Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Strength of the Human Spirit

Grieving with a shocking death in the family, the last few days have been quiet and somber. Indian traditions for post-death ceremonies vary vastly depending upon religion, region, and caste. Basically we held a two hour ‘besna’ (bes means sit) for everyone that knew Akash (younger cousin, 20 years old) to come spend time together and pay respects to the family. During the ceremony, there was traditional music performed as well as prayers lead. Other than that, we have been staying in the home and spending time with family/friends who visit.

Akash was a very lively guy who was passionate about cars, food, and music. This was my first time building a relationship with him and after a few weeks I had begun to treat him as a little brother. He was constantly out with friends after dinner and created many schemes to get out of classwork- reminded me of my high school days. I was consistently amused and secretly a fan of the hip-hop he’d have playing in the car and will always remember his carefree attitude and loving personality.

This morning was the first time we ventured out of the house. We chose to drive to a lake (Thol Lake) about 40 km away from the city. The lake is also a bird sanctuary and we came to watch the sunrise. Waking up before dawn was difficult, but the views were peaceful and getting out of the house was a good break. There is no quick solution to a tragedy like this but starting to understand the strength of the human spirit and spending time writing, reading, and connecting with family. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Miracle of a Minute

After finishing chopping veggies for lunch, I was sitting and responding to emails while the aunties completed the actual cooking (volunteers help with prep, but we are rarely allowed to actually cook- most likely because we are too slow lol). Anyways, I was sitting in the large room before the kitchen. One side of the room opens to a computer lab, with floor-to-ceiling clear plastic walls, another door opens to the store of traditional clothing created by women in the community (another blog entry in itself).

Then, through the front door, a man in a bright orange pagri (similar to a turban) walks into the room holding a musical instrument I’ve never seen before. I was quickly told it was called a ‘ravanahatha’ and that it was a traditional instrument from Rajasthan with a sound similar to a violin. 

Within a minute of the man walking into the room a staff member grabbed a dhol and a jam session of sorts began. Various other instruments were introduced and before we knew it there was an amazing energy in the room and an ordinary minute was transformed into something unforgettable.

I’ve included a video and picture below. The video is of the last song he shared with us- during the song before a volunteer graciously placed a plate for appreciative notes. I want to point that out since he selflessly shared music without every mentioning the desire of payment. Maybe this is another example of gift-economy?

It’s hard to capture this experience in words, but it was amazing and random and SO India.


Preface: Dosti means friendship in Hindi.

The disparity in quality regarding Indian education is drastic. Municipal schools (only free until 8th standard) are over-capacity and under-served. There have been moves recently to improve the situation (Right to Education Act), but sheer volume makes this a difficult situation. On the other hand, private schools (which are attended by all that can afford it) are generally creative environments with a range of skills taught, including sports, drama, art, music, etc.

India, as a country, is a vast and diverse community. However, it is left divided due the social pressures related to wealth. For example, it is quite likely that a child attending private-school is not aware of the hardships another child his age perseveres through on a daily basis; hardships like malnutrition, inadequate education, and unhygienic housing. Likewise, less-fortunate children are unlikely to understand that importance of discipline and education as a foundation for their lives.

Tuesday, November 6th, was the first session of a program called Dosti. I spoke about this program in an earlier post- the idea is to create relationships between groups of children that would normally not interact. The event was facilitated through buddy groups between one student attending municipal school and one attending a local private-school. The pairs completed various activities to help them get-to-know each other.  They created nametags and a group painting, as well as completed a trust obstacle course and learned about Gandhiji together.

We debriefed with both groups of children afterwards and asked them what they learned through the day. The children attending private schools said they felt the other students were nicer to each other (specially, “treat each other as family”) and didn’t have cliques like they had in their school. The municipal school children mentioned the high level of discipline and respect the other students have and how well-spoken they are.

All in all, the day was a success in that the seed of friendship was planted. I am excited to plan another installment and to assist in the creation of new friendships built on the foundation of understanding and love.

Please enjoy the collage I created below of the days events.