Colleen's thoughts on writing, directing and coaching, and her unique take on life itself!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Farewell, India

We leave India today.
The long drive from the Himalayas back to Delhi, arriving just in time to finish packing for an early morning flight and we’re on our way home.
This has been a whirlwind, profound adventure for Michael and me.
Michael is very well traveled and says this is the most fun he’s ever had on a trip. And the most tiring.
I’m reasonably well traveled and have learned more, seen more, experienced more, worked more, stayed in more extremely diverse billets and spent more time on the road here in India than I have in any other country – including places I’ve visited for work.
I came with a particular mission to work with the students, faculty and staff at the Rai Foundation School for Girls – a school financially supported exclusively by the Rai Foundation for girls from indigent circumstances from around the world (20 countries) to help them create better, more modern lives for them and their future families.
I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with the place and the people – but fall in love I did.
So I spent lots more time there than I – or they – expected. But what worthwhile work with such worthwhile people for such a worthwhile cause.
Then out of the blue I was asked to speak at one of the most important holidays on the Indian calendar – New Republic Day. It’s only one of three national holidays Indians celebrate – January 26th, the day on which the constitution of the new democracy, India, a newly free country to be governed by the rule of law, was signed in 1950.
I was honored, deeply moved and thrilled to be asked to participate.
Along the way I got very sick.
I prepared for every health precaution except one I suffered many years ago – sinus infections. Air pollution and dirt stirred up from massive infrastructure construction just about everywhere we traveled lingers in the air, and because I did not prepare for it, it got me, and turned into bronchitis.
I pushed through it, however, trying to put in some recovery effort.
Still, with so much to do, sights to see, things to photograph, stuff to read, people to meet, Indian radio (music of every description) and TV (one satellite service offers more than 1,000 channels!), it’s hard to take real “down time.”
India is a *huge* nation. With a population of 1.1 billion people. So much to do, so much to see, so little time. Believe me, with 1.1 billion people for a prospective audience, when you have a hit movie, TV show or recording in India – you have a HIT!
The most popular film ever in India is "Three Idiots," a slam of the Indian education system that now puts more emphasis on passing tests than learning and inspiring a generation to use their ingenuity to create a better world.
Its inclusion of so many races, religions, political parties, cultural backgrounds and more has amazed constitutional experts from the getgo, but somehow, India is a place that appears to work more than it doesn’t.
In some areas primitive ideas and superstitions rule; in others, the nation is a world leader.
In every case, India is fascinating.
Michael took a picture that, I believe, represents India’s mindset. Two young men were hired to dig a hole. Despite a lingering beggar population, most Indians work very, very hard. They must because it’s a tough life for the vast majority of people who live here. And Indians are known for their ingenuity.
Back to the two young men.
To get the hole dug faster, they rigged a rope to the neck of a shovel. One would use the shovel to dig, the other would pull the rope to make digging easier for the shoveler by easing the full weight of the dirt being dug, making the process go so much more quickly than just two guys digging with separate shovels. For every spade full of dirt one scoop would ordinarily be carried by one person, easily three or four were rapidly maneuvered with this contraption.
More, they were obviously good friends having fun.
I’ve written about the easy way drivers share the road with other cars, trucks, tripeds, bicycles, motorcycles, camels, elephants, oxen, buckboards, water buffalo, monkeys, dogs, goats, pigs, horses and more – including those coming in the opposite direction. Top speeds do not normally exceed 40km/hr so it’s not exactly a speedway even on open, clear roads. Again, it is fascinating to see such respect as all share the same road, actually helping one another reach their destinations – again, even those heading in the opposite direction.
That was actually us one night. Singh overshot the exit, so he turned on the flashing lights as we made our way going the opposite direction of the traffic on a major highway and not a soul did anything except make way for us.
Indian TV news has covered the Cairo crisis around the clock since its inception. TV journalists here are aggressive; one newer station also does investigative reporting, working to ferret out corruption in Indian government.
India takes its role as a free democracy very seriously; they would prefer that other nations were similarly free, but do not have the foreign policy of interfering with internal conflicts of other nations ruled by dictators or less democratic governments.
In India, there are no groups threatening succession, no Chai Party claiming that the government is out to do them in. They are proud to be part of a nation ruled by law, because they have tasted the bitter, destructive fruit of being ruled by another nation that considered them second class and worse.
Fundamentalism is seen as a threat, however, because fundamentalists do not believe in the rule of constitutional law, but want a theocracy ruled by rules of fanatical religious law, which is antithetical to the Indian way of life, though most Indians are deeply spiritual.
It’s impossible to describe watching dawn appear on a peak of the Himalayan Mountains, except to explain that Michael and I actually wept as we witnessed and photographed this event after the drive up to the peak under a sky so bright with nearby stars they felt close enough to grab.
Our driver, Singh. The best driver ever. The Hindi word for “best” or “first class” is pronounced “ba-ree’-ah,” so we said that to him often. “Bareeah driver!”
A wonderful family man who not only escorted us everywhere, but actually took care of Michael and I the day we were both sick and went to the hospital to see a doctor. We received our medical coverage cards, so in case we return and get sick, we’re in the system.
We met Singh’s 12 year old son Senjai and 23 year-old daughter, Nirmala, who works in marketing now but wants to become a journalist.
Senjai told me there are two things Indian people tend not to have as part of their personalities – fear and anger. With true faith there can be no fear; with an attitude of forgiveness and constantly moving forward, anger can be dealt with in a more positive way, channeled into constructive action.
Senjai told me he watches TV – including US programs from Animal Planet (good, educational), Discovery (yes! Educational!), Cartoon Network (OK..) and WWE (World Wrestling..? That phony, violent show? Really? Senjai, does your dad know?).
His favorite Hollywood films are Pirates of the Caribbean (all) and Spiderman (all). Favorite Hollywood actor – Johnny Depp.
Managing Himalayan roads and washouts is not a task for the weak hearted or the amateur driver. Singh intimately knows and loves his country and was proud to show us things not normally available to “tourists.”
I have to say, in three short weeks I have come to respect, admire and love this country. Of course knowing so many people here now makes a difference, but seeing how the country works (and doesn’t) first hand, it now has a very special place in my heart.
Visiting any developing country is hard work for a Westerner.
Interrupted electricity, wifi, water (which can also not be present at all), little hot water, congested air; although the ubiquitous animals did not bother me or Michael, I can understand how others might wonder…
Thanks to “squat toilets” – most public toilets are basically a hole in the ground – I return to the US with legs as strong as wrought iron because one has to “sit” without benefit of anything on which to sit. Like the exercise where you lean up against a wall with your legs perpendicular, only there’s no wall for balance. I bet I can crush a walnut with my knees, now.
And some simple processes are made complicated here. In a store, let’s say an Indian sweets store - one person takes your order and puts it together. Then someone else right next to him/her rings up your order. OK, then you have to take the bill across the store to the money taker and pay him/her. After you receive your change, your bill is stamped and you take it back to the person who put your order together to show you paid and that person hands you your order.
Three people to do the job of one person in other countries.
Small markets are everywhere, where apparently India’s favorite snack is Lay’s Potato Chips, because they are sold by the boatload here.
Speaking of snacks, Michael and I have both lost a noticeable amount of weight on our trip – between eating extremely healthy and being so active we couldn’t help it.
I’ll never forget the magnificent chai tea served here. The best has a taste of ginger in it.
Saying good-by is going to be such sweet sorrow.
I am so looking forward to seeing my pets, friends, actors, writers and other coachees as well as sleeping in my own bed!
And I already miss my new friends; all the things I’ve seen and experienced will come to mind vividly for months and years to come.
We covered such a small area of India’s total landscape, but the memories we carry are vast.
Michael and I have both been invited back by our host, which is terrific.
I’ve also decided I’m going to recommend to our host two people that he may want to invite for a trip like we enjoyed. I’m going to discuss this possibility with someone I know whom I believe will benefit greatly from this experience and share the knowledge gleaned with others.
And I want to ask a reader of this blog to write me why she or he would love to take this trip to India so I can submit the “winner” to our host. The idea is to want to learn the most and share what is learned with others.
Our host does not want you to like India, just experience the nation because few Westerners have, then have your own ideas and responses to what you see, experience and learn. How would you share your observations?
The caveat is that you must pay for your own airplane ticket – but lots of deals are available. You will be picked up from there if our host extends the invitation to you. And there is no social director. You have to know where you want to go.
So, email me if you’re interested at cpcontacts@comcast.net.
Just know that if you wish to come to India, you must really *want* to come to India. The trip itself is very long and arduous from North America, coming and going.
Meanwhile, it will take me a very long time to process all I have experienced here. I’ll be posting photos Michael and I took over the next several weeks. Wifi in India is slow for the traveler, so uploading photographs is a *very* time consuming job and I’ve opted to wait to show you many of our visual highlights.
Some changes I’ve made in my life already because of this trip:
I will never leave a glass of water poured for me at a restaurant; I will always drink that water or catch the wait person in time to ask that no water be poured.
My eating habits have changed drastically; I now wish to responsibly use whatever I have wisely and profoundly, including food.
Indians are very keen about their attire – nearly half a common wage here is spent on clothes. I’m not going that far, but my wardrobe, which is ordinarily a last priority for me, has been spiffed up!
My commitment to vegetarianism and animal welfare is deeper.
My devotion to matters of spirituality has expanded; I am ordinarily quite spiritual, but now this is true in a more actualized way.
Always carry toilet paper.
Have my camera nearby more often.
Watch more Bollywood – it’s silly, musical, romantic and “good clean fun!” India makes more films than any other nation by far. Movies are affordable entertainment here, so audiences are huge.
Check out the Cricket World Cup games.
I simply cannot see the world the same way after experiencing the wonders of this magnificent country, which will continue to haunt and fascinate me to my last breath. Things are not always as they appear to be; something that appears quite dysfunctional is, in fact, brilliantly functional. Likewise, things that may appear to be well organized and functional may well be a complete catastrophe.

One thing Michael and I have decided is a scientific fact, only we’re not sure how to prove it: Indian people, are, by far, the most beautiful people on the planet. Regardless of age, gender, weight, whatever. Beautiful. Then we decided if we see all of them as beautiful, why not all the rest of the people on the planet? So beauty is in everyone and we will choose to see it.

We cannot thank our host enough for giving us the opportunity of a lifetime.

Namaste, beloved India.

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  • At 11:21 AM, Blogger Mary E. Trimble said…

    What a rich, wonderful experience. I can't imagine anyone more qualified than you to benefit from this diverse opportunity. Wow!


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