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Tag: India

Third Planet of the Sun

Since my return from India several people have asked, in one way or another, if the human condition there was difficult to observe. A mother, baby on hip, taps on the car window asking for money. A man with an open leg wound reaches his hand out for help. A man with no legs hobbles on his hands.

Guilt can be a healthy, compassionate endorsement of accountability and responsibility. Our compassion reminds us that to be truly human is to be uncomfortable because decency compels us to be better than we are.

We fall short as moral beings if we only steward our little corner of the world. I have been thinking about how I can be more effective in social change that reflects my values of inclusion, fairness, opportunity, and concern for the environment. Not more pure, just more effective.

In Praise of Feeling Bad About Yourself

by Wislawa Szymborska

The buzzard never says it is to blame.
The panther wouldn’t know what scruples mean.
When the piranha strikes, it feels no shame.
If snakes had hands, they’d claim their hands were clean.

A jackal doesn’t understand remorse.
Lions and lice don’t waver in their course.
Why should they, when they know they’re right?

Though hearts of killer whales may weigh a ton,
in every other way they’re light.

On this third planet of the sun
among the signs of bestiality
a clear conscience is Number One.

The Elephants of Jaipur

Elephant bulls aren’t kept in the elephant barn. Cows are more cooperative.

During British rule, elephants were put to work clearing the very forests from which they’d been captured. Timber was in huge demand for the new rail system of India.

By the time the British left, much of the forests of northern India were destroyed. Since then, poachers and tuskers and population growth have all taken a toll. As farming expands, elephants have little habitat remaining. Elephants in the wild now ravage farmers’ fields to find food. Villagers chase them back as best they can to save their crops.

Elephants are still domesticated for heavy construction. Others give rides as tourist attractions.

Our best choices preserve the land and the integrity and stability of its animals. These elephants may or may not have better lives than their cousins in the wild. I’m certain they have better lives than most livestock raised and killed in cruel conditions in the US.

We did not ride the elephants of Jaipur.

Along the Road in India

We did a fair amount of travel while in India. Delhi to Agra to Jaipur to Rishikesh and back to Delhi. Mile after mile along the roadways we saw carts with fruits and vegetables and potatoes, little tobacco carts, boys playing cricket, and open air cafes.

We saw men lying on cots in the heat of the day, crouched under trucks during a brief rain, splashing themselves with water from a pump, peeing beside trees, and talking in groups at cafes.

We saw women carrying packages the size of coffee tables on top of their heads.

We saw cows, dogs, mules, bison, monkeys, sheep, goats, and camels. We saw cars, vans, trucks, buses, motorcycles, rickshaws, bicycles, and tuk tuks. Lots and lots of people walking.

People honk their horns all of the time in India. Honking means something different in India than in the States. In the US, a horn might mean “Don’t pull out in front of me, you Nimrod!” or “Hurry up! The light turned green already!” or “We’re about to crash, you idiot!”

In India, honking isn’t so aggressive. A honk seems to mean, “There’s a sliver of road between you and that bus and since I’m obligated to squeeze past I thought I’d let you know by honking my horn.”

I will never understand how all the traffic and animals and people coexist as successfully as they do on the roads of India.

Faces of India, part 2

Faces of India, part 1

What Children Learn in India

Everywhere in India, my daughter drew a crowd of kids. They wanted to know where she was from, when she got to India, and how long she’d stay. They wanted to know what she was doing there and if she went to college. They wanted to know what she thought of India. Parents clustered outside the circle, waiting and sometimes listening while their children met this new person.

 

 

They took family photos with her.

 

 

 

Then we’d all look at the photos together.

 

 

 

Sometimes, they just looked at her, this new and different person. Open inquisitiveness with new people is valued. Kids expected that Katie wanted to meet them just as much as they wanted to meet her. Children learn people are good and differences interesting. Children learn privacy may matter, but not more than having family and friends nearby and inviting new people into our lives.

Children learn the life-affirming goodness of people.

 

 

Lunch in Rasool Pur, India

If you are very lucky, you may someday find yourself in the boyhood home of Ajay Kumar, in the little village of Rasool Pur, India. Rasool Pur is northeast of New Delhi, on a long, hard road to Rishikesh. Ajay was raised in this home until he left for the big city. Ajay’s mother still lives on the farm, in the home built by Ajay’s dad. Ajay’s brother lives there, too, with his wife and kids. On their farm, they grow what they need for the family.

Ajay’s mother may be 65 or 70. Birthdays weren’t counted. She greeted me with a hug. I was shown a chair by the fan in their open air kitchen. We were served betha, a rich, spicy, slightly sweet masala made with pumpkin. We had fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and a potato dish. Naan appeared, hot from a fire that I never even saw as we were shown around the farm. A second piece of naan came just as we finished the first.  We drank a cold, spiced buttermilk, courtesy of the the two cows tied in the yard. Dessert was a cold cream of wheat called sojji (or sooji or suji, my notes don’t seem clear).

The meal was followed by family photos, just like in the rural Indiana town where I grew up. Then Ajay’s mother walked us to the car. I couldn’t understand one word she spoke that day, but her message was clear as she took my face in her hands, “Come back any time. You are always welcome here.”

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Painting the Cellar Door

Early this morning, I painted the cellar door. The “Auntie Em door,” we call it.

I enjoy painting. I like the methodical motion of the brush. I like the protective quality of paint. I like that I can let my mind wander. The morning was warm and still. Copper, the basset hound who lives down the street, kept me company. His bark is low and mournful. If Copper’s ever in a movie, he’ll be played by James Earl Jones.

Yesterday my friend and I saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. While painting, I thought about the movie and my trip to India next week. One of the new visitors is clearly wrong for India. “How can you bear this country? What do you see that I don’t?” she asks.

Tom Wilkinson responds, “Light, colors, smiles. It teaches me something.” She could only see poverty and squalor.

Occasionally a carpenter ant would crawl near a freshly painted spot. I just blew them safely off and kept brushing.

a new carry-on

This is my new carry-on, my retirement gift to myself. Katie and I leave for India in a couple weeks. This 20-inch Samsonite and my tote will be all I take. This suitcase is light. It weighs less than a gallon of milk.

I’ve been reading quite a bit about India: about the tourist spots, of course, and also about the religion and history and economics. Here’s a fact that I’ve found heart-wrenching: my new suitcase cost more than the average Indian makes in an entire year.