Posted tagged ‘India’

Reaching for higher education in outback, India

January 27, 2012

Mehera and Robin w/diploma and honors transcript


HR Director, Robin, MP and Jai

Originally posted December 16, 2011

I have relocated to a home of a Westerner in the village in Arangaon, just next to the village I was in previously. Among the benefits of the move are relatively dependable electricity, water and Internet access.

I am getting enculturated (one of my primary goals for this month) and I am being well-trained in what Westerners must not eat or drink, how to make sure food and drink are safe or how to make them safe and a myriad of other precautions that Westerners must adhere to in order to remain well in India. Meanwhile, just around the bend, an entire family in this village of dalits/ untouchables (where I am living) was attacked by some virus as yet unidentified; one of the children died and all of the rest are critical. Scary.

Most of Arangaon’s villagers are dalits (“untouchables”.) I am becoming friends with a few families. Suffice it to say that they are no different than anyone else except that they were born into a dirt-poor and illiterate class and most of them are working hard to just put food on the table. My new housemate, Robin, and I are working with two of the young people, both of whom are bright, hard-working and dedicated to bettering their lot in life. With much tutoring from Robin, Mehera, in her mid-twenties, just graduated from a certificate program in Office Technology. Now employable as something other than a maid for Robin, Mehera plans to move to the city – Pune (formerly Poona) – about four hours away. Jai, a man of about 30, very much wants to go to the chiropractic school at Life University in Marietta, GA, near Atlanta. Jai currently works in a call center for Tata, the largest auto maker in India. Jai attended a week-long “chiropractic camp” near Mumbai (Bombay) presented by Life U. alumni. He was so impressed by all of the good that this group of chiropractors was able to do for hundreds of locals that he decided this was to be his profession.

Robin is a clinical social worker. With the help of Robin her husband, Jim, the latter young one, Jai, has been offered a 50% scholarship by Life U. Robin’s husband is an alumnus of Life Chiropractic. Robin says – somewhat seriously – that if they were to adopt Jai he would be entitled to a 100% free ride at Life U. But Robin and husband are not ready to go that far. So Jai still needs the other half plus international airfare. Jai will stay with us this weekend and we will be working with him for most of this weekend. Robin’s focus will be on a number of financial aid possibilities she has identified; I will be focusing on Fulbright and Rotary International academic exchanges.

In a couple of weeks, Robin and I, Jai, and a local chiropractor who has taken an interest in Jai, will all make a four-hour trek to Tata’s International Corporate Headquarters in Pune, to make a presentation to the HR director about the benefits of an employee wellness program (unheard of in India.) Our goal is to convince them to invest in Jai’s education, with an agreement that he will come back to Tata to create and develop an employee wellness program. (Many chiropractors are involved in employee wellness programs.) Robin has done the research on the benefits of employee wellness programs. We have gotten this close to the top of the corporation because Jai has received so many awards for the quality of his work in the call center that the guys at the top know him and think highly of him. This clearly could be much bigger than Jai becoming a chiropractor (in itself a good thing) perhaps even benefitting employees of other corporations all over India – all of big business in India pays attention to what Tata does. A wellness program that pays off at the bottom line for Tata is very likely to be emulated elsewhere in India.

As you may gather, working with and for Jai has become an exciting project for even more reasons than: I like Jai, I want him to succeed and I see the greater potential in helping him. What I also see is that I need not and should not limit my vision of how I can make a difference in India to only restorative justice or only related to law and alternative dispute resolution. Working with Jai has nothing to do with those – it is about economic justice and increasing access to education and heath care. Well worth my time and energy. In the meanwhile, I’ve been invited to deliver a restorative justice workshop at the law school at nearby University of Ahmednagar. Of course I said I’d be delighted. And I will be.



Everyone I’ve met has been just wonderful…

January 27, 2012

Originally posted December 6, 2012

Please forgive me for being out of touch for so long. There are at least a thousand reasons – I won’t bore you with any of them.

I got into Mumbai (Bombay) something after midnight, got out of the Mumbai airport something after 2:30 am (my driver was there waiting for me, notwithstanding three changes of flights and the 2 1/2 hours in the airport. Yes there is a God! I caught about 4 hours sleep at a motel an hour from the airport and I’m now on the road to Ahmednagar, State of Maharashstra, (West Central India) where I will spend most of December.

I flew from Charlotte, North Carolina to Munich and then Munich to Mumbai. On the first flight most of the passengers appeared to be Americans. On the second flight I became a minority. It seemed that most people were either Indian or German.

So now, about wonderful and interesting people… first the Lufthansa flight crew. It was clear that they were all about serving people, seeing to our comfort and caring for us in any way that they could. There was so much that I appreciated about the way I was taken care of (and in the cheap seats!) I hate to say it but I’ve never had caring service anything like this on a U.S. airline.

The first person I met on the plane was a 25 year-old Indian woman. She was returning from the U.S. after 3 months of working there for a company that’s based in India and in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She is a mechanical engineer. When I asked her what she liked best about her time in the U.S., she said, “the driving.” I couldn’t begin to understand what that meant when she said it. More about driving later. I will call this woman Sani – not her real name. We sat together and we talked for almost all of the two flights. It was amazing how this engaging conversation made the time fly! I asked Sani at least a thousand questions. She was very open and told me much about her life and life in India generally. Well-educated, well-spoken, fluent and articulate in English, well-traveled, dressed stylishly in Western style, Sani appears to be the model of the contemporary Indian woman. She was raised in a well-to-do, conservative family. And the conservative part now presents her with an age-old conundrum. She wants to marry her boyfriend of some years and her parents want to “arrange” a marriage for her. She loves her boyfriend very much, but marrying him is likely estrange her from her entire family, with whom she is very close. She doesn’t know what she will do. Meeting Sani was in many ways my pre-India cultural consciousness-raising. And I will remember her as my first Indian friend on my trip to India. She will return to work in NC for three months again about a year from now. We plan to stay in contact in India and later in the U.S.

On the flight from Munich I met a strikingly handsome fifty-something German man (I’ll call him George because he reminded me of George Clooney) who teaches German and Spanish in many countries. On this trip he will be teaching in India, Ethiopia and Algeria. Telling me how much he loves his work, George and I connected as teachers and through our mutual love for the Spanish language. He indulged me by allowing me to talk with him in Spanish – with his assistance. Among other things I talked with him about my regrets that I have not disciplined myself to continue consistent and serious study of Spanish over the years, notwithstanding my many restorative justice trips to South America and Mexico. I was fluent in Spanish in my twenties and I regain much of my command of the language on my longer trips. Then I lose it after months or years not using it in the U.S. George and I also plan to stay in contact.

On the same flight I met two rather charismatic young Germans who work for Bank of America in Munich. Their perspectives on the banking crash are very different than what I’ve read in the mainstream or alternative US press or media such as The Guardian in the UK. According to these two men, the banking crash was caused by failures in technical systems – it had nothing to do with greedy and corrupt bankers and investors. They believe all of that to be a cover-up to protect the high-tech, mostly American corporations whose systems failed the financial history. It struck me as akin to Holocaust denial – in Germany.

I’ve been speaking this letter into the voice recorder on my iPhone as my shuttle driver takes me to my destination. The driving here (by my US standards) is absolutely insane. I’ve been told that foreigners in India should never drive – they should always have a local driver. Now I can see why. I love my driver, Michael. He is keeping me alive. There do not appear to be any rules of the road, posted or otherwise. No posted speed limits, few signs to direct traffic and no courtesies between drivers, as far as I can tell. There appear to be only goals – get there as quickly as you can – alive and without having a collision. Worthy goals. Actually there is one thing everyone seems to agree on – that is driving on the left side of the road. Large trucks, small cars, motorcycles, scooters, pedestrians and animals all compete for right of way and seldom give way to another. Oh yes, there does seem to be an unmarked HOV lane on the leftmost side of the left lane, reserved for motorcycles and scooters carrying three or more people! A couple of on-the-road amusements – I saw two billboards advertising companies called “Sham Marketing” and “Shlock Publicity.” Truth in advertising?

The air pollution is absolutely unfathomable, unbelievable unless you understand a few statistics about the population density. The population of India is 1.2 billion, but it’s difficult to understand what that really means. Here it is: the population density of the U.S. is one person per square kilometer. (A square kilometer is about one-third of a square mile.) The population density of China is 4 people per square kilometer. The population density of India is 30 people per square kilometer. I’m going to need some time to let that sink in.

Love to all,

(Yeah I know, what’s with Martin?) During all of the years I was working in Latin America lots of people wanted to call me Mart′in – they just couldn’t quite get Marty. I got as far as letting them call me Mart′in without correcting them. I actually liked the sound of it, but I wasn’t bold enough to take it on at that time, tempted as I was. Now in India, Martin is very British and familiar to Indians. It sounds more dignified than Marty and more appropriate to an elder. And what the hell – it’s the name my parents gave me. It’s on my driver’s license and my passport. I’m claiming it. Please call me Martin.