Friday, April 01, 2005

i'm an april fool &

i swear that my intentions were good. the beginnings of this note are already over a week old. & then two hours of writing just disappeared into the ether due to a computer glitch/hitch. the universe's april fool's joke on me i suppose. but i intended to start writing again writing anew writing afresh (essentially writing!) on 21mar05. i saw a photo of a man jumping over fire in celebration of "NAVROZE" in the paper & spent the whole day asking people what this day meant…much later, I cheated & googled it on the internet. I stole this description of navroze from
“- nav meaning new and roze meaning day. It was the day of the Equinox - a day when light and darkness stand equal on the scale of space and time when the length of the day equals that of the night. That particular day came to be known as Jamshed Navroz. This new day is the beginning of a new year, a new awakening into an inner sphere of spiritual consciousness and a new vision of life.”
i'm not sure if it was all that but i certainly did enjoy walking around the city of mumbai with what seemed like new eyes in search of kitschy souvenirs with my sister & ben & zia. i also thought a lot of my friend stephanie & her new son as it was her birthday that day...which reminds me i have a slew of happy birthdays to send out that are all belated now but that were intended to be on time & personally delivered...happy birthday darlings ira & kim & lee & jennifer & amy & ilene! & i might as well add a happy birthday to estherluv & my daddy as i'm sure i won't be online again before yours... hope your new year brings y'all much bliss.
i'm not sure where to start now that i've begun. the last month & a half has flown by & i've been caught up in the whirlwind of it without stopping much to catch my breath. ahhh. hmmn. okay. i'm breathing again. well, sorta breathing because i've somehow caught a little cold & so i'm sniffling as i write this & appear rather pathetic with my hankerchief poised to rescue the webworld's communal keyboard from any potential nose explosions. my sneezes still sound like haikus would recognize them in a heartbeat.
to begin again. when i last wrote in february the communal harmony project kids had yet to meet each other & now they are quite close after a month of meetings & are about to spend a whole weekend together learning from each other & sharing their stories & singing & creating a script for their play & dancing garba & probably causing a lot of masti (mischief) & continuing to amaze us with their compassion & friendship & talent. i'm sure i'll have plenty of stories about them after this weekend to share that will be more fresh than the ones i've already collected in my dusty ol' head but it has meant quite a lot to get even a small glimpse into their lives & watch their understanding of each other grow & evolve. the idea of being tolerance rather than preaching tolerance goes well with the gandhian philosopy of being the change you want in the world. & these kids are following that creed well. i know that they will be an incredible example for others to follow in this riot affected & communally sensitive city. through the course of this project i have also discovered how much my activist aesthetic has changed since college. i remember being quite into "message" art & now i almost loathe it. i can't stomach the preachy dogmatic stuff & find it all rather cliche & obvious. when it comes to our project i almost feel like we shouldn't constantly have to mention their hindu-ness or moslem-ness & help reinforce their differences before they even have a chance to expplore their similarities. we've spent a bit of time struggling with how to incorporate a meaningful cultural religious exchange without highlighting religion in & of itself. perhaps that is more my struggle...but i really appreciated touching base with an NGO here called SPRAT- the society for the promotion of rational thinking & i like the way they practice communal harmony rather than preach it. check them out at & please support them financially if you can-they need the funds!
although the communal harmony project has been my primary project at manav sadhna, every day there tends to bring another projects' needs to the forefront & i am somehow automatically directed to help with something different almost every day. in the last month or so i have been kept rather busy...(& some of these things you may know about via the photos i sent out) but i'll just summarize a few of the satellite projects i've been involved with:
* took approximately 300+ kids & aunties on a field trip for kamlesh's birthday (kamlesh is total sweetiepie who runs the community center in the tekra) which involved basically piling the lot of them into three very large trucks & driving down a few highways & then climbing up & into a temple complex very reminiscent of a disneyworld ride & then getting back into the trucks & to another temple & feeding them in circles & then getting back into trucks for a very looong ride home where we ran out of gas (of course) & got stared at by a curious cow. this also included an afternoon of delayed cake cutting & a crazy dust storm caused by little dancing feet. we passed on the movie but apparently the kids really enjoyed three men & a baby dubbed in hindi.
* that same weekend, we took a busload of our blind school students on a field trip to the dakor mandir, the galteswar river, & the ajwa fun world amusement park. you can read nipun's wonderful account of that day here: i was truly touched (literally & figuratively) by the blind childrens' beautiful tactileness. the power of feeling things was continuously expressed with their curious hands. i nearly cried during the ascent of a rollercoaster when luxma, the girl i had spent most of the day with, squeezed my hand tight & said that the only reason she wasn't scared was because i was right there. speechless, i simply squeezed right back. i held a lot of different childrens' hands that day & i could swear that they guided me on a journey instead of the other way around.
* for a couple of busy busy weeks ellie, sunil, i, & whoever else we could rope into translating worked on study abroad scholarship applications with an organization here called vishvet & AFS as with many spur of the moment projects at manav sadhna we had no idear what we were getting into or how long it would actually take to first find appropriate candidates for a whole year at an american high school & then complete a slew of college application style forms (all in english!) that had to be basically translated into gujarati for them & their parents & then back into english for us. there is nothing quite like compiling paperwork in india & we had medical forms to fill out by the tekra doctor, official school transcripts to dig out of cupboards, recommendation letters to solicit, photo collages & letters for the potential host families to create, intense cultural exchange essays to help them write, etc.etc. it was a lot of running around getting things to look just so (oh bless beaurocracy!) & a lot of deep reflection about the merits of sending impressionable kids from here to america. even though we explained that there is only a slight chance of being selected for the scholarship they all showed incredible dedication to the process & ended up with some of the best applications vishvet had ever seen. i just ran into one of the kids today & he has been practicing his english more & more... i really think that their hopes & dreams are strong enough to take them wherever they want to go.
* the balwadis started coming on little field trips to manav sadhna & there have been some absolutely hilarious days of playing with the kids at the ashram. when they come here we wipe a lot of noses, throw a lot of balls, push a lot of miniature cars about, & take them to the playground using the infamous choo-choo train method. i have sent y'alll photos of these pre-school kids before & i really cannot express how damn cute they are any other way. one of the lil ones came dressed up in a police commissioner's outfit & i didn't even need to pretend to get arrested. i couldn't stop smiling at him & his arresting kohl lined eyes.
* on march 12th i participated for the first day of the dandi yatra. for information on what the march intended to be you can go here: for me the march was an interesting mix of indian politics & idealistic globe trotters. i met a few people that had travelled quite a ways to be a part of this march & i really hope that their experience has proved true to their cause(s). a lot of people thought that the march had become hijacked by the congress party (which tushar gandhi is a part of) & even manav sadhna took a more discreet role in participating in the march than was initially intended. still, we had the opportunity to be a part of it & i took advantage of it to gain entry into the all of a sudden heavily guarded ashram grounds to witness sonia gandhi symbolically start the march. the other thing i took advantage of was the walk itself...i saw parts of a'bad that i don't normally see. collected a lot of smiles from strangers & put them in my pocket for days when all i get are stares. we got to see riyazbhai's hood & a beautiful lake that i didn't even know existed & to quote poi dog pondering "you get to know things better when they go by slow" it was nice to celebrate gandhi in his city in that way. *the next day, after the blisters on my feet had a chance to get properly raw, i left for another type of yatra...i joined up with the charity focus folks on their gandhi yatra. i wasn't sure if i wanted to go at first but it ended up to be quite a powerful experience on many levels. we left at 5am & in my sleepy state i didn't even know where we were meeting up but as a stroke of poetic luck it was kabirwad. please see nipun's blog some of his stories about that magical place & i just discovered guri's blog too: she is an amazing photographer & wordsmith too.
so i had no idea what a beautiful place i would end up in. & the first thing i put in my mouth upon arrival was a starfruit. bittersweet. just like me. as we crossed the narmada river the sight that greeted us was the rest of our crew doing a beach cleanup...they had finished two hours of picking up trash & there was still plastic peeking out from beneath the sand so right off the boat we joined in & i found a new revulsion for all things plastic. the gutka packets, water pouches, chip & biscuit packaging, bottles, bagsbagsbags...damn. whatever happened to paper anyway??? the problem with all that we collected was what to do with it all? bury it near a river that occassionally floods or burn it into the already polluted atmosphere? still, we picked as much of the trash up as we could...we wandered up to the temple past a sweet baby water buffalo (nicknamed dingli) & a few monkeys & made friends with the baraf gola vendors & chai shop owners & sugar cane juice dealers... they were surprised when we asked for their dustbins & even more surprised when we used them. in typical ish treehugger style, i headed straight for the banyan trees & ami, anjali & i spent some quality time cleaning up around their roots. afterwards we spent some quality time cleaning up our roots by taking a mudbath in the narmada. there is a reason rivers are sacred. after a day there we walked to another village through the fields...stopped due to the screams of a little girl named rinku who was simply the most adorable creature & who the doctor later told me had a severe case of pyoderma on her legs. after maria & anjali cleaned her wounds it was decided that we should take her to the hospital that day & so off maria & i went in the car with her & her family & as many other sick people we could find & fit into the van to the sewa rural hospital close to the village hospital was more efficient than the train station. i was duly impressed. the doctors there had them diagnosed & prescribed & out within hours. & they didn't pay a dime. the medicine might be their only expense if they return but essentially i think they were exposed to the fact that health care is not out of their range of possibilities & i really hope that they will continue to use the hospital before any of their ailments get beyond help. i really hope that rinku's skin stays healed. & that the family learns prevention so that it doesn't infect all of them again. most of the time we spent in the village was spent connecting with the people & i hope imparting some sanitation values. i spent some quality time with one little girl picking up plastic all morning & then later when we were doing a kid's bathing session at the well she finally allowed me to wash her up...even brush her hair! i have soo many stories from just a few days there but now i need to stop. i haven't even touched upon how wonderful it has been to see family in a'bad & mumbai, i've heard stories about my mom as a young woman & taht her nickname was beda-or egg in urdu. so fitting for her. i've seen all the artificial flower shops that my fam has in a'bad, my kaka's health is good, my masaji was happy that i finally visited, my mumma's fabulous early birthday party at the bungla, seeing my mom & sister & ben was surreal & actually almost made me forget i was in india, my mamu was true to form & teased me incessantly the whole time we were on a family holiday to matheran. at least he didn't tease my horse...i nearly fell off during a gallop nonetheless! my cousins introduced us to some fabulous ice cream & i had a ritzy night out with anthony & melanie & kevin & saw a whole other side of mumbai...can't wait to go back & explore there some more.needless to say there is much more to say about my time here...the celebrations of sivaratri & holi were incredible to be a part of this time around...i had a lot of memories from 8 years ago to lay to rest & it was an intense time of recollection & reflection. this trip to india has been soo different from the others. i'm not sure when to end it. this week i need to decide whether or not to extend my visa or hop out of the country for a spell... my six months are coming to an end. if y'all have any advice you wanna send my way please do. i'm at a loss really. soo many weddings (congrats davey & shaama!) & birthdays & baby's first steps/words & art openings & house warmings that i've missed that i may still miss & all of that makes me wanna run home.
yet i'm not quite sure yet what else i'm coming back to.
i'll sleep on that tonight.
ciao ish