Sunday, December 18, 2011

Downbound train

December 11-12, 2011
Down bound Train

I’ve just woken up again on a train, listening to Bruce Springsteen sing, “Down bound Train”. My laptop is so dusty from years of living in India. Maybe it could be cleaned, maybe the dust is there for the life of the laptop, something to take with me wherever I am in the world. A little piece of India encrusted on my laptop, reminding me how this country is now so much a part of my internal life that I’m not sure how I will ever leave.

Yesterday morning at 6:30 I was supposed to be on the Puri Express to Bhubaneswar. Instead when I arrived at the New Delhi station around 5:30 AM I was told that the train would be delayed. I was driven to a government ticket office, in Connaught Place and was told that there were no other trains and that all flights were booked.

The metro took me home where I logged onto the Indian Railways website which told me that the train would be delayed for seven hours and 20 minutes. This would mean leaving around 2 PM. At 11 AM the same website indicated that the delay would be 14 hours and 20 minutes. This would mean that I would now leave around 9 PM. Was this still the same train?

Coaching basketball was now on my agenda, as I could leave directly from the YMCA at Patel Chowk and take the metro to New Delhi Station. I hadn’t been at the Y for some time due to Incredible India enabling me to continue to lead an extraordinary life. It was so wonderful to see the children and to find a few new guys that I could coach and bring my love of the game to their psyches. What I found though is that all of the children were so into the game and it was the usual inspiration that leaves me loving basketball even more.

I left the Y around 7:35 PM and made my way to the metro, walking and talking with one of the new children, Sam, who has been playing and has a good understanding for the game. I arrived at New Delhi station around 8 PM, looked at the “big board” but didn’t see the Puri Express. Fighting to get the enquiry window I was told that the train would leave at 8:50 PM from track 12.
8:50 PM came and went and finally around 9:10 the train pulled in. At 9:45 PM the train departed from New Delhi station, which leaves me with more than an entire day waiting to get to my final destination. I should have been in at 10:30 AM on Sunday, but now hope to get in by 2 AM on Monday.

Just spent my second night on the train and we hope to get in around 3 PM. Day one of the workshop is cancelled. We spent a lot of time sitting in one spot last night, I’m told because it was too dangerous to travel due to Naxelites. The train isn’t as gross as it could be, it seems to be getting cleaned regularly. There is and has to be a direct correlation between number of hours on the train and cleanliness. I, in my American way, need a shower badly, as well as some food. I tend not to eat on trains just because.

We are presently in W. Bengal and moving at a pretty good clip. We seem to be passing agricultural fields and it is beautiful with an early morning mist, just hovering. It’s pretty brown this time of year, but one can still see the remnants of harvested crops. Wait check all of that, we are stopped yet again! I finally arrived at 5 PM after spending 44 hours on the train!

November 2011, Part 5, Robyn and Michael, BK Flag in

Robyn and Michael/Badthe Kadam Flag In
Back to Delhi on Tuesday for me, with Robyn and Michael coming in on Wednesday and the Badhte Kadam flag in on Friday. R&M had been in India since November 4 and on November 5 left for Ranchi, Lucknow and the mountains. They are in India to do some filming for YSS and to write some more music and get ready for their European tour. They are very busy, Michael doing a lot of editing for a variety of projects, with the main one being for my beloved friends and cousins Mark and Andrew.

I was happy that R&M were coming to Delhi to spend a bit of time before going off to do the rest of their India trip. Given our places in the world we haven’t been able to spend a lot of time together as adults and of course, the most likely place for us to be together would be India, which is a second home to R&M. I had the added surprise of Robyn cooking every night and both of them doing a really nice, thorough cleaning of my flat. It was also an opportunity for my Indian family, especially Anjilee and Bulbul, to continue to interact with Americans. ( I had gotten Aamir Khan to give an autograph to, as he wrote, Bobo. My American Hindi!)

Friday December 2 was the big day for the Badhte Kadam flag in at Delhi University. Thanks to AADI providing coordination, this year we did things a bit differently. It was smart on NT’s part to work with AADI rather than doing the same old thing, which I felt hadn’t been too successful last year. AADI is a very professionally run NGO and they implemented a huge list of very creative items during BK. We also counted on them to organize both the flag out and flag in.

The flag in was at Delhi University North and was a beautiful area with a large lawn, enabling students walking by to see what we were doing. D. Napoleon our Minister of State was supposed to come as well as Sheila Dixits the Chief Minister of Delhi. Unfortunately Napoleon was called away to parliament while Dixits did spend 15 or so minutes with us. The children highlighted in the flag in did lots of dancing and through their costumes showcased the diversity that makes India, incredible. The hearing impaired children again performed the sign national anthem and as they started I had tears in my eyes for my adopted homeland. There was also Baul, or folk singing, from West Bengal which was just beautiful. The Baul singers had also performed in Connaught Place during the week and I was able to follow them around. Doordarshan and CNN-IBN covered the event.

Previously, during the week, my pal Aditya had called and said that CNN-IBN wanted to do a follow-up, that Saturday, December 3-World Disability Day, to the wheelchair basketball. This time they were going to be doing a lot of filming. With the cooperation of Uma and Seema Thuli of Amar Jyoti, and the wheelchair basketball and able bodied children, we put together an event from 9:30-1 PM. It was fantastic and turned out to be part of the CNN-IBN citizen’s journalist show. A full 20 minutes with all Amar Jyoti children featured throughout. (I was able to be a citizen’s journalist and also introduced another story in my introduction!)

Earlier in the week I had also noticed that the Dalai Lama was in Delhi for a World Buddhist Congress but would also be doing one speaking engagement. (China told India not to allow the Dalai Lama to do this and they cut off border talks because India did). This was going to be at the Habitat Centre and one had to get tickets through members. I called upon my dear friend Shekhar as he seems to know everyone. Although Shekhar isn’t a member he was able to secure two tickets for us. By the time though that we got to the door nobody else was allowed inside. Two huge video screens had been set up in the courtyard and so we sat with a number of other people.

Since I wanted to see the Dalai Lama live I went to the driveway line where he would be entering Habitat Centre. Sure enough he rolled down his window as he entered the driveway and I was able to make a short video. As I sat watching the video screen I knew that I must make an attempt to get inside. I noticed, after the talk was over and the q and a was starting that some people were being let inside the auditorium. I told Shekhar that I was going to try and sure enough I did get in and sat in the back with the journalists, snapping lots of lots of photos. I came so close to shaking his hand as well as I went to the stage when the Q and A was over, but did shake the hand of the monk accompanying the Dalai Lama. I then waited in the line to take a video of him leaving.

The day however, was not through as now I was going to the metro to meet up with Robyn and Michael in order to attend the National Disability Awards Ceremony, hosted by the Indian President. It was great to again introduce Robyn and Michael to what I was doing in India. Merry Bawa from Action for Autism was getting one award and it was wonderful to see her on stage for the great work that she is doing. My friends Shekhar and Anil, board members of the National Trust were there. Anil’s company, IBM, was also getting an award. R&M and I sat with Anil’s wife, Rashmi and their daughter Davanshe, who is a role model for Persons with Disability. My friends from NT were also in attendance. They all make me feel so much a part of the disability movement and I feel no different from anyone else, except that I still can’t speak Hindi.

Unfortunately the President didn’t make it, but the Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment, Mr. Wasnik, who seems to be a great individual, conducted the awards ceremony. The same hearing impaired children who were at the Badhte Kadam Flag off and in to perform the national anthem in sign were also at the awards ceremony. They are just phenomenal.

As R&M and I went to get some food it was already gone. By that time it was too late and we decided to go home even though Poonam had offered to bring us to the Minister’s home for dinner. An incredible day to say the least. I was however so exhausted and didn’t wake up on Sunday morning until 11 AM!

On Sunday I introduced Robyn to one of my local markets and we had a blast. Robyn is slow and loves to really experience things and that is what we did. We stopped at a vendor selling all kinds of green vegetables or sagh and we had them grind them all up into a lovely mixture. Robyn made this for at least four dinners with a variety of spices. I’m certainly going to miss her cooking.

Tuesday was a day off and Robyn and I went to meet up with Shekhar, who is a member, at the Indian International Centre for breakfast. It was wonderful, especially the croissants and after this we all walked in Lodhi Gardens, herb garden, butterfly garden. Shekhar said that his friend a Member of Parliament, Mr. Dixits and his daughter were in the park exercising, and sure enough we were able to meet up with them. We ended our time with Shekhar having a scrumptious lunch. As always Shekhar was too gracious!

Robyn and I went off to Connaught Place where she exchanged some money, I took her to Janpath to see the great crafts and then went shopping at Fab India where Robyn bought some pants and I bought a beautiful blue with gold stitched highlights kurtha. This was the end of my gift certificates from Voice and Vision for a workshop that I facilitated with Len regarding their strategic plan. I feel good about how I used the certificates as I shared them with Len, Robyn and Michael.

Robyn’s cooking was very welcomed, as at times, I am just too tired to make anything other than my fruit mixture for dinner. Robyn is a good cook and made a number of Indian dishes, while Michael made the papads and cleaned up. My kitchen has never been cleaner, oh maybe once when Mark used to live with me.

On Friday, December 9, M&R were leaving for the Noida ashram, although I wanted to find a way for them to come to National Trust to play a few songs. Sure enough Poonam and her driver Kumar came through to pick M&R up at my home with their four suitcases, the harmonium and tablas they had purchased in Old Delhi and their three guitars, although one is a mini. They made it to the office in time for a BK celebratory lunch, played three songs which all of the staff was able to witness and then listened as some of the staff sang some songs. This is where I said goodbye to R&M until who knows where and when. But I’ll look forward to sharing stories the next time that we are able to meet up.

Whirlwind to say the least and now my assignment with National Trust is down to 2.5 months remaining. I sit on the train to Bhubaneswar as I type this, stopped yet again, hoping to arrive before my workshop starts, but as I know won’t. I continue to say that my experience has been incredible, that just being in India makes the possibilities and opportunities endless as long as one is willing to jump through doors and windows that are constantly presenting themselves. Maybe that is why I just can’t get enough. One’s life in their native countries becomes the same, while life abroad is always new. This is truly who I am, wanting and somewhat needing to experience the newness on a regular basis. I’m not in any sense bored wherever I am, but being abroad just makes life that much more special!

November 2011 Part 4, Wheelchair Basketball

Wheelchair Basketball-Wheelchair Athletes Worldwide (WAW)
I arrived back in Delhi on Sunday the 20th and on Wednesday November 23, the wheelchair basketball event that I had been thinking about and planning for more than a year was to come to fruition. I had so much wanted this to happen in order to bring my love of basketball together with my passion for my job.

I wasn’t sure how it would work as I hadn’t really been able to locate many wheelchair basketball athletes but due to persistence, lots of e-mails, throughout the world to various wheelchair athletes groups and Poonam hooking me up with an event that was supposed to happen in Mumbai, I was able to work with a group called Wheelchair Athletes Worldwide based in San Diego.

Wheelchair Athletes Worldwide is a fairly new NGO consisting of some renowned wheelchair American athletes. An NGO in Mumbai was supposed to hold an event with WAW but it just wasn’t coming together.

When I visited the States in February 2011 I was able , accompanied by my son Daniel, to visit Dan Altan of WAW in San Diego. We met up at a coffee shop and Dan talked to me about WAW, showed me a sports wheelchair and we were on our way. (In January I had also met up with Vicki Sigworth and her husband in Dehli. Vicki and her son Jon have an NGO, ESCIP, helping people with spinal cord injury as Jon had suffered such when he was in India when he was 18. They were now putting this all to good use with motivating and getting more wheelchair sports in India. Vicki was also tied in with Dan. As the saying goes small world).

When I got back to India in March, I knew that I wanted the wheelchair basketball to happen during November, i.e. during Badhte Kadam to showcase the abilities of persons with disability. WAW was operating on a shoe string, and this was to be their first attempt at donating sports wheelchairs and doing clinics for providing instruction for wheelchair athletics.

The next task for me was to find NGOs with interest in and sports wheelchair programmes. It just so happened that an inclusionary school in Delhi, Amar Jyoti fit the bill. When I finally got around to visiting them I saw children in regular wheelchairs trying to play basketball with able bodied children. Needless to say the wheelchairs lacked mobility. Uma Thuli the Founder and Secretary of Amar Jyoti was all behind this and very excited about the prospect.

We also wanted to find another NGO to donate some of the wheelchairs and through a number of trials and tribulations, through Vicki, found the Ability People (TAP) in Vizag, Andhra Pradesh.

I was hoping to have the wheelchair basketball clinic and donation as part of a larger integrated sports day that Amar Jyoti was planning but due to schedules and ultimately our good fortune, Pete, Greg and Shelley couldn’t come to India until the following week.

Planning and working with skype is a real life saver when one is trying to do an international event. There were numerous ups and downs but finally it was all a go as Pete, Greg and Shelley made their reservations. I was so sorry that Dan Altan couldn’t come but he had injured himself and needed to have an operation. I tried to convince him to come to India for the operation, but the comforts of home were something that couldn’t be overcome.

Pete was the first to arrive on Wednesday night. Not known to me, he had changed flights and actually arrived early. He called me from the airport indicating that there were some issues with getting the 12 wheelchairs out of customs without paying taxes. Fortunately for all of us a Singaporean company was helping to build capacity for the baggage group at IGI airport and with their help and a letter from National Trust, we were able to get the chairs out of customs. There were a few tense moments, but it all ended well.

I was so happy to finally meet Pete, an accomplished athlete in his own right and the coach of the #3 in the US women’s wheelchair basketball team at University of Arizona. Pete is a jovial guy not much taller than me who has had a physical disability his entire life. He is able to walk on his own but does have to rely on crutches.

The NGO AADI, through their Director Syamala and her wonderful staff had agreed to do all transportation and stay arrangement in Delhi. We needed them and they came through perfectly. AADI has large buses and the staff is all about customer service. The rooms were great and there was no charge. I feel very blessed to have friends like the staff at AADI! As Syamalaji told me, “we have to be willing to help each other, those in the disability movement, out”.

The bus was at the airport, we loaded everything up and the adventure had started. When Pete and I arrived at AADI, their annual meeting had just ended and there was a veritable feast, in which Pete and I partook. The AADI staff with the usual Indian greeting had huge smiles on their faces! Pete, although very tired was so very happy. Although I had indicated to Pete that he should rest on Thursday we made arrangements, through AADI, for him to go to Agra!

After leaving Pete around 9 PM, I made my way to the airport on the express line for the second time that night, in order to pick up Shelley and Greg who were coming in around 2 AM on Thursday. No hitches and the pre-paid cab driver took us to AADI in about 20 minutes at that time of the morning. After I got Shelley and Greg situated and they greeted Pete, I left for my home with the same cab driver. Shelley and Greg, although without much sleep had decided to accompany Pete to Agra. Although I had said rest, these are the kind of people that I really love, willing to take advantage of opportunities!

I slept a good part of the day on Thursday, preparing for the first clinic on Friday morning at Amar Jyoti. Previously during the week, Uma Thuli had told me that there was a little bit of a hitch as a television production company was also going to be filming at the school. I was a bit upset as I didn’t want anything to get in the way of the wheelchair basketball given that WAW had flown to India and the planning that went into the event. Uma was patient with me and kept saying, although I can’t tell you who will be there, you will really appreciate this. Finally I just let it go and knew that somehow everything would work itself out.

On Friday morning I came by metro, knowing that Amar Jyoti would bring Pete and Greg, Shelley and the wheelchairs. When I arrived at Amar Jyoti I walked in and saw the children all ready to go and an assembly. At the head of the assembly was Aamir Khan! I was blown away especially since I had written a proposal asking him to be the BK ambassador. I then saw the AADI bus and all was well.

After the assembly I immediately started talking to Mr. Khan, gave him my card, etc. I kept telling Pete, Greg and Shelley how big of a star Khan is. I can’t at this point say much about what Mr. Khan was doing, but it was an incredible experience. This will come in a later blog, along with photos and video.

Pete, Shelley and Greg got right to it and the coaches and Amar Jyoti children were able to get some good training. Shelley did most of the camera work and the children just loved her. She is a physical therapist, a young beautiful woman, very quiet and quite kind. Shelley seems very supportive of the work that her husband Greg, a very accomplished athlete is doing. It was great for me to see a very complementary couple.

Amidst the craziness that a big star brings to any occasion the staff at Amar Jyoti did a great job of keeping things separate so that WAW could do their work. (Pete, Greg, Shelley and I were able to eat lunch with Mr. Khan). The children were so happy to get the sports wheelchairs as they are much mobile and easier to use. Pete and Greg, did a great job, along with Raj, a coach, who helped to translate. I was also able to participate through coaching some of the able bodied children and of course providing general encouragement.

The first day complete, Pete, Greg, Shelley and I went back to AADI where we rested a bit and then went out to Delhi Haat. The staff at AADI let us use their computers to check e-mail, again showing how much “service” is part of their daily work. We took the metro as I was curious to see how accessible this service truly was. As it turned out the metro was great and Delhi Haat was the same, both very accessible without any hitches, well maybe the foot high sidewalks, but we did find a curb cut. We had a wonderful dinner of south Indian and they all did some shopping.

I accompanied them back to AADI and then proceeded to home and preparation for Day 2. On Wednesday of that week, my friend Troy Justice of the NBA had said that he would reintroduce me to Kenny Natt, coach of the Indian Men’s National Basketball team and give him a personal invitation to wheelchair basketball. I thought why not. Kenny was very gracious and said that he would try to come. Kenny’s assistant Karan called me to say that Kenny was interested if it could fit into his schedule.

Sure enough Kenny did want to come and on Saturday morning, thanks to Karan, Kenny was there. Kenny is a big man, a former professional player and coach in the US. I had previously met him at some Asian preliminary qualifying games. He is very affable, but serious about the work that he is doing in India. I was so happy to see him and he was so happy to participate with the children. We put Kenny in a wheelchair and he seemed to really love it as indicated by the huge grin on his face. . Kenny was also very happy to meet Uma Thuli and he ended up staying for about 1.5 hours. My good friend Shekhar also came on Saturday which made things even more special. We got Shekhar into a wheelchair and I think that he came away with a greater appreciation for Persons with Disability. For me, this was all a dream come true, but as I’ve come to find out anything is possible in my India.

After Kenny and Karan left Greg, Pete and Shelley continued to do their clinics, along with the Indian coaches who came to learn more about wheelchair sports. Around 11 AM a formal presentation was made for donating the wheelchairs. It was a very happy moment. After this, CNN-IBN, thanks to the work of Epistle Solutions and my friends, Aditya, Jasdeep and Sumita, appeared to do a segment on wheelchair basketball. This was a highlight for me as World Disability Day was the following Saturday, Badhte Kadam was on-going and we were, thanks to the magic of television, spreading awareness about Persons with Disability and their capabilities. I got to be in my very first television interview in India but the highlights were on Greg and the children!

At around 12:30 Pete and I and the AADI bus were loaded for taking Pete to the airport to go to Vizag. I said my goodbyes to Pete and Shelley with the hope that I would see them next time I was in the States. It sounds as if they have a great house in Tucson with a hot tub, so I may need to make my way there.

Pete had a 2:30 flight and the challenge was to ensure that we were able to get the 6 wheelchairs to be donated to TAP, also on the flight. Although through Dilip Patro and the Ability People we had made prior arrangement on Spice Jet, there was still some anticipation on my part. We finally made it through the Delhi traffic to the terminal 3 which happened to be the wrong place. We very quickly shifted to the domestic terminal where lo and behold everything worked out. Pete got some special attention and he and the wheelchairs were shepherded onto the plane.

I went home for a bit of rest as thanks to National Trust, I was going to Vizag early Sunday morning. I was picked up without a hitch and taken right to the stadium where Pete was waiting. It was a stadium with an old wooden floor, very large. I wondered if we were going to fill this up and as it turned out we didn’t, but the children participating had a lot of fun. There was also a lot of press, both print and television. This was due to Dilip Patro, the founder of the Ability People.

Dilip had a spinal cord injury, due to a car accident, in the midst of his life and very promising career. Although Dilip is confined to a wheelchair he is a very capable man and is doing a lot. Besides continuing his work as a software engineer he is also trying to build the Ability People. Recently TAP became registered with National Trust.

The clinic not only consisted of wheelchair basketball, but Pete also introduced rugby. The audience consisted mainly of a number of hearing impaired children and as with the able bodied children in Amar Jyoti, we were able to get a number of them to sit in wheelchairs to experience what it was like. Although somewhat unorganized, Pete was able to do a lot with the children which I know that they appreciated.

Pete was a joy to watch as he is only about ability. I could tell that at one time he was quite a baller and he still has a nice outside touch. Pete has his own business in Tucson, but is also involved with innumerable other activities, involving Persons with Disability. Like Greg, Pete has not let his supposed disability stop him to lead a full rights based life, something which we are trying to get more people to understand with the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disability (UNCRPD). Both Greg and Pete were wonderful role models and this was another thing that I was hoping to showcase.

After the clinic on Sunday I was too tired to leave my room, although Pete went out with Dilip and others that evening. (There was an Aamir Khan movie on television that evening and I couldn’t imagine this guy that I had met on Friday as a killer). On Monday morning I said good-bye to Pete and spent the day with Dilip and a Dr. Kiran who performs a number of operations for Person with Disability living in the villages surrounding Vizag. I went to Dilip’s home for dinner and met his family and saw a bit about the daily struggles that he faces as a permanent wheelchair user.

All in all the whirlwind three day basketball tour surpassed what I had thought. I had gotten to a point where I just wanted it to happen as the planning had seemed interminable. I’m so happy to have participated and helped to coordinate and it makes me want to do more of these types of activities no matter where I am in the world. Of course it takes a team, WAW, TAP, Amar Jyoti, AADI, NT. The team came through with lots of smiles and a willingness to make it all happen. I really can’t compliment everyone enough on their can-do attitudes. Even with technology, at times, this was so cumbersome and I thought forget it. But mostly we all came together to make the donation of 12 sports wheelchairs and three incredible days of clinics a reality.

I’ve brought people together which is something that I enjoy doing every day of my life. After all it is about how we network and weave our integrated webs. In every case we have to keep increasing the size of our webs and collaborate to make the world a much better place. It is through joint understanding and experience that we will continue to do this. I feel as if this did happen a bit by bringing the “Americans” to India to help develop more friendships.

November 2011 part 3, Tiger Safari

Tiger Safari Bandhavgarh, MP
I arrived back in Delhi on Tuesday November 15, washed some clothes, rested up, did some work in preparation for my tiger safari with Bill Carr on November 16. Bill and I had been planning this for some time and he really wanted to see s tiger before he left India, and went back to his life in Scotland. Bill had spent one year in Cameroon prior to spending one year in India. I made train reservations in September but was hesitating as I knew that BK would be in full bloom and that a major integrated sports day was happening in Delhi through Amar Jyoti school, an event that I was helping to plan. The thought of seeing a tiger in the wild, and not knowing if I would have this opportunity again, won out in the end.

I met Bill, a VSO colleague and friend, at the Nizamuddin train station, with our train being delayed a bit. This was to be an over-night train arriving in Urmari around 5:30 AM on Thursday morning. We were picked up soon after arriving and began the 20+ km journey into the wild.

Bill had made reservations at Wildhaven resorts close to the reserve and had booked us on five safaris. The resort was quite nice amidst somewhat of a makeover with new management. The room was neat and clean, although power was always off between something like 8-11 AM. The service was very good and we had use of a computer with internet. Very quiet after the hectic life that I lead in Delhi. There wasn’t even a bank or ATM in “town”.

The first safari was at 3:30 on Thursday afternoon. There were three main areas or gates for viewing tigers, one of which was more expensive due to the number of tiger sightings. We were both quite excited as we boarded the open jeep with our driver for our first safari. We headed to the gate to wait in queue where we picked up a guide. We found that in many cases the guide was just an extra expenditure, but it did help to employ the locals, who it seemed really depended on the tigers, or the hope of seeing one, for their revenue.

There were a number of jeeps that went into the park all speeding out to find the tiger. As we later came to find out the best time to see tigers is in April or May during the hot season when many animals can be seen at the water holes. The guide and driver said that in order to find a tiger we had to listen to the monkeys, lots of langurs, and other animals giving warning signals. On the first safari we actually heard some growling and warning signals and we listened hoping to spot a tiger.

Unfortunately we didn’t see one on that first sojourn. We stopped and compared notes with some of the other tourists and did see some snaps from those lucky enough to spot a tiger. There aren’t actually that many in the park, around 60+ and so to spot a tiger does take some luck. Another couple had seen a sloth bear and her cub. We saw a number of spotted and other deer, wild boar, langurs and the forest was beautiful. It was quite cool as the sun went down and we headed out of the park.

One safari down and lots of optimism as we awoke on Friday for the 6:15 AM safari. We made our way to pick up another guide and went to a different entrance where we were first in line. One of the first things that we saw was a sloth bear and again many deer, langurs, but no tiger. Riding that early in the morning was cold, but it felt good as the sun came up and I stripped off some of my clothing. We went to a fire tower which we climbed and were able to see a large part of the park which was full of green trees. November was a time of greenery, after the monsoons and of course was very different, later in the year when the grasses had shrunk to almost nothing.

Our guides and drivers told us stories of tiger spotting, of cubs with their mom on the roads and we continued to feel optimistic. We also heard stories of people attacked by tigers and then the tigers being taken to zoos. One had to be smart and not just step into the forest at dusk, but still given the open jeeps, who knew if a tiger was hungry enough just to jump in and say hello.

The third safari would be Friday afternoon, into early evening with the same results. No tigers spotted by us, although again we could hear the roars, which fueled our optimism.

Saturday morning was the last tiger safari as the afternoon, around 2, would be a tour of the fort. For Bill this was something like his 9th safari without spotting a tiger. He had been to a place called the Jim Corbett Park but “only” saw wild elephants, which is enough of a reason to go.

On Saturday we had the best guide, he really was focused on helping us to find tigers. We drove like made to favorite tiger spotting locations and waited, but nothing. As the time came closer to leaving we noticed another jeep and a woman with a large smile telling us to be quiet and to come over next to their jeep. Sure enough there was our tiger! It was just resting, but proceeded to get up, and walk across the road in front of us. We were full of smiles and congratulations for our guide and driver who had driven with us on the three previous safaris.

The tiger was magnificent and although she came close to us, hardly paid us any heed. This was her domain and we were nothing. Tigers apparently stay on their own, but we were told that this one had some cubs which the guide had seen on previous safaris. This one sighting made everything worth the wait. The afternoon safari to the Fort was also great and one other tourist showed me his tiger photos which were just incredible. They had followed the tiger for some time, which we couldn’t do because our tiger went right across the road to disappear into the forest.

On Saturday evening we left somewhat tired, but happy. On the train ride Bill was in a lot of pain. As it turned out although he was supposed to leave for Scotland on Tuesday he had to have an operation for some gall stones. He did eventually make it back, with a much larger story to tell.

November Part 2, Momin's Wedding

Momin’s Wedding
Momin, one of the few Muslims working in the office, is a dear young man and it so happened that he invited me to his wedding in Shamsabad, UP . I had never been to a Muslim wedding and knew that this would be an opportunity to learn more about the world. I arrived early Sunday morning November 13 and was greeted by one of Momin’s friends at the Farukhadbad train station. We hopped onto his cycle and drove the 20 km to Shamsabd. From the moment we got out of the train station to the more rural areas the scenery shifted to the India that I love.

The simplicity of rural India, as I imagine other rural areas, in other parts of the world, is just beautiful. It is the way that it has been for so many years, oxen pulled carts, hand work as opposed to mechanization, and although it is changing, it is, in the very technologically driven world, something that I treasure.

As we entered the town of Shamsabad, a decent sized city, we came to Momin’s family’s home which was quite large, as his dad is a very well known doctor. The more than extended family was staying at Momin’s for the wedding and his bride to be lived about a five minute walk. This was a love marriage, something still unusual in India, but it would take place in the very traditional way.

People in Shamsabad were generally not that acquainted with westerners. I noticed this in the many children who would run away from the site of me. There was also the other side where others would just glom onto me. At times this became a bit much as when I was awoken early Monday after going to sleep into early Monday morning. All part of the experience though and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Arriving on Sunday morning I asked to take a shower or bucket bath. Because the power was off, the water had to be heated manually. The toilets are at the end of an indoor courtyard or kind of living room of which many people were sitting around talking, waiting. This is the ultimate idea that comes to mind when I think of a joined family as not even bathroom habits are kept private. The sink was out in the courtyard and even brushing my teeth was a family affair. I met a number of “grandmothers”, brothers, aunties, uncles, children all of whom played some role in Momin’s life. Fortunately some of the folks did speak English.

Momin and his friends were quite over protective of me, but considering that people just gathered at the site of an American, it did make some sense. I met so many people as we walked through the town. I taught songs and danced with the many children and they tried to teach me. One young girl, who I nicknamed Sheila, was an incredible dancer who I captured on a short video.

Some of Momin’s friends and I went on a little site seeing tour. We stopped at a friend’s house where people were making the very detailed sari’s. This was very interesting to me, the patience that has to go into putting all of the beads in the right place. We sat outside his house and a crowd gathered just to look. We got back onto the scooters and the friends took me to a mosque and a little hill where one child was following us. I asked to take his picture and he looked at me as if I was from outer space. Finally a group of his friends came over and they all took a photo. One has to wonder how many photos these children have taken.

On Sunday night the ceremony began at Momin’s with him being given a number of outfits to try on. (Before this I went with Momin and another friend to a mosque across the street from his home where he prayed). Everyone on Momin’s side gathered around a small stage on the first floor at his house while relative after relative gave him new clothes, which he proceeded to try on in front of all. (I’m sure a similar ceremony was going on at the bride to be’s home). Finally a rather large flower thing, the length of Momin was placed on his head. This must have weighed at minimum 10 kg. As he sat, rupees were given to him and placed on the money necklaces.

At around 10 PM(?) Momin and his friends and me got into the wedding car where we were transported to the wedding venue. Momin was brought to the stage where a number of Imam were sitting. There were a tremendous number of, mostly men, sitting in the audience, waiting for the food “stalls” on the inside perimeter of the tent to open.

As the ceremony started, I noticed that the bride-to-be was nowhere to be seen and was told that she was in the tent behind the stage. I walked over and saw many women in front of the tent hanging, just waiting. I later came to find out that the bride would not leave the tent, but that someone from Momin’s family, as part of the ceremony, would go and ask her to marry Momin.

Many of Momin’s female family members did come and observe Momin and they were all dressed so beautifully. I really enjoy the women in India, dressed in the more traditional sari’s. Wedding sari’s are a step beyond and are just beautiful to observe. The jewelry that is worn, especially the nose rings, are also something that I love to see and take photos of. I took a snap with a number of the women surrounding me and was in a bit of heaven.

Finally we got to the end of the ceremony and I went up on the stage, sat next to Momin and watched him, his father-in-law, and others sign some legal documents. During the entire 2+ hour ceremony everyone was enjoying a variety of foods. Unfortunately dust bins were not provided, or at least I didn’t see any and so the grounds of the wedding ceremony tent, became littered, something I haven’t quite gotten used to.

One of Momin’s friends brought me back to the house on his scooter. The next day’s reception would take place across the narrow street from Momin’s home and I decided to go over. A group of five men were preparing the food, including the carcass of a cow with his entrails sprawled and his head and eyes in a fixed gaze.

I walked into the house where more ceremony was taking place. Someone had something like silly string and was spraying it. This had also been used at the wedding ceremony venue. Finally Momin’s wife was brought in with her face shrouded. She was just lovely in the very heavy wedding dress, although we couldn’t really look upon her face yet. She was placed on the ground and all gathered around her. Momin sat next to her, the silly string spewing. I can’t imagine what it must be like for the bride, wearing so much wedding paraphernalia, having to change, the wedding night.

The ceremonies seemed to go on and on and I decided to try to sleep. There were people sleeping everywhere and there was at least one other person in “my” room, but at least I had my own bed.

Momin’s father had painted one of the bedrooms for the first night, but earlier in the day I had sat on the bed with some other friends and eaten our lunch. I wondered what it would be like, how Momin’s wife would even get out of her wedding clothes which she also had to put on the next day, somehow everyone takes it in stride. There was one point where I asked the bride how she was doing and put my hand on her shoulder, but was told don’t touch her. A modern couple steeped in tradition.

On Monday I walked into town with a couple of Momin’s friends. There was a great market and people generally allowed me to take their photos. There was a great deal of curiosity, but part of the experience is to just “touch” others by being in the same vicinity. I must look rather odd with my topis, considering that the circumstance of a westerner being in town were very remote. Finally we had to go back to Momin’s home for the reception.

Momin and his wife were sitting on his bed greeting people, having photos taken. The bride looked uncomfortable and so very tired, but she took it in good spirit. This is the way that it is and will continue to be. Momin explained to me that there would be many more days of ceremonies and celebrations.

Around 6 PM I got onto a scooter with two of Momin’s friends as they drove me to the train station. The magic of rural India was everywhere as we drove around dusk, making it all even more mystical.

As I think back on it all, it adds to my understanding and knowledge of the world. It tells me that people are people, some do hate, but mostly we just want what is best for ourselves and our families. A Muslim person may have different beliefs but mostly there is allowance and tolerance for all. As I continue to find out though, one has to experience diversity to really know, to be part of the world and break down person made barriers.

I’m looking forward to meeting up with Momin and his wife in Delhi, ready to assume a modern relationship, where both are working and loving based on what they both wanted. I’m looking forward to sharing some of the happiness and hopefully becoming an uncle to their children. I’m thankful for having had the opportunity to be part of a very different culture enabling me to continue to learn about the world.

November 2011 part 1

Last month was nothing short of a whirl wind, as time passed from late October to early December within a matter of minutes. Badhte Kadam, edition 3, kicked off on October 21 in Chandigarh, with the Delhi Flag Off on November 3 at Delhi Haat, soon followed by attending a wedding in Shamsabad, UP, a visit to a tiger reserve, Bandhavgarh, M.P., wheelchair basketball in Delhi and Visakhapatnam, A.P., a return to Delhi and the closing of Badhte Kadam, world disability day and more wheelchair basketball, attending a speaking engagement to see the Dalai Lama and the National Disability Awards. In between all of this my sister Robyn and her husband Michael arrived in Delhi, soon left, came back and took up residence, in what is now the spare bedroom, until December 9.

Badhte Kadam 2011
Badhte Kadam 2011 has turned out to be the best edition yet, mainly because of the cooperation of the press throughout India. We’ve had the partnership of the government channel, Doordarshan, and the local press seems to have totally come onto “our side”.

This year we enabled more flexibility on the local dates of BK, as well as how the local NGOs would run their melas, or information sessions. This seemed to have worked out to the best as indicated by the consistent posting of photos and video on the Badhte Kadam Facebook page. This was a new feature which we brought to BK 2011 and a number of our NGOs actually started their own FB pages, which was unintended capacity building. We’re going to follow up on this by helping all of our participating BK NGOs to establish their own FB pages.

The Flag out organized by the excellent NGO AADI was held at Dilla Haat, a very wise decision as the event was more out in the open. Unlike last year where we had to beg people to come to the Constitution Club in a somewhat staid environment, this year all of the seats were filled. The Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment, Mr. Wasnik, again graced us by flagging off. The AADI staff did a great job or organising with help from National Trust, mostly supplied by our Deputy Director of Administration, Mr. Tyagi. Of course, our super board member Shekhar Borker, who had participated in all editions of BK, was also there.

One of the highlights of the event for me came when hearing impaired children signed the National Anthem. This seems, at least in our circles to becoming more and more popular and it was incredibly moving. The amount of press was phenomenal, thanks to Epistle Solutions, which shows the growth in interest of the disability field. To me, Muthu from AADI, like Jerry West to the National Basketball Association, has become the poster of what BK is all about. A strong man even though confined to a wheelchair. A great photo of Muthu appeared in the Times of India representing what BK is all about.

This year I decided that I needed to get out of the office during BK, although I knew that I could be reached wherever I was in India. One has to let go and allow others to do the work. My job is about capacity building and this was the intention. Yes, I still need to help with some framework, but front line staff, Anita, Momin and others are understanding more and more the importance and potential of Badhte Kadam. Pieces are in place, on the staff side to continue this work, the question is who has the time and will take the leadership to lead BK 4.