prove her purity and strength from a scene in the movie Fire.

Women traditionally, and still today in certain aspects of social life play puppets in a world where the strings are often held and pulled by men.

“As a woman, you weren’t the first preference when your mother carried you in her womb and from the first sight of blood signifying your maturity as a woman, you endure the weight of the families’ respect on your shoulders to act in accordance with societies’ standards. And at the time of marriage, you are a burden to your own family because of a dowry that must be given to your husband’s family, and after marriage your only duty is to keep your new family happy and move the family lineage forward by having a son.”

– Saanvi, 20 year old female college student.

So to understand this dynamic in India better, I met up with Anandana Kapur, a professor of my Indian Women in Fiction and Cinema class, as well as a self-proclaimed feminist to get a few questions answered.

Anandana Kapur is a multi-talented woman who is an exceptional filmmaker and social scientist. From her IMDB page, her “documentaries explore the sub-cultures of gender, identity and ritual practice in India. Anandana’s films ‘Much Ado About Knotting’, ‘Chamba Nede Aa ki Door’, ‘The Great Indian Jugaad’ and ‘Blood on My Hands’ have received awards and critical acclaim.” 

Anandana, can you talk about what feminism is to you?

“The ability to create a situation where there is access to information so as to be able to make a personal choice, or political one. So that women don’t just have access to information in terms of trade or technical skills or literacy, but also in terms of rights or philosophical opportunities. I know very many women wearing the hijab (etc.) in deference to a religious or social tradition, but are very very progressive individuals. To me that is feminism. Because that is the ability to accept a different choice from yours, and yet find common ground for dialogue, recognize the idea of progress, and to say that debate and descent are very very important fundamental rights.

So to me feminism is essentially that, the right to descent, the ability to descent and the ability to act on information, such that I am able to make a choice that is independent. And that’s asking for a lot because it seems easy, but it means there have to be institutional changes, there need to mindset changes, there needs to be greater opportunity for participation.

So feminism is the ability to make informed choices and whatever be the nature of those choices.

What are the three most important issues women face today in India?

The first would be violence and institutionalized violence in the sense of how marriages and family homes have huge problems with violence against women, whether it’s emotional or physical. And in public spaces there is rape, there is abduction, there are trafficings.

Which brings me to the second, which is literacy. The quality of literacy is suspect because we are not really teaching them about legal rights or civil rights or sexual rights. Reading, writing and arithmetic are not sufficient.

The third would be a lack of political prioritization, where we don’t prioritize or look at women as a sector that leads to greater opportunity or greater traction. When we come up with schemes which are pro-mother or child, there is a lot of corruption. So that is the third, a lack of political way to bring about change.

So, there is violence, literacy and lack of political will.  

What is one limiting belief that Indian women are told explicitly and implicitly as they grow up?

That you are vulnerable.

And that is used in various ways, whether it is curfew hours where a man can stay out later but a women can’t, or whether it’s some kind of profession you can think of but you can’t do. [So explicitly you are told] you can be overpowered physically, you can be manipulated and just that you are generally vulnerable. (Which is antithetical to what young boys are told, which is that you are powerful and that you can do what you want.)

And implicitly, you are better off surrendering to existing constructs, and it’s better to compromise, it’s better to adjust, it’s better to accept certain limitations that are imposed on you. And therefore, there is no conversation about sexual expression in our country, there is no conversation about women playing unconventional roles, all of that is missing. 

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 Many women in India are not advised or allowed to go out at night, often times as early as 5 or 6pm. How much apprehension does the average Indian female have in living everyday life when considering the possibility of harassment and rape?

Huge amounts.

Some of it is based on heresy, because there is this idea of the mean world syndrome, that the world out there is mean, there is crime, you are most likely a victim and your probability of being attacked is high. But that is also based on the fact that we don’t have services that can cater to mobility after hours. We do not have a night bus system, we don’t have enough public transport in certain areas, so that does affect your mobility. 

So the city space in itself is not very encouraging.

And going out, it’s not just physical. I can just be stared at and made to feel naked. Or I can be followed and hooted at. You don’t have to cross a physical boundary, you can do a lot from afar as well. There is a lot of street harassment. There are men who call out to you, or brush past you, and then of course it can devolve to other forms like groping and sexual assault. 

What effects do a divorce have on women in India?

Very interesting, because we are a country of arranged marriages primarily where compromise is the key word. So you got taught to make it work no matter what happened. And now increasingly there is greater frequency of separation. There is a greater demand by women in terms of both sexuality, in terms of property, in terms of equality within the roles that are being played. So divorce now is more frequently heard of, it is less stigmatized than before, people are willing to now not say that it must be the woman’s fault and perhaps accept and say that it is probably two people.

The discourse is changing, there is less stigma, but does it make life easy for you? Probably not, because a single woman who is recently divorced (and I know of a few who are dear friends, who say that there is the automatic assumption that, “we’re available” or there is this assumption that we will not be successful and that emotionally and financially we need crutches and questions of trust arise).

So there is moral ambiguity around a divorced woman, but definitely lesser than before.

So how much helplessness is felt by Indian women today regarding the issues they face?

Yes, definitely helplessness.

And then as a professional, where camaraderie between and amongst men is okay, but camaraderie between a man and a woman is most often interpreted as the woman being available and the double standard that comes with it: that you have to prove yourself a little extra because you’re a woman.

So I can not step away and say that we live in a society that is equal, I have had enough experiences to tell me that it’s not. So while I see and have experienced inequality and harassment, I also acknowledge that you have to stand together to be able to make a difference and polarization is not the answer.”  

Yet despite all the hurdles to be overcome, there is a ray of hope and optimism for women in India articulated by my yoga teacher, Bindiya:

“I think women today are much stronger than they used to be. They’re more outgoing, they’re more open to doing things, they’re more open to standing up for themselves, you know, taking on challenges. Coming out of the closet sort of thing. Women never used to say what they wanted to do or what they wanted to wear or what they thought, but now I think that is completely changed.”

A special thanks to Anandana Ji, Bindiya Ji and Saanvi for their help providing their reflections on the topic. This post wouldn’t be possible without their help.

’till next time.

Thanks again to the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Foundation for making this blog a reality and to the University of California Education Abroad Program for hosting it on their website.

* For more information on myself and this blog, check out the ‘About Me‘ page in the left column at the top of this page. *

Works cited:

Ananadana Kapur IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3272151/

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Dating in India (and a trip to Kerala)

Introduction

Visual Experience: God’s Own Country

Airport pick-up in an Ambassador

IMG_5368Sunset ride to Fort Kochi, Kerala

IMG_5589Freshly picked mangos and mini dosas for breakfast

IMG_5671Backwater boat ride in Alleppey, Kerala

IMG_5727 Backwater boat ride in Alleppey, Kerala

IMG_5835 Backwater boat ride in Alleppey, Kerala

IMG_5783Backwater lunch on a banana leaf

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IMG_5893 Munnar Farm

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IMG_5958 Nature’s earing

IMG_5992 Munnar tea field

IMG_6136 Munnar tea field

IMG_6144 Munnar tea field

IMG_6200 Munnar tea field home

IMG_6302 Munnar guest house view

Dating in India

It’s a beautiful sunny day in a New Delhi park and you are walking hand in hand with your special someone. It’s a perfect place for that first kiss both of you have been looking forward to for almost a year (which is custom in many relationships).

The timing is perfect.

Unfortunately though, that security guard lurking in the distance has an eye out for just this type of intimacy. And even holding hands has garnered a following of onlookers who have nothing better to do than hope for that rare public display of affection that they might catch a glimpse of.

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And because in a city like Delhi, where there are no isolated places to be intimate with your partner without disapproval, one’s next logical conclusion is to bring this special someone home.

But yet again, this is not possible because dating is off limits in many families. And to add to it, if this person does not belong to the same religion or caste and is not accepted by your family, one’s circumstances become even more dire, where stories of couples having to abandon their relationships because of such reasons are not hard to come by. And in the event that these demands and requirements are met and your parents come to find out about this relationship, the decision to get married is often the only way to continue the relationship and make it proper and approved of in societies’ eyes. Society conditions one to believe that a partner should only be looked for at the time when marriage is sought after.

Although recents statistics could not be found, in 2006, couples in India’s capital “face fines of 500 rupees [Almost 9 dollars; or more than seven average Indian meals] if they are caught making “illegal use” [kissing] of public spaces,” according to Daily News and Analysis India. But it is what is behind the law that makes it so devastating for a young population which is slowly becoming more and more liberal. 

Yes, it is only nine dollars, but the ridicule, embarrassment, and general dismissal of any affection between couples brings about a reality that is most troubling, where an entire area of human experience is suppressed and conditioned to be off limits. 

In yet another story, a Mumbai man in 2012  was fined 1,200 rupees (20$) for kissing his girlfriend goodbye before getting into an auto rickshaw, according to The Indian Express. The man went on to say that, “a policeman caught me…and gave me a long lecture on morality and how I should not behave in public.” These types of reports go beyond any reasonable sense of moral policing and create a culture sterilized and numb to any sense of intimacy.

Intimacy becomes not only culturally, but also governmentally dictated and disapproved of.   

Needless to say, sex before marriage is taboo and unspeakable in the larger society, creating significant problems for those that do experiment without any or little educational background in this area.

In the end, natural desires and impulses to bond with a partner are suppressed and denied in a culture that discourages any exploration of the self in this domain. Dating in India and exploring this realm becomes a situation that has to be hidden behind closed doors from family, society and sometimes even friends. Those that do seek out relationships behind societies’ back, leave them no outlet to express this part of themselves they encounter alone.

Kerala Cooking Class

One warm night in Kerala, we showed up at Maria’s cooking class looking forward to a South Indian feast. Before remembering this wasn’t just a tasting room and we actually had to learn how to cook, my belly was already growling as she went over all the South Indian spices.

After learning some of the techniques of South Indian cooking, the three of us each got to prepare and cook one dish.

After all the dishes were prepared, we set the table in full South Indian style and enjoyed the fruits of our labor.

Needless to say, it was a delicious Kerala home cooked meal.

’till next time.

Thanks again to the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Foundation for making this blog a reality and to the University of California Education Abroad Program for hosting it on their website.

* For more information on myself and this blog, check out the ‘About Me’ page in the left column at the top of this page.

Works cited:

http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-delhi-kissing-fine-rises-ten-fold-1024782

http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/mumbai-man-fights-legal-battle-against-fine-for-kissing-girl-beats-moral-brigade/1097183/

The Decline of Yoga in India

More Experiences

Therapeutic Urinal

Up against a urinal, belt unbuckled and hanging loose can be one of the most vulnerable positions a man can be in…

So why not make it an opportunity for reconciliation?

A Temporary Tattoo

Henna or Mehndi has become a prevalent Indian tradition and art form for thousands of years. It is often applied during Hindu weddings and a variety of festivals.

And sometimes just for fun.

Buddhism

Buddhism, a religion or way of life that started in India sometime between the 4th and 6th century, has become an interesting parallel to some of the western philosophies I study back home at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

(Particularly Stoicism.)

Buddhism teaches how to release oneself from desire into a state of nirvana.

It teaches four noble truths of the world:

  1. Existence is suffering
  2. Suffering is born from desire
  3. Cessation of desire leads to cessation of pain
  4. When desires cease, one attains nirvana

 A Buddhist monk in meditation on the grounds where the Buddha gave his first teaching in Sarnath, India.

The Decline of Yoga in India

Yoga has been around for over 5,000 years and has its roots in the Indus valley of ancient India. It is said that, “in ancient times, the desire for greater personal freedom, health and long life, and heightened self-understanding gave birth to this system of physical and mental exercise which has since spread throughout the world” (American Yoga Association).

But yoga seems to be a dying art and practice in the very place it was born. While the rest of the world is rapidly acknowledging and practicing its teachings, India seems to be rebelling against its histories and traditions.

The moment I stepped into a yoga class here in India and found significantly more non-Indians than locals, I knew something wasn’t right. (Now that I think about it, I’ve seen more non-Indians in that yoga class than any other time in India.)

So I caught up with my wonderful personal yoga teacher (facilitated through my study abroad program), Bindiya, to get to the bottom of of this dilemma and understand yoga through her eyes.

She was born and raised in India and has been teaching yoga for over five years.

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Bindiya, can you talk about what yoga is to you?

“A lot of strength. Not only physically, but mentally. I think I got a lot of strength from doing yoga. It gives me a focus and clarity about life. Not just the physical aspect, but even when I do the pranayam and the meditation or just sitting concentrating. It gives me clarity of mind to make decisions.

So if you’re taking a risky decision, it gives you the strength to go ahead and take it. The fact that, if you make a decision, you don’t really know how it’s going to go, well or not. So yoga is what actually gives me the strength to go ahead and make the decision no matter what the outcome. Reality is, you don’t know the future so unless you take a risk, you’re not going to know anything, so you have to take the risk.

If it works out, fine, if it doesn’t, fine. Yoga gives you the strength to bear the consequences. It puts me in a position where the outcome doesn’t really effect me, so the fruits of your labor, like they say, don’t effect me.

And also, the body feels good.

What do you think are some misconceptions about yoga?

That yoga is just physical.

And some people think it is just meditation.

So it’s both ways. Some people think it’s just physical and some people think it’s just, like, close your eyes and do breath and mediation.

Also some people think it’s a religion, but it’s not. 

Why should one do yoga?

[ha] You tell me, you started doing yoga! [chuckles].

Because it give you that little time to sit and contemplate, reflect. It helps you connect with yourself, so self-realization, realizing what you want in life, where do you want to go in life, what do you want to do. So unless you connect to yourself and realize what you want, you can’t really do anything with yourself, so yoga is a way for you to connect with yourself.

So it starts from the physical aspect where you just start to know your body, it’s the most tangible. Once you realize your physical body, you move more inside yourself. 

So, with all benefits you’ve described, why do you feel India is neglecting and falling away from the way of life yoga teaches that it once gave birth to?

As the saying goes, most often we don’t realise the true value of what we’ve got until we lose it. We haven taken yoga for granted, it’s been here in our culture for so long, so we’ve never really valued it.

But now as different cultures and the world are giving it it’s due importance and seeing its benefits, we Indians are seeing it’s true value and embracing it for good.

And I’m happy for that.”

Bindiya’s life, her generous, uplifting personality and her flowing and flexible physical nature are reasons enough explore yoga on your own.

I can’t thank her enough for taking the time to do this interview with me and for helping me along my yoga journey.

Preveiw of My Upcoming Trip to Kerala, India

In a few days, I’ll be off on a three hour flight down to the southernmost state of India.

Kerala, named as one of the top ten paradises of the world by National Geographic Travel is known for its backwaters, hill stations, beaches, mountain ranges and animal sanctuaries (Wikipedia).

This will be the second of three most desired destinations on my bucket list in India that I have had the opportunity to check off so far.

Updates to come.

’till next time.

Thanks again to the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Foundation for making this blog a reality and to the University of California Education Abroad Program for hosting it on their website.

* For more information on myself and this blog, check out the ‘About Me‘ page in the left column at the top of this page. *

Works Cited:

http://www.americanyogaassociation.org/general.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tourism_in_Kerala

Traffic Violations

More Experiences

Blow Horn

Ever been honked at while you’re driving and lost your temper?

If so, India might not be for you.

Fortunately though, if one can shift their mindset from the idea that a honk is a critical critique of one’s driving, to a way of communication likened to the way one plays Marco Polo in order to give a sense of distance and proximity, it may be possible to tolerate the requested, yet invasive honking, besides all the endless noise.

A Ladies Paradise

Walking into a subtly lit room with vibrant colors and sounds similar to typewriters being echoed off the walls, while a handful of men work at their stations weaving saris and scarves, I feel the craftsmanship and special brand of creativity only found in India through a very tangible avenue.

Below, a man works on a yellow sari in a factory in Banaras.

 

Later, a group of us are led to a special showroom where we are served masala chai and cookies while the variety of hand-made products produced in this factory are put on display.

The vibrant colors and styles in the showroom make for a ladies paradise…as those who accompanied me can attest to.

A Sandy Snack

I never imagined myself eating food cooked in sand, but that’s exactly what I managed in the holiest city of India.

After I personally picked from the variety of different “munchies” available, they were thrown into a bowl of sand heated by the fire below as they popped and sizzled from the contained heat. Next, masala spices get added into the mix before he strains my snack through a metal strainer in order to separate the sand.

In a small bag along the Ganges River, I walk away with my first sandy snack.

Traffic Violations

Imagine yourself stuck in deadlock traffic in the heart of Delhi, India. It’s blazing hot, you’re late for an important meeting, all the honking is getting on your nerves and before you know it, you delusionally start thinking that the cow that just past between your car and the one next to yours might make for better transportation.

After snapping out of it and composing yourself, you find no reason not to steer your car onto the sidewalk/bike-path (which are separated from the road by greenery) to join the newly introduced lane that you see a handful of vehicles already utilizing as they pass you by one at a time.

During my time in India, I have witnessed this story become a reality over and over.

According to an Indian, who took their thoughts (and frustrations) to a comment section on the Times of India website when asked, “what is your take on glaring violation of traffic rules?” said:

“Looking at the traffic situation in most of the cities in India, let us remove all traffic lights/signals in all citiies and save the power/ electricity spent on the traffic lights!!! We as Indians are the worst at following traffic, rules and regulations.”

Granted this quote is a little enthusiastic, it certainly gets the point across.

Below is a photo of myself in an auto rickshaw in which the driver indeed does decide to use the bike path off to the side of the road in order to bypass a traffic jam.

Although it seems like the problem is far out of reach of any significant progress (which I foresee may be the case in any practical way), I image it would only take some minor improvements for measurable changes to be seen.

One issue though, that comes to mind as to the difficulties that arise when trying to reign in these traffic violations, besides the idea that ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’ (in a sort of twisted way, that may be true), is the disparity of driver incomes on the roads. A traffic fine for one person may be a set back, while for another may create chaos in a family where essential necessities may not get met. Any initiatives to crack down on traffic violations would see massive push-backs, but second, could potentially be detrimental to certain growing and delicate socio-economic groups.

Of course, the rarely seen traffic police don’t help either.

In the end, there seem to be too many violators and too little reason for the government to muster up any strength to do anything about it.

A Blast from the Past – Study Abroad South Africa

A few photos down memory lane from my previous study abroad experience in Cape Town, South Africa with the University of California Education Abroad Program.

Cape Town

Eye see you

Table Mountain and the University of Cape Town

’till next time.

Thanks again to the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Foundation for making this blog a reality and to the University of California Education Abroad Program for hosting it on their website.

* For more information on myself and this blog, check out the ‘About Me‘ page in the left column at the top of this page. *

Works Cited:

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/speak-out/debateshow/18968513.cms

 

Economic Disparity

More Experiences

Slow Moving Traffic

As one rapidly weaves through traffic in India, it is not always the drivers coming at you in the wrong lane to bypass traffic, the constant violation of traffic rules or the unpredictable driving habits in lane-less streets that is most concerning, but the cows often relaxing and laying in the middle of the roads  (unfortunately not a hyperbole) oblivious and unconcerned with the vehicles that are passing them by.

The fact that we haven’t hit one yet is no doubt surprising to me as bumper to bumper movement through the streets is often the norm and more than once a split second swerve saved a cow’s life as it came into view.

Transportation: the Indian way

Ever imagine yourself clinging to the outside of a city bus to get to your next destination?

…dreams come true in India.

Who let the dogs out? …and the monkeys and elephants.

Before I began my study abroad this year in South Africa and now India, getting to interact with animals only found in zoos was a dream.

Now the occasional sighting of an elephant or the abundance of monkeys around New Delhi is just another day.

Economic Disparity

India is a land where rich and poor often live their lives side by side. A mall, selling the likes of Louis Vuitton, Mercedes Benz and a variety of other high-end luxury purchases borders the largest slum in New Delhi.

A lot of what plays into this, is the disparity between India’s gross domestic product (GDP) and its human development index (HDI).

According to the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, India has the tenth largest GDP in the world. When incorporationg purchasing power parity (PPP) (arguably more accurate than GDP when assessing world economies), using data from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, they rank third behind the United States and China.

Comparatively, statistics on HDI compiled by the United Nations, which according to the United Nations Development Program website adds a “new way of measuring development by combining indicators of life expectancy, educational attainment and income into a composite human development index, the HDI. The breakthrough for the HDI was the creation of a single statistic which was to serve as a frame of reference for both social and economic development.” Unfortunately, the statistics leave a lot to be desired and according to this measurement India ranks 136.

Signs of economic health:

India GDP rank: 10, PPP rank: 3

Measurement of human wellbeing:

India HDI rank: 136

These statistics often play out in my everyday life in New Delhi as the auto rickshaw I’m in stops at a red light and a man holding his upper arm to prop it up (with seemingly no bones in his elbow joint and lower arm as it limps down in a way no arm should do) places his hand in front of me as he hopes I’ll leave a few rupees (unfortunately a sight more common than one would hope affecting a variety of different limbs), a young girl holding a small child grabbing at my shirt as I walk around the city hoping for some extra change or the stories of physical fights breaking out over the availability of fresh water in slums.

Below, two young girls playing music, dancing, and doing backflips in the middle of the street hope spare change will come their way as red lights stoping traffic give just enough time for a performance.

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Below, women in a New Delhi slum wait to fill up their containers with fresh water, which weekly shipments deliver on trucks.

Unfortunately, the depths of these problems leave a single individual overwhelmed and insignificant in the face of such circumstances. At the same time though, knowing that where one can help leaves a significant impact on the lives of those less fortunate, inspires one with a sense of hope and a feeling that a difference can be made step by step.

If nothing else, grateful for the things that one does have.

Holi Festival

Holi festival has come and gone, but not without a lot of good memories. The holiday, also known as the festival of colors, is a Hindu tradition that signifies the end of winter into all the colors of spring.

Almost everything in the city closes down until late afternoon. The streets are dead silent compared to the usual chaos and madness, and the subway shuts down leaving an eerie feeling that you may be the last person on the planet.

Luckily, we find one of the few auto rickshaws roaming the streets and hop in. As we’re headed to the neighborhood where we expect Holi to be in full effect..

Smack!

A water ballon comes flying through the side of our auto rickshaw and before I knew it, I found myself in the middle of Holi drenched in water and color, as someone on the side of the road gets the first punch.

Later, after all the festivities and colors had died down and the after-party began, I found myself on the dance floor of someone’s room where all the colors merged into a vibrant wave full of life.

(Bollywood’s ‘Sunny Sunny’ by Yo Yo Honey Singh seems to be all the rave these days.)

’till next time.

Thanks again to the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Foundation for making this blog a reality and to the University of California Education Abroad Program for hosting it on their website.

* For more information on myself and this blog, check out the ‘About Me’ page in the left column at the top of this page.

Works cited:

United Nations Development Program:

http://hdr.undp.org/en/statistics/hdi

https://data.undp.org/dataset/Table-1-Human-Development-Index-and-its-components/wxub-qc5k

Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)

Animal Welfare Disparity (and a trip to Varanasi)

Introduction

Visual Experience: Spiritual Capital of India

My most recent trip outside of New Delhi was to Varanasi, India. I’ll leave it to Mark Twain to described the city:

“Varanasi is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”

It certainly felt like a travel back in time. As one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, it has developed into the spiritual capital of India important to a variety of religious traditions like Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. Some Hindus believe that a death here will bring salvation.

Overall, it was a divinely sublime experience.

Below are a few photos of my time there:

Main cremation site

Main cremation site

View along the Ganges River

Bathing in the Ganges River

IMG_4035Bathing in the Ganges River

IMG_3991Washing clothes in the Ganges River

IMG_4417 View along the Ganges River

IMG_4401 View along the Ganges River

Sunset along the Ganges River

Cultural performance along the Ganges River

Lady in pink giving offerings to the Gods at a temple in Varanasi

A Furry Companion

Below the guest house I stayed at along the Ganges River sat a rugged local Indian man and his companion. This though, wasn’t any ordinary companion, but a small monkey he raised since birth.

No touching though.

Animal Welfare Disparity

According to a United Nations report in 2007, India and Indians have the lowest rate of meat consumption in the world. This is in part due to the large population of Hindi people who believe that all life is sacred.

But there is another side to the story. Life is nowhere near ideal for many of these animals who are alive and in no danger of being consumed.

Everything from dogs being kicked, cattle smacked with sticks, chickens laying half dead, shoved together in cages too small for their own good on transportation vehicles, goats being tied down to carts with no room to move and cows laying on cement in the middle of the road lacking basic necessities makes for a thought provoking disparity in culture.

I want to suggest that it is the type of justification for vegetarianism and sacredness of all life that plays a significant role in this disparity. The distinction, I believe, lies where the justification is manifested. If a religion or society commands that one live life as though all life is sacred, there is an external reason for the action. But an external reason does not touch the heart and soul of a person like an internal reason and justification would. All that an external reason like society or religion can do is create blind faith at worst, and at best an intellectual understanding of what is good and bad. The heart or soul, which is all encompassing and lasting is not explicitly touched beyond a duty to rules.

So although India has the lowest rate of meat consumption in the world, there is still a lot of work to do for animal welfare in the country. Going from a religious or societal understanding to a more personally felt and compassionate one will do a lot to close this disparity gap.

(This is not to say that many Indians do not feel a significant sensitivity to the well being of animals in this way.)

Holi Festival (early)

Holi, also known as the festival of colors, is a Hindu tradition that signifies the end of winter into all the colors of spring.  Although Holi is not officially celebrated until March 17 this year, it’s common for a bit of celebration to happen a few days leading up to the festival, and some of us couldn’t wait.

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’till next time.

Thanks again to the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Foundation for making this blog a reality and to the University of California Education Abroad Program for hosting it on their website.

* For more information on myself and this blog, check out the ‘About Me’ page in the left column at the top of this page.

Pollution in Delhi

Introduction

The tree grows by pushing its roots far into the earth. People are like trees.

I wanted to introduce the blog with this quote because studying abroad away from home and all that one knew previously is challenging. But it’s challenging in a way that forces a person to reach further into the depths of his or her soul and deeper into the nurturing soil of the earth.

Here, the earth’s soil opens up avenues that never existed before that are dark as midnight with only faint moonlight to guide the way. The challenge becomes navigating these avenues not only in the dark with no specific end, but often times without the tools to do so. All the things that were second nature back home are sometimes irrelevant and absent abroad. It often feels like the first season of fall: you’re disorientated and subjugated to a completely new way of life.

This comes as the rain washes your slate blank and not a single soul knows who you are or where you have come from. Yet, there is a sense of freedom in this in which one can re-invent themselves as they wish. If one desires to change the color of their leaves, they are free to do so. But either way, there comes with it a feeling of being naked and alone where much of who you are is associated with what is in the past.

But it is here that one has to reach into the depths of their own soul and nurture the roots that ground him or her. It is this place that one has to weather the storms and strong winds that come with an identity that has to find itself again.

In the end, it is a journey of a tree that is replanted in a foreign land. The new environment must be adapted to, but before it does so there are struggles and adversities that have to be overcome. These storms only serve to strengthen the roots of an individual tree before it approaches a new day.

More Experiences

Loose Change, Lost Weight

As one approaches Chandi Chowk metro station (one of the more frequented stops in New Delhi), one encounters people begging on each side of the path.  One of the more memorable moments I have had as I explore the city was a boy outside this metro station weighing people for a few rupees.

What a clever way to make some money, I thought.

So I gave it a try.

(And luckily, for my sake, the camera didn’t pick up the reading, as I’m sure all this Indian food is getting to me.) Although, I image the few less rupees I had in my pocket couldn’t have made the scale any heavier and certainly made his life a little lighter.

Common Struggle

My auto rickshaw ride to school and around the city often becomes the most interesting part of the day. Everything from cows slowing down traffic to this moment captured below where two people meet in a common struggle.

As the rickshaw I am riding in encounters a slope as we head onto the bridge, it is common to see people pushing their makeshift bicycle-carts up the hill on foot as they attempt to get their produce over.

This time though, something a little different happens.

My rickshaw driver and a man in red walking his cart up the hill meet eyes in mutual connection, the driver slows down, puts his foot out the rickshaw and connects his foot to the back of his cart like a train would to another car. The man in red hops onto the seat of his bicycle and we’re off up the hill.

Needless to say, seeing a man help out his fellow Indian on a way to a more prosperous life created positive energy that was tangible.

Spiritual Buzz

“Bring your own whiskey” was the last thing I thought I would hear before heading to an Indian temple.  A place where  Gods are worshiped is also the same place whiskey is thrown into a large pot of fire where one can make an offering of a few rupees on a Saturday afternoon.

Now, no one is sure where the rest of the whiskey goes, but a few hints tell me it’s not out the back door.

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Pollution in Delhi

I now inhabit the most polluted city in the world according to recent air quality studies conducted by the Centre of Science and Environment (India Today).

And the effects of it are certainly real.

Beyond the everyday effects such as the potent feeling of inhaling chemicals as you travel in the open compartment of an auto rickshaw on a damp early morning in winter, the occasional thought that you might be living your daily life on the outskirts of a dumpster and the sight of black mucous at the end of the day as you blow your nose, there are some very serious consequences of this pollution. An article in India Today titled “Children in Delhi have Lungs of Chain-Smokers,” goes a long way to express this. (Whether it is a hyperbole or not I can not confirm.)

Young people in particular are the most susceptible to the effects of pollution. The article claims that more than three thousand children die every year in Delhi because of pollution. Most of the cases being those less than two years old with respiratory and bronchial disorders.

One cause of this pollution is how waste is disposed of.  Captured below is waste being burnt on the side of the road.

Undoubtedly, the pollution problem in Delhi is significant and to the point that drastic measures should be taken to insure the health of its citizens in this growing economy.

Little Chocolate Sin

One night after dinner, like most nights after dinner, I get the urge to have chocolate. (They say chocolate is actually addicting, but I’m in denial.) So I go down to the market near my home and grab a few miniature snickers. Unfortunately, there is only one cashier and the lady in front of me with this cute little girl has a full shopping cart. As the cashier takes his time scanning her products, I manage to fumble a snickers into my hand.

While I’m munching on it, the little girl looks up at me with her big eyes. A moment later her little hand is reached out and I can only hope it’s because she wants a high-five. But of course she seems to want more.

At this point I don’t know what to do. Can I just give this little girl a piece of my snickers with her mom there?

Her big eyes, her little hands…ahh I had to.

My little chocolate sin.

’till next time.

Thanks again to the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Foundation for making this blog a reality and to the University of California Education Abroad Program for hosting it on their website.

* For more information on myself and this blog, check out the ‘About Me‘ page in the left column at the top of this page. *

Works Cited:

http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/pollution-in-delhi-cng-children-in-delhi/1/344904.html

Developing Experiences.