A Year in India


Why I Miss India
December 21, 2008, 7:29 am
Filed under: Day to Day | Tags: , ,

After arriving in Chicago for the holidays, I got the following email from my coworker, Chandan.  A perfect reflection of my Bengaluru experience thus far:

“Hey Meer,

It’s been hard reminding and stopping myself from calling you today. I don’t know what would I be after June 09. 

Anyway today I began the Samvada work with a workshop and believe me IT WAS AMAZING AND THE BEST EVER!!!!

Seriously……… this group is actually a bunch of college girls of a corporation composite college. basically studying their 11th & 12th grades. A corporation college is maintained by the city corporation and not the regular Govt education department, but practically perhaps there’s not much difference. 

Anyway coming to the meat of my story, the girls were super vibrant and everyone of them was jumping up on her seat to be heard! A rare sight, isn’t it? They were just jumping… and then whenever I picked up someone to talk, there would be zero hesitation…absolutely. And I ran them through these statements on agree-disagree and they just loved expressing, arguing and even fighting! It was an amazing experience. And it was another day that I think I was hilarious. They were just laughing their stomach out for me and my little giggle-provokers. They loved me. I loved them. It was super atmosphere.

And the Samvada educator also liked the way it all went. And then I took your camera and began shooting. And my God! What a camera that is! The shots are so stable even without a tripod! Really.. am not kidding. Somehow the very weight of it is an advantage, since it doesn’t move that easily around. I got some great footage.. super close-ups and lovely discussions… Will show you when you are back. 

And then awwwwwwww I am missing you. Come back soon. And get ready to stay for another year.. … 😀 But seriously, I am missing you a lot. Hope you had a safe trip. Enjoy your holidays. I will keep you updated about every day. Am planning with my cousins to go around the country for a week or so.

Let me know what’s going on there. Say hi to uncle and aunty and to Priya too. 

-C”

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On the News
December 15, 2008, 9:54 am
Filed under: Uncategorized, Video | Tags: ,

NDTV, a major Indian news channel, featured the Digital Equalizer (DE) program in a recent spot!  The footage was shot at Bal Mela, a festival celebrating DE.



Camera!
December 10, 2008, 8:46 pm
Filed under: Day to Day | Tags: , ,

When my parents visited last month, they brought me my beloved video camera, which I broke out today with youth at a Bal Mela, a school festival celebrating the Digital Equalizer technology program.  Fun fun fun to be back behind the camera, especially with so many curious kids at my side.

On another note, as we drove home from Bal Mela, I had a real loving-India moment.  I was packed into a car with four coworkers who were all joking around in Kannada (Karnataka’s local language).  Despite the language barrier, something about their laughter was casual, genuine, and incredibly comforting.  In the midst of it all, a Kannada film song came on, and without a second’s hesitation, as if on cue, all four of them started singing along, at once connected and in their own worlds.  As I looked out the window at rural Bangalore passing me by, I realized that I’m really going to miss India during my upcoming trip back to Chicago for the holidays.



Perspective
December 9, 2008, 8:22 pm
Filed under: Mumbai | Tags: , ,

My coworker and close friend, Chandan, had a unique perspective on the Mumbai attacks.  Most have been looking at the situation and placing blame on Indian politicians, “the system,” and the Indian government’s culture of corruption.  These forces, to them, are behind India’s poor security and intelligence; these forces explain the haphazard fashion in which the media is portraying the incident; these forces fuel government officials to react to the attacks in unsettling ways.

Chandan took a more ground-level approach and laid some blame on Indian citizens themselves.  He gave me one simple, concrete example.  Why, he asked, does he encourage police force corruption by paying off traffic cops (a common practice here in India) every time he gets a driving ticket?  If the Indian people are disheartened by their government’s corruption, shouldn’t they do whatever they can – even in small ways – to curb it?  Since the attacks, Chandan has decided to stop bribing policemen and instead pay his traffic tickets legally.  Individual responsibility at its best.



Mumbai Conversation
December 7, 2008, 1:23 pm
Filed under: Mumbai | Tags: , ,

Yesterday, my dad and I had a long conversation about how India and the US should react to the Mumbai attacks.  I was telling him that there has been a lot of rash talk from Indians here about attacking Pakistan with help from the US.  My dad took a different approach, citing the problems that arise when the US tries to impose its ways on cultures it doesn’t understand.  Given his professional background, my dad looks at this issue from an international business perspective.  He uses his cross-cultural business experience to shape his ideas on foreign policy models.  For context, take a look at Geert Hofstede’s research on international business strategy and culture.

Based on Hofstede’s research, my dad used US foreign policy in the Middle East as an example during our conversation.  Invasion and war, he explained, is not always the smartest long-term option.  War can draw attention to and provide quick fixes for certain situations, but it often cannot solve deeper, cultural conflicts.  If peacekeepers are to get to the root of these conflicts, they have to be able to understand them.  The US mindset is so different than the Middle Eastern mindset that it’s virtually impossible for this understanding to exist.  Therefore, a middleman is necessary.  For example, a better idea than sending US troops to Iraq might have been creating a Middle Eastern peacekeeping force supported in part by US funds.  The force would be made up of countries that understand Middle Eastern culture – countries that are in close proximity to one another and have large Muslim populations themselves.  With the right monetary support, the force would create effective peacekeeping strategies because its perspective would be closer to the Iraqi mindset than the American perspective could ever hope to be.

Maybe this approach could work in India and Pakistan as well.  That is, the US could be involved in providing funds to enable India and Pakistan to create their own ground-level, culturally specific ways of peacekeeping and negotiating in order to handle terrorism and Hindu-Muslim conflicts.   A tall order, I realize, but something to consider.



Mumbai
December 5, 2008, 11:45 am
Filed under: Mumbai | Tags: ,

This past week has been clouded by the recent Mumbai attacks.  While immediate concerns fall to India’s deep Hindu-Muslim conflict and the serious lack of security during the attacks, I also have to wonder what effect the situation is having on people’s mindsets: their perspectives, their psyches, the way they approach their day-to-day lives.  Below, one of my Muslim students with a picture he drew of terrorists training in the mountains of Pakistan:

Art

To clarify, this student explained to me that his drawing was not meant to glorify the terrorists, but instead to reflect on their existence and role in his world. Pretty sad that this issue is weighing on such young kids’ minds today.

A big thank you to everyone who checked in with me during the last few days; your thoughts are much appreciated.



Heartwarming
December 3, 2008, 2:58 pm
Filed under: In the Field | Tags: ,

Last week, while working with youth at a high school in rural Bangalore, I noticed two boys peeking into our classroom window.  I asked one of the teachers who the boys were.  He explained that they were students who had been absent from school that morning.  During lunchtime, a few of their friends went to their village and told them that there was an Adobe Youth Voices session going on at school.  Hearing that, the boys were motivated to come join.

Exciting & rewarding to see our project having such an effect on the kids.