Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Package that May be Bomb

Yesterday, I started the morning off by again going to my favorite dentist, Teena. The last time that I had seen Teena was the morning when my wallet was stolen. I was on my way to see Teena when I discovered that the wallet was gone. As I paid her back the 60 rupees that I had borrowed, in order reimburse the cost of my auto rickshaw ride on that fateful day, she told me about how “bad” things happen in three’s. (I had also just told her about getting bit for the second time by a dog on the previous Saturday. Does this mean that I’ll get bit one more time by another dog?) So another filling refilled, pain, but ok at least another dental visit was complete.

When I arrived at my office I was told that a package was waiting for me at the post office and that I had to get it. But once I told the office staff that there might be chocolate, mysteriously the package soon appeared. I shared some of the peanut butter pretzels which people loved. The package was from my friend Cindy in the US and she had sent some Trader Joe’s stuff and presents for the children in my home. The cost for mailing, I think, was probably more than Cindy had spent on the package contents, but that is Cindy, a dear, dear friend.

In the evening I was committed to going to a wedding, somewhere in East Oshkosh, as we say in the US when a place is out of the way, and my office colleagues and I had to take four metros which took 1.25 hours and then we walked for some time after getting off of the metro. One of my colleagues carried the precious package the entire time. We got to the wedding around 8, and I was ready to eat. The invitation called for dinner to be served at 8 but this is India. As I waited, with the food not being served, I finally decided to leave at 9:45 PM, as the groom had just arrived. Some of my office friends took me out to the street where they said I could take a bus to my metro stop, but of course, there was no such bus. We tried to enlist the help of an auto rickshaw but again no luck. Finally I said I'll take the metro, just get me a bicycle rickshaw.

With my two work bags and Cindy’s package I set out and finally got on the first metro around 10:15 PM. Two hours and three metros later, green, red, orange and blue lines, I was at my stop. (I don’t think that there are any other metro lines at this point. The green line has the best cars!) I had sat on the package some of the way on the metro to be comfortable as there were no seats. I thought ok it's only about midnight and I'll get home and go to sleep. But before I got off of the metro, I received a text saying that my phone account had automatically been charged 30 rupees for placing some Hindi songs on my phone. I was tired, pissed about the charge and the inevitable pushing and shoving that goes on in the metro and tried to write back but the text wouldn't go through. (Of course in my own American fashion the body of my text included the fact that I would sue for this charge of 30 rupees/month, about 60 cents, which I had never confirmed). I was also already feeling a bit upset by the fact that I had no dinner and the metro ride seemed endless.

I got off of the metro at my stop and as I got downstairs I realized that I had left the package on the metro! I immediately started cussing, thinking about my lost wallet, and where this package had been to, from the US to India to a wedding. I went over to the Metro customer care and said you must get my package. I was brought upstairs to the Station Manager who called the train and fortunately, after a lot of heavy breathing on my part, they said that they had found the box three stops away. (You must also realize that everyday the English recording on the metro says, “Stay away from packages as they may be bomb”). The Station Manager said get on the train, but since it is the last train you won't be able to come back and you will have to take an auto in order to get home.

I made it to the station, Dwarka Mor, and sure enough after two officers and three staff came up to meet me they had the package. After thanking them all profusely, I offered some pretzels but there were no takers. I was so relieved, because after carrying that box everywhere I did not want to lose it.

I went downstairs to try to get an auto rickshaw at 12:30 AM or so. The first guy said sure I'll use the new meter rates. He brought me to his rickshaw and pulled out the wires of the meter and said not working. I proceeded to cuss even more and left his rickshaw. Two rickshaws passed quoting outrageous prices. I finally got into another rickshaw and after .3 kilometers, his rickshaw died. I again got out cussing the world. (Somehow my cussing has come alive here, hmm….) Another guy came by and quoted me a high price and then another. Finally I settled for 70 rupees after a great deal of haggling. Once we got to my house though the guy said 80 and I said fine. I went to bed around 1 AM.

This morning the package was still in my apartment and I had a wonderful breakfast of granola, dried blueberries, almonds and fresh fruit. What a fantastic treat.

When I got to work I asked for help in removing the 30 rupee/month Hindi song charge. One of my office mates called Air-tel and they cancelled this charge, but said that it had been authorized on June 17. What can I say?

I have such a love-hate-love relationship with this amazing country. I’m trying to decide whether or not I should stay past February. I guess that it really depends on the day or the moment. But, what would I blog about if I went back and lived in the US?


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Dalhousie-Final Part 4

June 20, 2010
I’m back in Delhi, with all of its glorious humidity, sweating after showers, while cooking, while walking. But a few, final words on Dalhousie.

I left early the morning of June 14, taking two buses to get to Amritsar my departure point for getting back to Delhi. On the train to Delhi, about six hours I sat next to this family with screaming monsters, climbing all over the seats, not too much fun, but I made the best of it. The last few days in Dalhousie were spent coaching, attending a wonderful party for Myna and Onky’s 25th wedding anniversary, staying with some friends of Mohan’s, who I just love, attending a prayer service for the Dalai Lama at the Tibetan crafts center and making photo prints for the many people who let me photograph them. I also befriended a number of children at a nearby teashop and gave them a number of pictures of themselves. One of the children was a one year old boy who only smiled and easily let me pick him up.

The prayer service at the Tibetan Center was something that I stumbled upon and I just went and sat down, was given tea and was greeted with all of the friendliness of me being part of instead of an external person. The prayer flag man was serving some food and he came up to me and shook my hand and was so very friendly. I was offered lunch but Onky and Myna were hosting a lunch for their anniversary.

I was so very happy to be able to attend Onky and Myna’s 25th anniversary celebration. I wasn’t able to attend their wedding, but the fact that Onky and I have been friends for almost 30 years made this very special for me. Additionally, I’m treated as one of the family. The party was sheer celebration and happiness and Myna’s parents came from Amritsar and her brother and family came in from Dubai. Myna, like me, lost a sibling and although we didn’t talk about this, I’m sure that she was missing her brother at this celebration.

Since the house was full with relatives, I shifted to some friends of Mohan’s for two evenings. They live right next to the Tibetan Center and they don’t use servants. (I’ve become somewhat comfortable with servants and although I would never have any, I am able to engage with those who I come into contact with. I gave Monhan’s personal assistant and his family so many pictures and played with their children). I felt so very comfortable with them and they were both full of so much love. They told me about their children, one of whom resides in Milwaukee, and their grandchildren. I was able to help them load pictures onto their laptop and also taught them how to clean up their hard drive. We watched together as a huge monkey sat in their yard and ate the one ripe apple from their tree. We also walked up the hill together to go to Onky’s. They live in Delhi and I’m hoping that they contact me when they come back here in October.

I love Dalhousie and I’m so grateful to Onky, Myna, Mohan, Anant and Zorby for allowing me to share in their joy when they go into the scrumptious mountains. There weren’t as many daisies this year, but I did see rainbows, snow and lots of monkeys. I walked and walked and found love from Tibetans, coaching school boys, Indians and even those monkeys, which I still treasure seeing. Will I ever go back to Dalhousie? I’m not entirely sure, but I will always have incredibly fond memories of my times with my Indian family in this very cool hill station.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Dalhousie Part 3

June 8, 2010
Coaching in Dalhousie. What an opportunity. The Kakar family is friends with Guru Dylan who is the owner/principal of the Dalhousie Public School, a fairly prestigious institution. At a number of parties I had mentioned to him that I would be happy to coach basketball if he liked. At papa’s party yesterday he again said, “yes” and I said that I would come on Tuesday.

I walked to the b-ball courts around 3 PM and it was about a 20 minute downhill walk to the school. I talked to a guard who didn’t speak English, but a teacher happened along and I was able to tell him that I was there to coach. I saw a b-ball on the court and went down and started shooting. After a number of minutes the students started arriving and watched from their hostel balconies. They cheered when I made a shot, and then many of them flooded onto the courts. I thought that I would try to organize them into some drills but there were just too many children, very excited, to see a westerner, especially one who they mistakenly thought might be a former professional.

Around 4 PM a few of the physical education staff came to the courts and lined up the approximately 400 boys. There are six houses at DPH and they each have a b-ball team and these were the boys that I worked with. I took them through a number of drills so that I could see the quality of play. They were surprisingly good.

I taught them the “lion” defense drill and they were very loud, no embarrassment at all. Incredible energy! After we finished, I told the children that I would come back tomorrow. As I was leaving many asked for my autograph on paper, on their hands and on basketballs. So very funny!

This little activity again reminds me to always ask. People can always say no or do nothing about the request, but if I don’t ask then I won’t find so many opportunities. I need to remember this in my basketball school of life.

June 10, 2010

The issue of class has come up more than once for me in India. It’s especially noticeable in Dalhousie where you have the more affluent both younger and older crowd, military officials, but also the servants, laborers, tea shop owners, etc. The two crowds mix but in a very “know thy place way”. Fortunately I can mix with both, although I’m not sure that I’m very well accepted by some of the older, more traditional affluent Indians, who focus quite a bit on the fortunes of their children and how much money they have. This isn’t that different from any other country, but for me it does stand out given the number of people living in poverty, the work that I’m trying to do and my somewhat na├»ve idealism.

I have difficulty with the “formality” that I’ve come across. Again, maybe this is not that different from anywhere in the world, but to see it firsthand, in so many cases, causes me discomfort, i.e. people are treated differently depending on their perceived societal rank. There is fussing over some and the talking down to others. I wonder if some of this is a holdover from colonial times, where some Indians moved to fill in the gap left by the British?

I know that the reality is that this is not only India, that this type of “class” based society is found everywhere in the world, even in the so-called socialist or communist countries. There are always some that are much better off than others, no matter what type of system is in place.

Dalhousie Part 2

June 6, 2010
I ate so much food yesterday! The parties continue, the people, the socializing, the formalities. We had lunch at Guru’s. He runs the Dalhousie Public School, a very prestigious boarding school and his lunches and dinners are populated by the upper crust of the area. Yesterday, the guest of honor was an Air Force General or something equivalent. There were also a number of other military officials, Guru being an ex-military officer. Guru and his wife own three Mercedes benze’s. I found the lunch, which was held on his very green front lawn, to be scrumptious. He had this kind of a French bread, so fresh, and as soon as I ate it, I identified the loaf as something that I missed in the US. The rest of the food was equally tasty, capped off by a trifle, ice cream and cream dessert which I mixed together. Once the chief guest left everyone else vacated the premises.

While doing some work at “home”, a number of guests came over to visit the Kakars and therefore, although unplanned, more food. We followed this up by going out to the home of the principal of another school in Dalhousie. All meals begin with starters, which is more than enough food for a meal, but this is followed by the entrees and finally dessert. Needless to say, I am not eating much today as I totally gorged myself yesterday. Enough! Bas!

June 7, 2010
I watched the Lakers lose game of the finals today and boy did that bring me down. At least there are more games to play!

Today is Mohan’s 78th birthday and every year he holds a huge luncheon for his friends, gives away blankets to many and also holds a luncheon for others on the grass of the rental cottage. My role is that of barman and photographer. I get to interact with everyone so really look forward to both roles. I feel in my own small way that I’m serving. The thing that I like the best though is serving the people on the rental cottage grass.

This year there were upwards of 75 people who I served, took pictures of and somehow helped people to laugh. There is a pillar of the “Fish Philosophy” about “making their day” and I think that I do this a lot just by being me, by wearing a courta, an Indian hat, the way that I serve food or water. I heard people laughing when I sat down on the ground with my pot of food and served it. I watched another guy serving and he held the pot in one hand and served the food with a spoon in the other, never quite stopping.

I make people laugh by showing them pictures that I took of them. One little girl who didn’t look quite right, brightened up after I showed her a picture of herself. Something awakened in her and she was immediately happy pointing at the picture, showing it to her mother. People laugh because children make funny faces when they see that I’m taking a picture of them. It is quite remarkable what a camera can do, it somehow enlivens people and brings them out of their shells.

But it’s also about my vain attempts at speaking a few words of Hindi, and my asking if others speak English. I’m finding that many people do speak English, but one has to ask about this. I spoke with two young women on the lawn and they, in very good English, told me about their computer schooling in Dalhousie. I told them that they must tell their husbands, after they eventually get married, that they want to continue working. This, of course, brought a smile to their faces.

The people on the lower lawn seemed to have few “airs”, they were happy to be together with one another, they didn’t interact, i.e. walk around, like the people in the upper area, but seemed to enjoy the meal just as much. It is something that I look forward to, and feel good about helping to make someone’s day, even if I’m only being me.

Dalhousie Part 1

June 4, 2010

In Dalhousie again. The road has come from Amritsar and the Golden Temple, magnificent, to Jallianwala Bagh where upwards of 1000 unarmed people were massacred by the British in 1919 on the command of a General Dyer, many jumping to their deaths in what is now known as the Martyr’s well. (You can see this episode recreated in the movie Gandhi).

My memories of Dalhousie are great from 2009, the paths hiked, the people that I met and the Great Gatsby parties, the feeling of comfort in my body in moving from the “Delhi oven” to this very comfortable hill station, my Indian papa’s birthday celebration.
This year is proving to be no less memorable as Indian religion becomes both more illuminated and confusing to me, the parties become even greater, the rain comes in downpours with massive thunder claps and lightening, lighting up the night sky, the temperatures in some places hovering around freezing.

I feel comfort in knowing that I can go off by myself and get back to “my home”. On our first day in Dalhousie, I went off by myself to the market with a definite mission in mind. I wanted to make some photo enlargements for my dear friends and also buy some toys for some of the “servant’s”. Upon arriving in Dalhousie I noticed that one of the servant’s children was playing with a battery. This indicated to me a need for toys and in between the freezing raindrops I meandered through the GPO (General Post Office), or town center and found a wonderful toy store. I went through many toys and finally found a set of plastic, kind of legos and an array of rattles for the new two month old. After bargaining I felt that I had the perfect toys.

Does it make sense for me to introduce these types of toys into a household, that includes two adults and two children living in one room? (The servant’s quarters are essentially a number of one room living spaces, a cowshed, and I think a kitchen area. An older couple, with the husband managing the rental, and two of his sons, their wives, and now three children all occupy these homes). Is it my arrogance that needs to feel that these children should have educational play toys or can it just be my fatherly instinct to give to those with less? But less only on the material side, because from what I can tell there is a great deal of love for these children. The father who is a personal assistant to my Indian papa, is a lovely man and his wife, has one of the loveliest smiles that I’ve ever seen. Recently when I was playing with two of the children, this woman was holding her new baby and humming and every time that I looked up at her she had that sweet smile on her face.

Last year I had tried to purchase prayer flags, but unfortunately there were none to be had and this year I wanted to make it a point to find these. On my second Dalhousie day I went back to the Tibetan crafts village and after watching a number of people weave incredibly intricate, colorful rugs I walked to the second floor of one of the buildings where I knew the prayer flags were made. There were a couple of dogs that I needed to get past and was able to call out to a man finishing a rug who called the dogs off and brought me into the prayer flag room.

The Prayer Flag Man spoke very good English and he had one very long prayer flag that I could purchase. I also asked him to make me a short prayer flag which he very willingly obliged, but prior to this he showed and told me exactly how prayer flags are made, how the mold is cut and the black dye is placed and then stamped onto the material. After paying he walked me through a short cut, the Tibetan School, and brought me to an area where I could easily walk home. (When I arrived home one of the servants who had taken me last year to find prayer flags, pointed me to the umbrella basket in the front hall of the house, where after pulling everything out, gave me a gigantic prayer flag). (All of the prayers flags are now hanging in my apartment as I’ve recreated a mini-Dalhousie, but unfortunately, without, the cooler temps).

There are about 800-900 Tibetans living in Dalhousie in a number of housing complexes. They always smiled warmly when they saw me and I printed many of the pictures that I took of them which brought even more joy to their faces. The Tibetans operate a store at the GPO, where the products made at the crafts village are sold, but there doesn’t seem to be much future for the younger generation. (I have a picture from my 2006 visit to India in the Tibetan Refugee Centre in Darjeeling in which an artist is working and in the dusty window, above her, there is a hand written message, “Save Tibet, Tibet is not part of China, U.N.O. we want justice”. Being in this village reminded me of this picture).

On Friday we drove to a path that led us to a walk to this incredible temple. We did this last year on a beautiful day and I have a video of a herd of goats on the path, with so many daisies populating the mountainsides, like the poppies in the Wizard of Oz. However, the weather was not that great this year as we walked up the path and by the time that we made it to the temple, the sky was dark and the clouds had rolled in so that the snow capped peaks, visible during the ascent, were now gone. We all pulled out our umbrellas on the descent and it must have been around 7 C or so. The Delhi oven may have been baking, but in Dalhousie there was only talk of the cold.

As in New England in the State, in Dalhousie the weather changes quickly and by 1:30 we were able to go onto a picnic with a number of friends. This picnic was no different than any that I’ve been to in the States. Of course, the food was different, but everything else seemed to be comparable. Once we arrived home I spent part of the time playing with two children and the legos. Although the two women watching us play, spoke no English, they seemed approving and one of them gave me a cup of chai and some crackers. The children seem to really like playing and understanding how to use the blocks. By 7 PM Friday night the wind was whipping and it started pouring, lightening and thundering. The storm was a wonder to watch and soon the power went out and all we could see were the lightening bolts.

I’ve had very vivid dreams since being here, I’ve dreamt about paper shopping bags, my mother shopping and monkeys taking over the kitchen, bats flying around and then biting my hand, with an inability to wake up until Anant woke me, and President Obama being asked to played basketball and appearing at a meeting in the Groton Town Hall, knowing me, but not knowing me.

The walks continue on a daily basis, strenuous, really getting my heart pumping. I like the walk back from GPO which is at about a 45 degree angle, as I pass a number of Tibetans who must live in the area. The area is somewhat urbanized, based on the people who summer here, but also maintains its rural feel, with cows kept in cow barns, fresh milk, butter and cream, herders leading their flocks to graze, Tibetan women dressed in traditional garb. It is and is not India, providing a glimpse of possibly what life used to be, but also a glimpse of what India has become.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Letter to President Obama

President Barack Obama
White House
Washington, DC

Dear President Obama:

I’m an American citizen, a native Los Angeleno and life-long Lakers fan, living and working in New Delhi, India since March 2009. I’m hoping that when you make your visit to India in November I have the opportunity to meet you and your family and also would like to invite you to play basketball at the American Embassy School.

My name is Mike Rosenkrantz and I am a Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) volunteer working for the National Trust, which is part of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment-Government of India. We work specifically in the field of disability and have over 900 partner citizen’s organizations (NGOs) throughout the country. We provide funding for a number of programs and schemes designed to help those with disability to be empowered and live a full life.

This assignment has been perfect for me as I’ve worked my entire 25+ year career in local government, with citizen’s organizations and in farmers’ markets, which I know that you and your wife are very interested in, and which I thoroughly love. My job is that of capacity builder for our partners, providing workshops throughout India on subjects such as fundraising, strategic planning, grant writing, sustainability, communications and human resources. I’ve also been involved in developing and coordinating a disability awareness raising campaign throughout India called Badhte Kadam, or stepping forward. Mid-November 2010 will be the start of Badhte Kadam II. I am also a fundraising advisor to National Trust and have been successful in obtaining funds for Badhte Kadam, as well as working on a number of other proposals.

While in India my love for the game of basketball, which I’ve played for over 40 years has grown. I coach (volunteer) every Saturday night at the Delhi YMCA for young Indians between the ages of 8-30. I also play with an international group of people every Wednesday and Saturday at the American Embassy School. Since being in India I’ve made contact with the NBA and have met Troy Justice, who became the NBA Operations Manager for India this past March. As you might know the NBA is really going all out in promoting basketball in India and I’m doing my little part by teaching the game of basketball to about 30 people every week.

I live with an Indian family in West Delhi and have become integrated into Indian life, although I haven’t really been able to learn Hindi. While in India I’ve also, again as a volunteer, helped student community service programs at the American Embassy School, with planning. I do love India and would enjoy providing you with my perspectives, and of course, running a bit on the court with you.

I know that you will be incredibly busy while in India, but I would welcome the opportunity to meet you. I also want to let you know that you are doing an incredibly great job with the United States and I was so overjoyed when you were elected President!


Michael J. Rosenkrantz,
Organizational Capacity Builder/Fundraising Advisor
National Trust-Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment
Government of India