Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 6, No. 1, 2007
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Robert J. Lewis
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Leon Wieseltier
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward



Sunday, from December 24th, 2006

There is so much in India that is beautiful, and so much that is not, such as in any country. I realise I may sound snotty and uppity about the pollution and other unacceptable aspects of India, but I don't mind if I sound like that. The bottom line, for me, is that the health of India is compromised severely, and I do not wish to see India die a slow painful death. I am sure that won't happen, but I am wondering whether the rescue will have happen in the eleventh hour, after much pain and suffering has already happened needlessly. Today on the way to the Main Ghat, to have Bashu's head shaved, I suddenly envisioned how painful it must be for a cow to die on the street, as a plastic bag gets clogged in its intestines. Would anyone notice? Would anyone see the cow's suffering? I had heard these things happen and in Delhi some people do emergency surgery on cows.

On the way back from the ghats . . . unbelievably, I saw a cow lying in its death throes on a pile of garbage at the very spot that I had envisioned this. I am not given to clairvoyance, so I was startled. The cow's eyes were rolling, its head was thrusting this way and that, and it was covered in thousands of flies, an unusually high number. I did not rescue it. I moved on, and I saw beautiful children playing a hundred meters further on. Both the cow and the children are reality and both existed. But I choose to describe the cow, in its death throes, as the cliché of beautiful Indian children has been done over and over and over again. I will no longer take photos of beautiful children only.

Friday, December 8, 2006: Ma Ganga

In the meantime, we are in Varanasi since December 1st, taking in this small dusty town on the banks of the river Ganges. I am looking for the magic that it promises, which indeed I did see when I last came in 1983. It's hard for me to see it.Varanasi - ghat I have seen loads of army troops, stationed to keep the Hindus and Moslems from fighting over a spot that both feel are holy to them. The ubiquitous urine, garbage, plastic, cows, dogs, beggars, more holy men, red pan juice, is hard to ignore. The Ganges, also known as a pesticide soup by environmentalists, is supposed to clean itself up miraculously from whatever you put into it. And indeed, tests were done many years ago that indicated that it did contain a very efficient bacteria that seemed to digest biological waste very efficiently. However, that did not include the toxic waste of hundreds of large factories upstream who dump everything into the river.

"From the plains to the sea, pharmaceutical companies, electronics plants, textile and paper industries, tanneries, fertilizer manufacturers and oil refineries discharge effluent into the river."

The huge increase in population has tested its miraculous abilities sorely. It's always been known as Ma Ganga. So I ask myself, how much can mother take? As a mother, I can clean up, and I did, constantly it seemed, after my little kids. But somewhere in their growing years, I taught them to clean up themselves. In a household where the kids grow up, and bring in friends, is it reasonable and respectful to expect Mother to clean it all up? How indeed do we treat a mother? If indeed a mother is a person who is expected to work till she drops dead unquestioningly, then it makes sense to treat Ma Ganga like a bottomless garbage bin.

I see her as a mother who needs a very big break, a chance to recuperate, and some respect. She is beautiful either way, but the devotional love has more meaning when the relationship is based on respect, and not just an unseeing adulation.

Saturday, November 25, 2006: The Road to Kalakankar

As we walked across the border into India, the roads instantly become more clogged, dirty and populated. Diesel, dust, garbage and humans multiplied by a factor of three. Incredible India, as the tourist posters proclaimed. After much haggling we got a car to Gorakhpur, the nearest train station. It was the same price as getting a bus, and usually faster. However, a bridge had collapsed somewhere, so the driver had to take a detour. This detour was 3 hours of winding village road, on land, dusty and narrow, with a village every 500 meters or so, consisting of 10 houses or so. The driver drove with Hindi film music whining the whole way, but we all go to liking it after a while. The tape was quite old, so I think it's something I was vaguely familiar with from the eighties. And anyway, half the time, he had his hand on the horn, chasing down little children, bullocks, dogs, old people, horse drawn carts. Everyone must get out of the way. It is breathtakingly scary for me to be a passenger in a taxi, city or countryside. I can't quite get used to it.

We saw endless fields, meticulously ploughed and irrigated, thousands of peasants bent over their back breaking labour, and walking the small paths between the fields going to and from their homes and villages. It was clean and peaceful, except for our noisy car. People stared at us and I was quite embarrassed to barge through their life in such a discourteous manner.

We finally arrived in Gorakhpur, at the train station, and after paying a heavily solicited tip to the driver, we went to find railway tickets, an overnight trip to Allahabad. As usual, I got indignant about something. A couple of blonde tourists, two young women, asked for the cheapest fare to Kolkata of the ticket seller in the next booth. The ticket seller demanded to know why they needed the cheapest tickets. They had to practically beg. Having a guidebook with them, they knew what class was available to them. I told the seller in my wicket that this was outrageous; that his buddy had no right to ask this. I told him that just because they were blonde was no reason to assume that they had lots of money. They were in fact from Poland, as I had chatted with them before. I told him so. He looked a bit sheepish, but did tell his colleague. I further added in my broken Hindi, but taking advantage of my matronly grey hair to pull some rank, that they had a lot of nerve, as so many Western people come to India and give generously of their time to volunteer here. How dare they treat them so arrogantly?

The overnight train ride was fine. We were in sleeper class AC, which means air conditioned. We didn't need AC but that was the only thing available. The real advantage is that it includes bedding and a sealed unit, so you don't get the endless dust and stream of food sellers and beggars that you get in non-AC.

In Allahabad, it took us 4 hours to find an ATM that worked, and a driver willing to go to Kalakankar for a reasonable price. Allahabad has much to offer if you have friends and if you seek out the holy places, and on grand mela days, but this day it was just another crowded, dirty, noisy, polluted city in North India.

And then to Kalakankar.

Monday, November 20, 2006: Between the Lines

There is hope. I may not have had a chance to blog the good, and perhaps focussed only on the bad and the ugly. But there is much good and much hope. And many people have given of their time and resources generously to us, such as Rana Bose in Kolkata with his beautiful flat at our disposal and Ashok Singh with his ancestral home in the village of Kalakankar, where we were treated like royalty. I will elaborate as soon as I have more leisurely internet time.

All the positive practices of compassion, gratitude and kindness, such as thinking of three things every day to be grateful for are more imperative in India. I am challenged to remember these things here, when these are much easier to practice at home when I am surrounded by graceful forests, clean communities and mindful friends.

I have not been compassionate or grateful or kind on many occasions. It was not done out of malice, but rather as a strong reaction. I felt entitled to my reaction, and I still do. It is alright to feel disappointed when someone you love dearly, such as a father or mother whom you have not seen for 23 years, has progressed from a mild smoking and drinking habit to one that is so excessive that it is killing them with emphysema and cirrhosis. It is possible to love that parent and still be angry and disappointed. One is always a child in that respect, fearful of losing a loved one and angry about the downhill turn.

I don't have a right to expect anything of India. India is India and owes me nothing. It has a right to go to hell in hand basket. But it is the country in which I spent my formative years, and I have an emotional bond which runs deep and brings tears to my eyes. I heard recently that enlightenment was not about seeing the light (as a kind of "light) but rather accepting things the way they are. And that is why it is so difficult. "Accept India the way it is". Acceptance is not apathy, although frequently so confused. Apathy is about doing nothing about it and not caring, whereas acceptance is a kind of loving understanding of the situation. Acceptance has room for doing something about it too. I don't even know that I have accepted India as it is yet on this trip. And I am not going to be hard on myself about it. I will let myself feel what I feel, not trying to contrive my feelings to go one way or the other. And I am trying to let go of my more negative feelings . . . in that, I feel them but am trying to not to invest in them so I don't have to wear them like a burden.

I too want to imagine and support the idea of a healed homeland. I too want to piggyback on the multitude of good deeds and fine people I have met here who are working to make positive change. To them I take my hat of . . . and make my obeisances.

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