So we have not written in quite some time, but we assure all of our avid readers (not) that we will be “blogging” much more frequently from now on. Before we start, we apologize for the way that we must write this blog for it to make sense. Someone (Shelly Mintz, HC 2011) has informed us that our blog can at times be “creepy” due to it being written in 3rd person. For instance, writing “Nora saw a giant cockroach and lizard yesterday” when Nora herself is writing this passage. We have discussed ways around this, but since we write together, Nora and Mohenna have decided that writing in the 3rd person is inevitable and will continue to do so. ONWARD…
Last week was quite busy- we had to turn in a report on our research so far at Ashoka, and on Friday afternoon we went to Agra for the weekend. Last week at work, we continued to do research on agriculture in India, and there is not much to tell there. Anyway, on Friday we presented a 10 page report. It provided- a sketch of Indian agriculture and how it arrived at this point, the current challenges in India agriculture with a specific focus on the plight of the small farmer. We elaborated on the effects of the Green Revolution, irrigation issues, GM/GE seeds, low bureaucratic accountability, inefficient use of public funds, specifically farmers’ vulnerability to fluctuating markets, their lack of access to markets and credit, a lack of uniformity in policies amongst states, farmer suicides, shrinking land holdings, income, decreasing food security, lack of insurance, and finally perhaps the biggest problem- the loans, debt, and lack of credit that is connected to all of the above mentioned challenges and which makes the majority of small farmers’ lives hell. We then presented a layout of the various government schemes focusing on agricultural and rural development issues and the effectiveness of these schemes. This will help in understanding whether nominators or fellows’ work overlaps with the governmental sector. Finally, we suggested the main areas where change and innovation are necessary in the agricultural sector. We suggested projects to mainly make farming more profitable- a diversification of produce and initiatives to provide/teach farmers non-farm, economic livelihoods to sustain their families in addition to farming. We also suggested that there be increases in public investments and less emphasis on subsidies on such things as fertilizer and irrigation. We suggested areas where technological advances were necessary, how policy could aid in debt relief, and how methods of agriculture contribute to health and the quality of food. We concluded “As such, the miracle of the Green Revolution is unsustainable without major changes in the agricultural system and its methods. Ideally, there could be a sustainable, wide spread system under which farmers could protect the environment, produce high yields, and provide food to the market at average prices.” This is what we envision Ashoka fellows in agriculture as seeking to do. From here, we are going to do some more detailed research on what is going on in each of the 28 Indian states (and 7 territories) in agriculture, and after that, get started on the nominator database that we will be adding to.
Our bosses (they don’t like us to call them bosses, but partners in the Venture Team) are very encouraging, and during our meeting, Sid would respond to our answers to questions in a hilarious fashion. He is deeply impressed fairly easily, and it seems extremely genuine. When we answered simple questions such as “name the main nonfood agricultural products in India,” he responded to our answers with “WOWWW, if I was on the Nobel committee I would give you a prize!” At the end of our meeting, we told them we had really enjoyed working at Ashoka so far. Sid told us that we were wonderful people and he loved listening to our conversations- at this point, due to his inflection we were sure he was going to say something like, “but you are horrible employees!” But instead he said we had been very organized so far, and were doing great and valuable work for them. Dolon offered the same sentiments. Yay!
So far this week, this morning two Ashoka fellows came in and spoke to the Venture Team about flooding in India and the solutions to it. One fellow described in depth the different engineering methods used to prevent flooding of rivers and lakes onto people’s homes and land. He drew on the board diagrams of what happens when walls/embankments around lakes or alongside rivers, or even when people dredge (excavate) the bottom of lakes to make them deeper so they flood less. He described how for 9000 years, people had managed the floods locally, and in the past 300 years, technology came in attempting to limit the flooding but in turn caused more problems which are often of greater magnitudes. Seeing the diagrams he showed of the flow of water and where it goes when it is contained proved how no matter how one deals with the problem of flooding through engineering, they are always falling into the same traps. When a gate is built, water rises within that gate, a seemingly good solution. But water is actually seeping under the gate, or just flooding somewhere else. Also, due to the gate’s presence, sediment cannot escape and builds up quickly at the bottom of the lake, causing the lake’s non-flood level to rise dramatically each year. So, each year the gate is built higher and higher, causing more and more water to seep under it and raising the risk of the gate collapsing and the water column falling onto people’s homes. These same erroneous methods to deal with flooding are used worldwide. He explained that the future is bleak with the current amount of resources and the little progress we have made in actually stopping flooding. We hope that entertained everyone!
Now for BOOK GROUP TALK TIME: One of the fellows recommended a book to us called How the Other Half Dies, by Susan George (www.amazon.com/Other-Half-Dies-Susan-George/dp/0916672085). We have been going to bookstores and trying to find books on agriculture and other topics. Yesterday Nora bought Story of My Asssasins, which Dr. M.B. Sarkar highly recommends, and Interpreter of Maladies. We both just finished The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, which was really good- Mohenna loved his extended and poignant metaphors and Nora loved his writing style. It is good exposure to life in India. Nora is now reading a book that has been mentioned in this blog before- How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the power of New Ideas by David Bornstein (www.amazon.com/How-Change-World-Social-Entrepreneurs/dp/0195138058). A lot of it is about Ashoka fellows and Ashoka’s founder, Bill Drayton. It gives good accounts of how social entrepreneurs get their projects off the ground and the stories behind them. Nora will tell you all more about how she feels about the book when she is done.
Now for THE NON-WORK SECTION OF THIS BLOG. We say this in capital letters because we have a sneaking suspicion (or confirmation) that certain friends of ours use the CTRL+F keys to search through our blog for the word “agriculture” and skip any paragraph containing this word, reading only the parts of our blog that they are interested in. We understand that our blog is long, but that is because it is also on the Haverford website and because we are using it as sort of a journal. Last week, nothing very exciting happened- we went to Mohenna’s aunt’s house for dinner in Gurgaon where we proceeded to have conversations, during which Nora (repeatedly) used the only three phrases she knew in Hindi, about the difference in pronunciations between American English (apparently the wrong kind) and British English (apparently the correct kind). While sleeping, we swear we heard the AC switch go off in the middle of the night AKA another haunted house (yes this one has stories too).
On Friday, we left work early and arrived home to leave for Agra to see the Taj Mahal! Mohenna’s family had rented a van, which actually turned out to be a 12 seat bus that we could stand up in! We looked as though we were traveling in a government vehicle. The trip, which was supposed to take three-four hours, took about six due to traffic and the fact that our bus driver could not drive more than 20 miles/hour. During the drive we did various things to take up our time, we chatted, slept, and ate, but soon realized that we needed to take full advantage of the fact that people were constantly staring into the huge windows during stoplights. So at the next light, Aeshna and Aman decided to attack/strangle Nora much to the bewilderment of the local onlookers… Finally we arrived in Agra late that night, and took a tour of our hotel (Jaypee Palace Hotel) which we highly recommended. The hotel was beautiful and looked like a fort from the outside. We were told that there was a big company party being thrown outside with dancers and singers (for some TV station)… so we decided to crash. As we were standing there awkwardly dancing, Nora snuck away to the food tent, which had about THIRTY Indian dishes and Nora’s favorite desert, gulab jamun As Nora was spooning ice cream and gulab jamun onto her plate, Mohenna found her there and was standing with her as she ate. Suddenly, Aman, the 12-year-old moral police officer came up and yelled at us that we were going to get kicked out the party, get in trouble, and go to jail due to our actions. He said that he was not allowed in the party (it was over 18 only) and that we were breaking the law by taking food. Since then, we have had to be careful about not breaking any laws around him since he is still salty towards us. This boy has the moral compass of a 50 year old or Garrett Vanacore (hi!). Nora actually broke on the next day, however, by taking a picture of the real tombs inside of the Taj by accident (she forgot the rules) while Mohenna videotaped (also prohibited).
As per usual, the two of us cannot go one day without having some sort of dramatic occurrence. Once back at the hotel, Mohenna went inside the bathroom, and bolted the door, all of a sudden the lights went off and being the masochist that she is, she said ‘Bloody Mary’ three times into the mirror, thinking that Nora would surely turn the lights back on because the bolt was too far up to unlock. But no. Mohenna screamed in the bathroom long enough for security guards to run over, but her mother found Nora, her dear friend, on the floor right outside the bathroom dying (of laughter) -but she didn’t know that – which caused a miniature panic attack. Wonderful.
We awoke at 5:30 am to leave for the Taj Mahal- it was going to be 115 degress that day so going in the morning was less hot and the Taj would be a lot less busy. We got a tour guide who smelled horrible(which caused Mohenna to run away from the tour about 3 minutes in), and followed his scent around the entrance and up to the Taj, showing us the beautiful marble work and inlay work (every single color on the Taj is anther stone perfectly laid into marble, there is no paint/coloring). It is unbelievable that people built it so symmetrically and perfectly. He told us the love story about how the Taj Mahal was built as a tomb by Shah Jahan for his wife. For being so beautiful and grand on the outside, the inside is small and not too exciting, with two tombs in the center of the room, although people need to remember it was a mausoleum and not a palace. When we left the Taj, we took a horse and buggy a few miles back to the hotel. We then ate an AMAZING brunch buffet with tons of South Indian and continental dishes and the best pineapple juice in the world. At breakfast, Nora learned one of the most insulting phrases in Hindi and screamed it accidentally/only realizing its impact at the breakfast table when the wait staff halted to a stop. That was interesting. Then we went shopping with Tanu and MB (Ma and Papa) at the market. We bought real marble, minature versions of the Taj Mahal that light up beautifully when you put a light under them. Nora bought a candle holder (for our room at school) made of marble that projects the beautiful flowery designs etched into the marble onto the walls.
Since Agra, we have been chilling at home. Sunday afternoon we went out to brunch with family, Mohenna’s aunt, and two nice boys that just graduated from Harvard. The entire meal Mohenna’s family was taking pictures of us all talking…while we consistently asked ‘if it was really necessary’ to which they replied back ‘yes’. After that, we went shopping with our friend Neha from work at the market. A man groped Mohenna in the market, and instead of running, she turned, grabbed him by the collar and smacked some sense into him. Yea Mohenna!
Oh, we have also joined a nearby gym! It is 1000 rupees/month ($20), and includes a gym trainer and everything. We go after work with Mohenna’s aunt. The gym is very dinky, just a few treadmills and a weight machine. Also, working out is very weight-loss oriented here. There are creepy “slimming” machines in the basement that look like electroshock therapy machines. The gym owner was also quite strange- she asked us if we had ever heard of a gym, been to one, and insisted that we use the trainer for the most weight loss. We declined- we are just looking to get a little exercise because sitting eight hours a day at work can make us restless.
On the way home from the gym, we saw another fight because the same Sikh man as before tried to steal another bike. A group of men were beating the Sikh and kicking him very hard and pulling his hair. It was really scary and there was nothing we could do about it.
Now, we are at work and have just had a meeting with an interesting candidate for Ashoka- he is working in Manipur, a state in Northeastern India with a lot of ethnic/political tension. He spoke of how 4-5 young people are killed every day and the people he has seen shot to death or bombed. His idea, which he has already begun, is to get young people involved with eco-adventure activities (rockclimbing, trekking, biking, high ropes), to get them to make constant, educated decisions when their own and other peoples lives are on the line, and to build teambuilding. It sounded like a really cool idea. We have plans to go to Bombay this coming weekend to stay with Sneha! –However we really would appreciate the floods/‘hurricanes’ (all referring to the Monsoon rains) to lift before we arrive…
Back to work!
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Friday at work was pretty routine- we got out early because an employee’s car got stolen with the Ashoka keys in it, and headed over to pick up Leepa from her work at Connaught Place. From there, we went to Janpanth (sp?) market to do some shopping. Basically, the vendors raise any price about 75% for a foreigner, especially for Nora. We devised a system under which Nora would scan a store, sneakily point to the thing she wanted, and Leepa would bargain in Hindi for it before Nora would come up and make sure it looked good on her- when the price was set. Bargaining can be tough and embarrassing, especially when you refuse to buy something, thinking they will give you a better deal, and then they just don’t. You can either walk away from the thing or come back with your head down minutes later. Nora spent about 20 American dollars and ended up getting a handmade bag, a pair of linen pants, two earrings, shoes, and some beautiful decorations that Leepa managed to bargain down from 150 rp/each to 200 rp/four. Mohenna got some awesome shoes and pants. We ate some streetfood (pani puries) and left the market, but not before a man with a bullwhip chased us down, asking Mohenna to buy it at least three times… does she look like she uses them?
Once we arrived home, Leepa and Ashish took us all out for Chinese- Indian Chinese food is totally different than American Chinese food, as well as real Chinese food. It is delicious. On the way home, Ashish and Aman were feuding, as per usual, and Ashish exclaims, “you think you were taught to use chopsticks from your mother’s womb?” (meaning he’s a know it all) Aman heard another word, “bund,” which means backside, and we both heard “from your mother’s boobs”- okay, maybe you had to be there.
We went to sleep and woke up early on Saturday morning, ready to give meditation another go with the Grand Master of spiritual healing. He had promised that he would take us out of our bodies. On (semi) empty stomachs, we laid in the bedroom and the Grand Master inserted the tape that he had recorded. We felt our bodies relax to what must have been a sort of hypnosis at first. Part of the tape was him telling us to make different parts of our bodies, and ultimately our entire bodies, feel sharp tingles like pins and needles. In the tape, he told us to envision our toes, then feet, then legs etc. in our mind and make them tingle. Both of us felt this happen, Mohenna more intensely, she felt her entire lower half experience pins and needles and Nora just her feet. The connection between mind and allowing your body to feel something it wouldn’t have otherwise was very, very cool. The tape continued, and at this point, he told us to lift out of our bodies and watch ourselves lying on the bed. After this point, what was supposed to happen was that your subconscious mind picks a random place, and you are able to go there and see that place perfectly. By this point, Nora let other thoughts into her head and could really not stay deeply meditative enough to allow any of this to happen- reality, noises, and other thoughts kept popping into her head and she could not get them out. Mohenna, on the other hand, had a mental image of us lying on the bed, and could see it- as though her mind was hovering above and her body remained on the bed. However, past this point, nothing happened for her. When he said to envision a place that you would like to go, her subconscious mind randomly picked her old elementary school. The tape ended, and a bit disappointed, we went to eat and slumber for hours after our semi-hypnosis.
At 8:00 we left for the surprise party that Ashish was throwing for a friend. Parties start late here (for adults), around 10:30 usually, and often go until 4 or 5 in the morning. Everyone really knows how to have a good time. There is also a more relaxed attitude among older crowds as compared to America about herbal drugs and drinking. We sat in a corner for a bit after the initial small talk wore off before retiring to the children’s room where they were playing cricket and Nintendo and Mohenna found the love of her life, a baby pug who was so ugly he was beautiful. We then found ourselves in a bed in a random room, obviously someone’s who we didn’t know, and made ourselves right at home – as in under the covers ready to slumber. Around 12:30 (!!) food was served, which was amazing, and as the adults began partying more and more, we began to feel tired and ready to go home at about 1:00. Nora sat and played Nintendo for quite some time by herself, before she got a case of the hiccups that didn’t go away for about an hour. After a while, we dragged Leepa and Ashish out of the party and headed home. On the way home, we saw an elephant walking on the highway amongst all of the cars! Nora was fascinated and hopped out of the car to take pictures, while the little man on the elephant waived at the car- problem is, we could not tell if he was signaling “GO! The elephant is coming” or “COME! Pet the elephant.” So, we waltzed back and forth with the elephant until we gave up and went home.
On Sunday morning, we woke up and Nora was determined to have an out of body experience while Mohenna simply wanted to sleep and kill the occasional construction worker who finds it funny to drill outside her window at 7 am every morning. (Lizzie graham, this reminds me of when you say “I’m having an out of body experience!”) Long story short, we attempted once more, for an hour this time, to drift into another state of consciousness. However, this time the purpose of the exercise was aimed at telepathy, which seemed extremely unrealistic and was hard to concentrate fully on. Mohenna, too hungry and light headed from the intense breathing in the meditation, simply fell asleep and then left the room, all she could think about was the chicken in the adjacent room. Nora focused on the exercise- this is her: I definitely did not feel or see anything I was supposed to- again, I could not unclutter my mind of other thoughts. Rather than the exercises actually working or something, what the meditation did for me is sort of unlock my unconscious mind, but at the same time I am completely conscious of what is going on. During the meditation, random people and thoughts just pop into my mind that I would never, ever, ever think about otherwise or haven’t remembered in years. That is all though. Mohenna has realized that though she believes in the mind body connection, she is too firmly rooted in this world to experience anything these exercises try to achieve.
In the late afternoon, Nora made an impulsive decision to get her nose pierced which resulted in a trip to a piercing and tattoo store in the middle of the mall. Within 20 minutes of deciding she wanted it, it was done. Hiru didi is here right now, telling us about how she pierced her own nose, and she turned out perfectly normal. Ehhh….
We are about to eat chicken teriyaki, – we know a certain someone just got jealous reading that last bit. – and get ready for work tomorrow. We have to tell Sid what we’ve learned so far about Indian agriculture…
Aman Srivastava, ultimate hipster
Thursday: The morning was normal: full of craziness, tea, toast, cheese, eggs, Hiru didi, ADHD Payal, possessed shower (Nora not realizing that there was an open window adjacent to said shower), and wardrobe anxiety. A wonderful way to start off the day!
This time we reached work at 10:30, and surprisingly enough the office was full. Just kidding. We were once again in first place. Work started off normally, until Dolon and Sid asked us to come down for a meeting with Dr. Sharma, one of Ashoka’s oldest and most distinguished fellows. He was elected in 1985 only four years after the birth of Ashoka International. His initial project idea which made him an Ashoka Fellow was to go to the Himalayas, where various groups were working on conservation (a new field at the time), and working to bridge the communication gaps between the organizations. Along with that he worked to provide solutions that would work in that particular area. His goal was to enhance networking and information exchange. At the beginning of the meeting, Dr. Sharma laid out the disclaimer: that his idea when he became a fellow should no longer be considered his ‘new’ idea. His ‘newest’ idea has not yet been created because he is not finished thinking during his time on earth.One of the main components of our research is to find out the challenges faced by the small and marginalized farmers in India. Dr. Sharma explained to us that in the last 10 years there have 180,000 farmers have committed suicide (loan cycles, decreasing land, lack of food). The Green Revolution only sent technology and brainpower to irrigated areas and not naturally rain-fed areas, it also only focused on wheat and grain and there was no focus on marginal crops. The government seemed to focus on areas working with irrigation systems because applicable technology seemed to produce a more visual and tangible change – Areas, which were not growing anything at all, were suddenly producing crops. However the fallacy to this revolution was that rain-fed areas, which account for 70% of Indian agriculture, were producing great amounts of food. So they were not given any attention. These areas, though initially producing more than the irrigated lands, were still in need of dire assistance and were in no way producing enough yield. People needed to understand that the fact that the rain-fed areas were producing more yield than irrigated areas did NOT mean that they were producing ENOUGH yield, it simply meant MORE yield than the others. Due to this imbalance of technological placement the prices of marginal crops are rising because there is such a skew in what is researched and what is.
There are also no MSP’s (minimum support prices) on marginal crops and there are no controls over these crops. First and foremost we have to help the farmers survive and sadly at this point, without any solution for ten years, people have become desensitized to their suicide stories. The Green Revolution has brought us to this situation because the input/output system has changed. This is because the Green Revolution emphasized greater yields and the use of genetically modified seeds and chemical fertilizers. However, while this was good for large farms, the small farmer began to struggle to purchase the seeds and fertilizers that were necessary to produce as high a yield as everyone else. The growth has now inverted – one puts in more and one gets less in return as opposed to before. Because of the change of this input/output ratio, the farmers borrow from the market, and when the debt consistently increases the small farmers all too often commit suicide. The Indian government recently has increased credit flow, thinking that it would curb the situation. However, the problem is that once they wave a debt, the farmer is still in the same position and the cycle hasn’t changed- the farmer finds himself, in the same dilemma two years later. The Indian government and loan companies aren’t looking at the “Genesis” of the problem.
When we asked him how to achieve a higher input-output ratio, Dr. Sharma further explained that the state of Punjab is a role model for the agricultural system in India. He explained that if a person went to Punjab in the past, they would find the land to be pumped with chemicals and fertilizers. The Punjabi farmers at the time did not realize that even though it was producing a higher yield of crops, it was killing the soil, themselves, and ultimately hurting them economically because of the pressure to continue buying the chemicals for high yielding crops. The Punjabi farmers have been given a crash course in the importance of health and the importance of utilization in a country with sparse resources. So the Punjabi farmers have converted back to the traditional Indian farming system which is dependent on the cattle. They have proceeded to rid their farms of western cows (which are not organically fed and raised) and replaced them with Indian grazing cows, they then utilize the dung and urine of the cows as natural fertilizer. These farmers have realized that organic crops and growing marginal crops may give them just as high of a monetary yield as the commonly grown, genetically modified cash crops. In addition, these people are eating and selling healthier and less poisoned food as opposed to having a higher yield of crops. Hence, small farmers CAN survive if they take the right precautions. This mentality is spreading through education and Punjab is now also getting higher MSP for their wheat because it is safer to eat. There is more of a market for organically grown food because organizations and education have helped to link health to agriculture.
The main point we absorbed was that the agricultural sector usually is looked into as a rural field that cities and the industry can ignore, but people HAVE to realize that it’s deeply connected to the economy and all other issues, and that if a society ignores it then they are harming everyone because it’s such an interconnected field (we will focus more on how it is so connected to the economy and stuff like that in another post) We are all part of the food chain, and the sad reality is because human beings are on the far receiving end of the food chain people are not bothered about how the food is actually produced, or the treatment of the food, or even the transportation of the food. Today the cancer rate is growing and the connection to food is evident. The kind of chemicals used to grow food directly affects our health. In one study there were 400 chemicals found in the human body. Because of this unfortunate disconnect it’s hard to appreciate and understand the components of the food we eat. For example, the salad that people are eating in Delhi is all grown with polluted water and the movement of chemicals seeping into vegetables is much higher than it is for grains. Food isn’t just what we see, just like people just aren’t what they look like. A person’s true value is in their upbringing as is a food’s true value is in it’s cultivation.
Enough about work, even though it’s fascinating. We never thought agriculture would spark our interest as much as it does. Once we reached home we found Mohenna’s uncle working hard on a project, we asked him what he was concentrating so hard on perfecting and he replied ‘Aman’s summer homework so that his mother doesn’t kill him.’ Now we were under the impression that Aman was helping his father, but in walks Aman with his friend, drenched in sweat, holding his cricket bat, clearly he had been outside playing for the last couple hours. Wonderful!
When we went to change, we heard a brawl outside so we proceeded to check it out. Outside the gates of our house there was a crowd gathering. Two Sikhs (mafia members) had attempted to steal (heist) a motorcycle (bank) and while one got away on a scooter, the other was caught. In an attempt to grab him, his turban was ripped off. When we looked outside, a (beautiful according to Nora) man with flowing hair down to his knees was arguing with a large crowd and a fistfight looked as though it would ensue. Another man chased the Sikh with a cricket bat and began to smack his scooter with it. Hiru didi and Ashish went outside to check it out, but Aman and Nora stayed safely on the balcony attempting to document.
We then sat down to eat dinner and the conversation at the table soon turned to one where we asked them the story of how they met, dated, and finally got married. This was hilarious because immediately both Leepa (Mashu) and Ashish (Chacha) – claimed that the other person was the pursuer and both insisted that they themselves were the pursued. They went on to narrate their (totally contradicting) stories, and at one point her uncle completely inaccurately described the scene of the proposal to her aunt… Leading a secret life there Ashish? Who’s the other wife??? Through the conversation we learned a cultural value, and it seems as though here in India, the idea of shallow dating is rare, and once people are mature and have been dating for a couple years it is known that they are on the road to getting married shortly. There is little need for a life affirming moment where the man gets down on one knee and spews his heart out. To continue on with the dinner table conversations, we proceeded to think about whether we would sacrifice our lives for someone else if we could in return save theirs. Nora claimed that she wouldn’t be opposed to if that person had experienced less life then she had and if the chance of their survival was high enough after her initial sacrifice- also she would need more time than a split second to make up her mind, and every situation is very different- she probably wouldn’t fly in front of a bullet by instinct, but might sacrifice after rational thought. Ashish claimed that in the moment of death, no matter how much people would like to believe that they would save a loved one, animal instinct gets put into gear and your own survival becomes priority. Mohenna still doesn’t know what she would do because has never thought about or analyzed the level of relationships she has to that extent – she feels as though the people she would possibly save would be the same people who would genuinely never want her to sacrifice her life for theirs. What light conversations!!
After finishing rounds of mango ice cream and watching Nora eat the center of the mango much like a savage would, it was time for bed. Sleeping is usually peaceful, except tonight. Mohenna turned around at approximately 3 am to face the other way and Nora, in her sleep grabbed Mohenna’s face with two hands, looked into her eyes and loudly, not to mention incoherently, spewed some words before letting go and falling back asleep. This further adds to the theory that that Nora Graham is a possessed gremlin. Or Ghost (aka we were right all along about Moaning Myrtle). Crazy.
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So we thought it best to skip over the happenings of Tuesday considering it consisted of: a bad workday that rehashing at this moment would require us to relive, blackouts, monsoons, and an unsettling basement office. Notable but also unsettling is the car accident on the ride home. Suddenly, a motorcycle collided with the back of the car. Our driver jumped out and started screaming at the young boy- what we perceived from inside the car was that he did not have insurance. Our car was not damaged at all. However, the boy’s motorcycle bumper had fallen off and strangely, our driver stole it and threw it in the back of the car. We are not sure how having half of a motorcycle bumper will help him at all. We wouldn’t know because he never talks to us, no matter Nora’s futile attempts to penetrate the language barrier.
motorcycle bumper and fight outside the car
Wednesday: Nora and I were woken up at 7:20, it seems as though with each passing day Hiru didi wakes up 10 minutes earlier as compared to the day before… we woke up and took turns showering- turns out the house isn’t the only thing that’s possessed. The shower head, though usually perfect, has periods of shutting off and then suddenly shooting out cold jets of water. This wonderful occurrence usually only happens while Mohenna is showering. It’s always hilarious watching Nora try to communicate with Hiru didi because it usually consists of Nora asking one question and Hiru didi answering another, completely unrelated one. That particular morning, Hiru didi was not happy with the way Nora was eating her eggs and would not allow her to eat in peace until she made a strangely folded sandwich out of her eggs and toast. When Nora finally offered her a bite and started to put her fork towards her mouth, she opened it and Nora screamed- it was filled with snuff, which she eats like chewing tobacco each morning.
We arrived at work at 10:15 this time, only to find once again that we were the first people at the office other than the office (coffee, tea, lunch) boy. Mohenna not being a morning person can now be explained, it seems to run in her blood/culture. We began our research when Sid and Dolon asked us if we wanted to go on a field trip to the former Indian Secretary of Government (!!!) regarding agricultural advancements in India.
Before explaining our meeting, we need to talk about our experience getting to the location of the meeting. First of all, we had to go back home to change into more formal clothing so our bosses offered to drive us home and then onto the location. Apparently, the place where we are residing is close to impossible to navigate to (as is most of Delhi.) Poor Sid was sitting in the front seat with the grumpy, aggravated, and hungry driver and every time he would stop and ask for directions, people would think for two seconds and would simply point ‘forward.’ No, there would be no suggestion on how long we should go forward for, or which direction of ‘forward’ due to the fact that each person’s finger would consistently point in contradictory directions, or the acknowledgement on their part that their suggestion of simply continuing on ‘forward’ would lead us into a wall; no, none of that. Also, it has become clear that the people here do not like to disappoint with a ‘No sir, I’m sorry I do not know the way.’ Instead they give directions, which may or may not work. I guess hospitality runs deep, and gambling is always fun.
Now for the meeting, we arrived at AFPRO: Action for Food Production’s (www.afpro.org/) office on time. We were finally introduced to D.K. Manavalan who was extremely gracious and lead us to his conference room with the rest of his team in order to have the meeting and see a visual presentation. We filed into the room and someway somehow Mohenna ended up sitting at the chair at the head of the conference table that towered significantly above the others. We are sure that this was the chair he usually (and rightfully) sits in during his own meetings. Mohenna realized this and immediately asked him if he wanted to switch to which he laughed and responded that it was for ‘visitors like yourself’ (lies). The office boy who was coming around to provide tea was confused to see a young girl sitting in his boss’s chair and watching the presentation. Anyway, it seemed as though AFPRO impacts all aspects of rural life in India and realizes the interconnectedness of the problems facing the rural poor. Their innovative projects related to such issues as food security and agriculture, irrigation, potable water projects, sanitation, energy, and overall rural development and capacity building greatly impressed us, as did their partnerships with businesses, governments, and other NGOs. They are a national level NGO providing socio technical development support for grassroots’ organizations. We felt that the mission of Ashoka and its fellows overlaps with that of AFPRO’s in almost every area. One of the points made in the meeting was that 70% of Indian agriculture exists in rain fed areas. If people do not maintain that area properly then it won’t be able to sustain the growing population, and one of the main sources of water is being overlooked in the system is rainfall water. If this rainfall water can correctly be stored within the aquifers, the entire system has the possibility of becoming recharged. One of the goals of AFPRO is to educate people on the concept of “hydrogeology.” At this moment in time, two of the largest partnerships AFPRO has are with IKEA (growing organic cotton using sustainable farming methods) and with the World Bank (Ensuring food security through community participation). The discussion proved to be highly beneficial, and at the end he told us to stay in contact and gave us his contact information.
The point of Ashoka building a connection with an organization like AFPRO is for several reasons. It is sort of difficult to understand its connections with other grassroots NGOs because Ashoka is NOT a grassroots organization- it manages fellows, many of which have grassroots organizations. For one, the head of AFPRO is an example of someone that could serve as one of the nominators we were talking about in our last post. By talking with AFPRO and keeping up contact with Mr. Manavalan, the Venture Team, which we are a part of, will be able to hear about innovation in the field of agriculture and rural development. Perhaps a member of AFPRO themselves could be an Ashoka fellow. The other reason to have a connection with an NGO like AFPRO is as a resource for fellows and their partnerships. If let’s say, five fellows working in different areas of agriculture wanted to meet in Delhi to feed off each others ideas or create a joint project, AFPRO might come and collaborate. These are the types of tools Ashoka gives its fellows. Manavalan is an example of a nominator that we are searching for this summer.
Mohenna and Nora at AFPRO
Anyway, on the car ride back home Sid was very tired out from relentlessly explaining Ashoka to the man. Being the former Sec. of Govt and a former military officer, he was quite intense and accusatory in his questioning, although he meant well and was ultimately impressed by Ashoka’s presentation. Sid began to make strange accents- we think he was very tired due to his insomnia Sid asked us to tell him five things he could improve in his presentations, then proceeded to question us about or horoscopes. We all decided that Mohenna was definitely a Scorpio because she is evil. He then demanded that Nora tell him 15 good things about Judaism. The end.
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Day 4: So Monday morning bright and early, Hiru didi promptly woke us up at 7:30 with tea and toast. It being the first day of work, the excitement and anticipation was high and we got ready fast (also at this point there were many possible outfits to choose to wear resulting in less stress.) Since we were advised to get to work every day at 10:00 am, we left the house at 8:45 to ensure ample time. We arrived 30 minutes early and ended up walking in with one of our bosses Siddharth or Sid for short. He sat us down and explained to us that he is fairly new to the field of social entrepreneurship and was until recently was in the business sector. He told us he had a read a book, “How to Change the World: Social Entrepeneurship…(I can’t remember the rest)” by Richard Bornstein. His outlook on his ability to create change shifted and he left the private sector for Ashoka. Aside from informing us about work, he also proceeded to tell us that he hadn’t slept in 2 months and suffers from insomnia – to which Nora replied ‘TAKE MEDSSS’ – in true Nora fashion. But like many people in India, he relies only on herbal supplements for aid. We then were taken to our office and met our other boss Dolon, who gave us reading material to acquaint ourselves with the organization.
Now, to explain our work in greater detail: We are working for Ashoka International, a social entrepreneur organization. As Sid put it when we asked him if Ashoka was an NGO he replied, “If I am not a criminal, I do not go around introducing myself as a non-criminal, in the same sense if I my organization is not an NGO I do not go around going around introducing my organization as a non NGO. I simply refer to my organization as being part of the citizen sector.” Specifically, Nora and I are working on the Venture Team, which nominates and elects Ashoka fellows. For our specific project, Dolon, Sid, and the two of us make up the Ashoka Venture Team and are working in regards to a partnership made with the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation in 2008. The partnership focuses in on Indian agriculture and rural development and through it about 30 new Ashoka fellows must be elected in India. So far, it has been an interesting experience working with the team. We are treated not as interns but as equal members of the Venture Team. Dolon and Sid explain to us that they know just as much about the agricultural sector (hardly anything at all) as we do as we begin to look for nominators.
Our main mission is to put together a database of 100 people who can nominate fellows working within the field of Indian Agriculture. Fellows are citizens who have come up with new and innovative ideas for organizations or projects. Once a fellow is nominated, Ashoka puts them through a round of interviews and panels, and if selected this person becomes part of the Ashoka International Fellowship and his or her project is given a stipend for three years. After that, their project should be able to sustain itself and the social entrepreneur. More than the stipend itself, the majority of the value of becoming a fellow is through the connections Ashoka presents to the individual. In the field of social entrepreneurship, connections and social networking are essential if not vital to the success of their projects. Through their connections, the fellows get new ideas and build upon their old ones. Ashoka fellows’ work focuses on truly everything- wherever there is a social problem and an innovative way to fix it. Ashoka’s work deals broadly with human rights, citizen engagement, health, education, and environment. Fellows can be any one, but their idea must be flawless. They can be of any religious background, educational standing, sexual orientation, or gender (The founder of WIKIPEDIA is an Ashoka fellow- where would all of your research papers be without this organization?!).
ANYWAY, the first day of work we only stayed until 12- a little thief by the name of Payal (El Diablo for short…or long) had stolen Mohenna’s glasses and she was developing a fierce migrane from glaring at the computer screen. So, we ventured away from Ashoka and went to Khan market to grab some coffee and books. At the book store, Nora looked for the book Sid had described (How to change the world), which is fairly well known and promoted by Ashoka. The bookstore did not have it, but believing that she was a lost soul looking for a dummies guide to saving the world, suggested “How to save the world in 365 days.” She declined. Thank you, Bherrison’s book store.
That night, we sat in the Big Room and decided that by this point there was no possible route for Nora to be able to escape by and promptly decided to tell her of the spirit in this house. She is a lady in a white sari who has been seen by various members of the household, even the most rational out of them. However, everybody claimed that the presence was a peaceful entity and was not there with the purpose to harm. This led to a story telling session; of a disappearing man in a car, of a little boy’s body in Leepa’s bed, of an eight-foot tall woman following Ashish, and many more. As many conversations dealing with the realm of the spiritual do, we began to discuss our views on human spirituality and mind-body connections. It was evident that Mohenna was an Eastern (culturally Hindu) hippie and that Nora was a staunch, biological (this will make sense soon) realist. Mohenna questioned why when she thought about the center of her forehead, she felt it pulse and her chakra being released. Nora explained that this may be fully possible, but only in the same way that you purse your lips when you think of something sour. She said there must be a biological (perhaps magnetism) reason for Mohenna’s pulsing forehead. But Mohenna thought that the thought was so connected to her chakra that the thought in itself activated its energy release. Nora was skeptical. (at this moment, all readers put their index finger to the space between your eyebrows, but not touching the skin. This is a millimeter away from your third-eye chakra. After a short time, you should feel a pulse- one that almost feels like a headache. If you don’t, you lack a chakra. If you do, congratulations.)
Nora attempting spirituality
By this point, Aman had rushed upstairs to get their grandfather, the Grand Master. No, literally, one of a handful of Grand Masters of Rekhi (spiritual healing). As random as this sounds, it is true. He is above us at this very moment. So, he comes to the Big Room and begins to explain the seven chakras as being synonymous with the body’s glands. and by this point we were both satisfied spiritually and biologically. Speaking with him, he told us about his work in Rekhi (many Americans call him on the phone for physical and spiritual healing). Soon, he asked us if we wanted to do something fun- read our auras. Aman, Leepa, Ashish, Diglet, Spicy, and the Grand Master/Grandfather crowded onto the bed and shut the lights off while one by one we sat in a chair across the room. The grandfather then spoke in a soothing voice, putting the person in the chair in a meditative state, and told us to watch around their heads for a faint glow, or aura. Most people’s glowed light blue or white, signifying love and purity. We saw faint but visible auras around everyones’ heads. Soon, it was Nora’s turn. She sat in the chair and closed her eyes, relaxed. The grandfather told Nora to think of love, and then to think of prayer, and pray for all she was thankful for. Nora wasn’t sure who she was praying to, since she is very ambivalent about religion and god these days, as most know. However, as she began to get more lost in her thoughts, everyone, including Mohenna, shrieked. When the lights came on 20 seconds later, they all exclaimed that she had a purple aura (definitely a real color and not a trick of the eye). Aman even claimed that he saw a white and then brown aura within Nora’s stomach region. Mohenna was sufficiently freaked out; although she had been advocating for the Chakras and spirituality, she had not truly believed auras would emanate from anyone, let alone Nora. Needless to say, Mohenna now has trouble looking at Nora when she sleeps at night. Nora, when she realized that the aura was not a joke, has now taken on her purple aura of spirituality proudly.
After this extravaganza, we went to sleep. Sleep entails an imbalanced blanket:person ratio (skewed greatly towards Nora), waking up Mohenna to go to the bathroom with her for fear of ghosts, and sleep talking “WHO ARE YOU” “WHO ARE YOU.” We have come to the conclusion that Nora is possessed.
Spicy and Diglet
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Day 3: Woke up, ate, went on a drive to see the place where we’ll work, ate, slept, ate, slept. -LITERALLY our day.
We swear that we came here to work… which happens to start tomorrow!
Day 2: After forcing ourselves to sleep in, we were woken up by Payal brushing her teeth and screaming (we will explain her later) and went to the big room (the main bedroom with AC where everyone hangs out, even though there is a living room next door) and ate a two hour long breakfast. Nora already senses that there is a much slower and much more laid back pace of life, and people really value spending time with family just talking and sitting, rather than running from place to place all of the time. We had tea (every time we come home from anywhere we drink tea), biscuits, and Indian pancakes- doughy with vegetables inside.
Let us now take the time to talk about a little girl named Payal, who we are bringing back with us in a suitcase, how’s that for an interactive souvenir? Payal is the 3-year-old great granddaughter of Hiru Didi, Mohenna’s aunt and uncle have brought her to stay at their home to make sure that she can get a good education and open up doors for her in the future for professional careers that her family would not have been able to provide her with. Never have we seen a more energetic, beautiful, and affectionate little girl. The moment she walks in the room she instantly sits, or more like climbs, onto someone’s lap shrieking with joy. Her favorite word is ‘pagol’ which means crazy person – not a surprise considering she deals with Hiru Didi all day long. While Nora was getting ready after her shower, Payal stood next to her and watched with amazement as she put product in her hair and sprayed perfume. Next thing we know, Payal walks into the ‘big room’ with the same products on, “Nora didi” (as called by Payal) has now become her favorite person, opening her eyes to the world of… cosmetics.
It being a pleasant 114 degrees outside and Saturday (we do not start work until Monday), we realized that we should spend our time someplace with air conditioning, so we got ready to go to the mall with the family. First stop was a store where Nora could pick up some “Kurties” which are Indian tunics. After buying two beautiful pieces of clothing for 800 rupees which roughly translates into $17.00 we realized that our recent $40.00 purchase from Urban Outfitters, for the same type of top, might have been a mistake. We then proceeded to eat at the food court which is extremely different from any food court found in an American mall. Nora claims that her $4.00 meal was better than most expensive Indian food in America. After eating for the hundredth time, we went to the salon with Leepa, who dragged Aman away from FUN CITY due to the fact that it was too hot, the arcade. Bitter, he proceeded to leave the mall only to call her minutes later and say that it was “funny that she could enjoy time in the Salon in the heat while he could not play in FUN CITY.” She informed him that the salon was air conditioned, and he responded that she was already playing favorites with Mohenna (he is an only child…) He decided to come back to the mall from the house and wait for us at Looks Salon so that we could take him to FUN CITY.
Leepa insisted (kind of…) to get our nails done, and the experience turned out to be one of the wildest but most relaxing of our lives. A 200 rupee ($4.20) pedicure is an hour long ordeal complete with massages. But, unlike America where the beauticians may snickers about ones feet behind their backs, in India the male manicurists were very open about their distaste, disgust, and overall bewilderment with the state of Nora’s feet. Each time they would scrub them, they would proceed to present her with the dead skin that had fallen off, and say “do you like this pedicure?” and “feel your feet” in the most self-congratulatory manner. When they were informed that Nora had not had a pedicure in two years, he gave her a sick look and proceeded to point out how dry and coarse her hair was, welcoming her back to him next Tuesday for a hair treatment and scalp massage. She declined politely. Nora probably said “sorry” at least one hundred times throughout her “pedicure,” and by the end she felt very close with this man, who all she could really do was smile at and he would smile back at her. He closed by telling us he did not believe we were from America with the state of our extremities. Congratulations for whoever made it through that paragraph.
Once we were done, with Looks Salon, we met up with Aman and took him to FUN CITY. Walking around the mall together was a blast- we looked like an odd, odd threesome. Aman, though Indian, looks either Italian or like a Sephardic Jew, according to Nora. His hair looks like Ringo’s, and he refuses to cut it. The ambiguity of Mohenna’s ethnicity confused many also, but almost resulted in free Gulab Jamun- they were confused whether she was American,Chinese, or Indian. Nora, well, just sticks out. Aman led us to Fun City, but we only allowed him to respond to the Italian names “Leonardo” and “Roberto.” Poor child. At FUN CITY, we worked hard to earn Aman tickets for prizes (52). It was literally 100 degrees in FUN CITY, and Nora and Leonardo played DDR against each other, attracting an array of onlookers from the mall. Nora failed miserably. They also played a fun but twisted game that would not fly in America by its safety laws- you hold on to a metal bar for as long as possible while it electrocutes/shocks you until you must let go. Aman and Nora made it to 3000, whatever that means, and earned about 11 tickets.
Mohenna was melting and did not find FUN CITY as enjoyable as Nora and Leonardo. We made it home, leaving Leepa at Looks Salon to get a THREE HOUR long head massage. Back at home, Payal was very jealous of our nails, and we decided to give her her own manicure and pedicure. She got to pick the colors and was thrilled with her bright blue and neon pink nails. Hiru Didi looks on and just screams at no one in particular (for the Graham’s- she is Helen but 20 times more insane).
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We left the house at 3:30 on Thursday and drove to Newark airport for our 8:30 p.m. flight (direct Continental, GREAT deal). Beforehand, we had loaded up on our last American food- a delicious breakfast at Ruby’s of bacon, onion ring, and bbq sauce cheeseburgers (Nora kept kosher, don’t worry) and then on to Olive Garden. By the time we got to the airport, we felt like obese children.