The CERES Global group have a free day today – and Ben has gone with them climbing a mountain to the border of Maharasthra and Madya Pradesh. So I’ve taken the opportunity to fill you in on what the group has been up to.
Once again – the India trip has been phenomenal.
Every day is so full of fresh insights – even for me who has been here maybe 20 times before.
With over a billion people in a land about half the size of Australia – and with a rich history stretching back thousands of years – India is a place of constant intrigue and bewilderment – with both challenges and determination as huge as the awesome peaks of the Himalayas.
One day we’re doing the hokey-pokey with the children of the red-light district in Mumbai – the next we’re having an intellectual discussion about the contribution Mahatma Gandhi made to India and the world.
We’ve been in the poorest of poor villages – and made bread on the little clay stove smoking in the corner.
We’ve dressed up in saris ( not actually me ) and joined the women of the village in their new year harvest celebrations – passing around a handful of sweets to passersby saying ‘ take this sweet and speak sweetly for the coming year’.
We’ve met people making inspiring efforts on some of the troubling issues of India. Women working to introduce absolute basic items like sanitary napkins during menstruation. People finding solutions to the disappearing trees in the forests – making use of waste crop residue to make fire-bricks so people don’t need to carry off their forests to cook the evening meal.
We’ve also wrestled with some of the seemingly intractable Indian issues of caste, and dowry, and corruption. We’ve listened with amazement to some of the ‘god stories’ – of Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva, Ganpati, Krishna, Ram, Hanuman, …. to name a few of the many thousands – and wonder how the nation makes sense of, and seems so tightly bound to, such a plethora of wisdoms. We stunned a year 10 class and their teachers in revealing that maybe 50% of Australians don’t ever go to church or pray to god. We attended a Moslem wedding – surprised to find that no women attended the ceremony – not even the bride. Our hearts sank at the thought of effort needed to reach some semblance of gender equity.
We’ve talked to village women’s groups about their aspirations for the future – about the intricacies of arranged marriages – about the taboos of talking about sexual issues at all – and about some of the tensions that results in for young and newly married.
We’ve discussed plans for constructing environmentally sound living quarters for Teachers in an extremely remote village which finds it hard to attract Teachers at all – partly due to the dilapidated stick huts they’re provided to live in. This has engaged us in grappling with the seemingly unstoppable demand for ‘pakka’ homes – the concrete and iron apartments springing up all over India as people yearn to shrug off their age-long association with stick and mud homes – desperate to appear to be entering the modern, progressive, world.
We erected a weather station in the village we’re working with for new Teacher’s quarters – only to be summoned by the local State Member asking if we could provide more for the banana growers of the area. They believe they’re being cheated on by Insurance Companies underestimating recent extremes in weather damaging their crops.
On New Year’s Eve we sat in silence under a huge banyan tree – with candles flickering – and the delicately lit gold plated Matre Mandir temple in front of us. Then we moved on to the Tibetan Pavilion – to chants with a thousand candles. Again in silence. Contemplating this amazing country – this amazing world – the marvels of its achievements – the depth of the dilemmas that confront it.
The simple village hut. The magestic Matre Mandir. Thousands of gods. Sanitary napkins……. then there’s Australia !!!
Lots of love from India
Post by Noel Blencowe
Photo taken by Jonathon Wright