A Year in India

Word Cloud
July 29, 2009, 7:35 am
Filed under: Day to Day | Tags: , ,

Since coming back to the US on June 25, I’ve been meaning to write a few wrap-up entries to close out my year in India. As this blog became an unexpectedly central part of my fellowship experience, I thought it fitting to create a word cloud built from all of its text. I’m hoping a few other final India posts will follow. For now:

Word Cloud


June 18, 2009, 1:15 pm
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Thanks to Loren, my 25th included Pillsbury cupcakes, frosting, and sprinkles all the way from the US! My favorite part of (American) birthdays right here in India.


Premature Nostalgia
June 17, 2009, 11:17 pm
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As my fellowship nears its end, I’ve started appreciating the everyday moments that have come to characterize my time in India. A few of these moments stood out when Chandan (my coworker and close friend) and I traveled to Hyderabad last week to run a teacher training workshop. The following list may seem random and mundane, but that’s half the reason I want to capture it in words.

Hyderabad waterfront

Hyderabad waterfront

1. Sitting for hours at Hyderabad’s Western-ish waterfront food court talking, taking silly photos, and eating “American” masala corn.

2. Getting hysterical with C in the midst of his workshop presentation. “Digital Equalizer is AIF’s initiative that allows for projects like, um, Respiration through Power Point!” Ha.

3. Driving, driving, driving through Hyderabad’s hot, crowded streets. An hour from the airport to the hotel. An hour from the hotel to a museum that was, in the end, closed. An hour back to the hotel. An hour + (in circles) to dinner. Etc, etc.

4. Mutual bliss over returning to our city of heart.

The Art of Giving
May 28, 2009, 1:17 pm
Filed under: Development | Tags:

Some interesting studies find that philanthropic donors contribute more when shown a single image of a starving child rather than a photo of multiple in-need children or a photo accompanied by text:

“In one experiment, researchers found that information about the scope of a crisis may dilute the emotional impact of an image of a single victim. Subjects in the experiment were shown a photograph of Rokia, a 7-year-old girl from Mali who was facing starvation.

A second group was shown the same image along with information about the scale of poverty in Africa. The image of Rokia, without the accompanying statistics, won the charity more money.

“It really puts fund raisers in a fix,” said George Loewenstein, an economics and psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University and one of three researchers who conducted the study. “They want to appeal to the mind and the heart. But if they do, there’s a real risk of undermining the heart.”

In another study, Paul Slovic, a psychology professor at the University of Oregon, found that people were more sympathetic to a single starving child than they were to two children facing the same plight.”

-“New Research Sheds Light on What Works in Charitable Appeals,” by Caroline Preston, The Chronicle Of Philanthropy

These studies show just how powerful individual stories can be, a concept I often think about when writing, filming, and sharing anecdotes about my time in India.

May 22, 2009, 1:59 pm
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Sight + sound from my window last night:

Word of Mouth
May 21, 2009, 11:30 am
Filed under: Culture | Tags: ,

I constantly find that communication methods are different in India than they are in the US. In India, information is exchanged by word of mouth much more so than in the US. This may have to do with illiteracy, a lack of technology and infrastructure, and a large percentage of the population living in isolated, rural settings.

A few examples to back up my claim:

1. My dad’s uncle lived and worked in rural Bihar on a farm with no running water or electricity. Every time he heard a piece of information – whether news, gossip, fact, or story – he confirmed its validity by checking in with four or five others. He shaped his version of the truth around strength in numbers.

2. Indians rarely find their way around a city using maps or written directions. The common practice is to leave home with a vague idea of destination (street numbers mean little in India; landmarks, instead, guide us). Along the way, Indians will ask strangers – oftentimes auto rickshaw drivers who know the city well – how to get where they’re going.

3. India is a country of languages. It has 18 official languages divided across regions. Hundreds of other local languages and dialects are also spoken. Communication, then, is often based on knowing several languages. Latha, the woman who cleans my apartment and is teaching me how to cook, does not know how to read or write, yet she speaks seven different languages. For her, speaking so many languages is more practical than literacy.

Coming from a culture largely dependent on the written word, it has been at times refreshing and at times frustrating to learn how to live in a country where word of mouth dominates communication.

Indian Elections
May 19, 2009, 3:07 pm
Filed under: Elections '09 | Tags: , , ,

Congress Party logo

India’s left-of-center Congress Party won a solid election victory this past weekend. The news is exciting – and surprising – for a few reasons.

1. Indian elections have a history of anti-incumbency, meaning that with each election, a new party is voted into power. This year, for the first time in over 40 years, Congress was re-elected. What changed? India’s economy remained resilient despite today’s global climate. (The growth rate hovers around 6%.) India’s voters realized that even in a time of crisis, the current government was doing something right. For example, agriculture yields were high this year. Those working in agriculture comprise the bulk of India’s voters, so their satisfaction with the status-quo government helped Congress.

2. Congress is a secular, non caste-based party. Its opposition, the Bharatiya Jananta Party, pushed its Hindu nationalist agenda forcefully during election campaigning. Voter preference for Congress’s less extremist messages is hopeful for a more stable Indian society, particularly during a time when issues as delicate as Pakistan and Sri Lanka are at the forefront.

3. The re-election of Manmohan Singh as India’s prime minister marks a shift in the nature of politics in India. A startling number of Indian politicians are uneducated, have criminal records, and landed their government positions through corrupt means. Manmohan Singh, on the other hand, is educated with a strong background in economics. Before serving as India’s finance minister and subsequently prime minister, he worked at the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations. His pro-business, pro-reform mindset indicates a progressive perspective, one that can direct India from its “old” politics towards redevelopment, globalization, and a new face for Indian government.