(This page is in process)
Gandhi Little Man- Giant Dreams
Pictorial Diary of Pilgrimage of Peace to the India of Mahatma Gandhi
by Michael Frontier, 2011
Off and Running
January 15th Hyderabad- Saturday -Central India
24 hours to get from Racine to Hyderabad. Hyderabad, like Mumbai and Delhi had a beautiful airport. Thankfully we had a direct flight from Chicago to New Delhi (7,000 miles). My assignment before coming was to read Gandhi’s autobiography: “My experiments with Truth.” I finished it on the plane. When my host Prasad asked me why I was going to India, I said I was seeking hope. I was tired of the contentious nature of American politics and the withering of my spirit caused by all this dissonance.
It is some kind of Kite weekend in India. I have seen kids playing. It is also Pongal or winter Harvest Festival. It is about 75 degrees and breezy.
We are off to see Hyderabad now. This morning I had an intense two person massage with hot/warm oil on my forehead after some yoga. The Gandhi movement here seeks to empower people in the area of health. They feel the commercialization of health care emasculates people. Gandhi was very leery of any outside experts imposing their often non-vegetarian remedies on his family’s illnesses.
We are staying at Kasturba Natural Cure and Yoga center. This is named after Gandhi’s wife. She married Gandhi in 1884 at the age of 14. She died in prison near Mumbai in 1944.
Many educators here at the invitation of Prasad, my host and guide. His wife, Kranthi, is an accomplished dentist and her mother was a legislator. She makes the money so he can continue the work of Gandhi.
Grace and Peace,
SUNDAY JANUARY 16TH
After a yoga class, I had a full body massage. The therapist was a major in the Indian army. He was very skilled. Birds chirping, kids chasing kites in the background, and a beautiful tape playing using the 7 notes in the Indian music scale.
Met two teachers, one a biology teacher with a class of 35, the other a Telegu teacher (the native tongue in this state) Andhra Pradesh(state). She has a class of 70!
After conversing in English, she asked if she could sing us a song. She sang for about 4- minutes. Very nice- very different. I was to find singing a strong part of this culture.
Later this day we would visit the center of the city with a huge beautiful man-made lake with an enormous statue of Buddha in the middle of it. Later we would visit a Buddhist Temple which had a large tree grown from a seedling of the Bodi tree that Buddha reflected under thousands of years ago in Northern India. I got a leaf.
JANUARY 17TH -MONDAY MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY
On Monday I met three very caring leaders in Hyderabad through my contact Prasad. I met the editor of the paper Lahid Ali Khan. Very strong journalist very interested in US politics. He noted that there are no primaries in India. If there are 10 candidates and one gets 23.4% of the vote and has the highest total he/she is in. He called this a mockery of democracy. Vinnay Saboo a car dealer/hotel owner who has 1500 employees and bases his principles of business which is “treat every client as God” This entrepreneur just came back from China were the Chinese already have a train that goes 400 miles per hour. They want to up that by creating a train that won’t stop! Trams will come by and match up with the moving train and take people off! He put up the money to rebuild the Kasturba Natural Cure center. We then met the head Senator for this district that is like speaker of their house. India now assures the villagers 100 days of work per year. This new initiative is 4–5 years old and is having some traction in the grinding poverty of the villages.
After meeting with these people we had another amazing ride through Hyderabad. My host drove into a dead end alley and backed out among various obstacles. Then we went into the unbelievable streets of Hyderabad. I will try to get video of other cities which are probably just as chaotic.
We leave at 9 pm for a 12 hour train ride to Narasapur in the south. Like a boy scout, I climb into my jammies for the long ride. I learn quickly the Indian commuters sleep in their clothes. There are five levels of train accommodations:
1. Air Conditioning + private berth for sleeping
2. Ac tier (2 berths on a side}
3. Two tier (no Ac)
4. 3 sleepers on a side no air
5. 2nd class.
We were in the #2 AC 2 tier. Gandhi always rode 2nd class
We got into our area and only two of the 4 berths were taken. I had the top. I have enough trouble making a bed when the thing is on the floor but getting those sheets in there was something else. Then after you get all settled in another guy comes and has to make up his berth (then another). It is a little like “Some Like it Hot” without the female band and Marilyn Monroe.
Then the bathroom. There are two bathrooms. The western one at one end of the train car and the eastern footprint arrangement with a bucket of water nearby.
JANUARY 18TH Tuesday The train to Narsapur
Grand Kids Quiz
Hannah and Sam I met a man who lives in Hyderabad. While it was beautiful there (about 78 degrees) when I left on Monday, he said in August it gets up to 50 degrees Celsius. How hot is that in terms we use in the US Fahrenheit terms? Here’s the key…Multiply 50 by 9/5 and then add 32. You won’t believe how hot that is. Remember that is in the summer.
As I said yesterday the sounds of India are amazing. Around 5:45 A.M one guy in the berth across from me, phone alarm goes off and he does his morning Muslim prayers in his bed. Down the train a guy is meditating and you can hear him ohmmmmmmming.
Today (Tuesday) I saw the most beautiful views I think I have ever seen. 100 miles of carefully manicured rice paddies. They have amazingly narrow straight paths running through them. I guess the people walk on them. Amazing! As day broke the rice fields came into view striking green colors. People planting the new rice stalks. Water buffalo and white birds abound. I am watching from between the railroad cars so I get clear pictures. Occasionally we see people squatting oblivious of the train going by.
Many of the people I have met have deep roots in the fight against Britain for India’s freedom. Their father’s were freedom fighters against the British. This is a great source of history and integrity for the Gandhian movement. Today I met a Doctor who works with the indigent in Narsapur. He too was shaped by his family’s involvement with Gandhi. The leaders of this movement are constantly strategizing how to increase Gandhi’s footprint around the world. They are currently resisting the placement of a large cement company that will eradicate a village of 5,000 to create 400 jobs.
Now for the “sports news”: I am still throwing a shut out (no runs). I have not had to use the relief pitcher. And I have not had to step up to the plate. (Must be in the American League)
Dr.Rao & family
Our host in Narsapur was Dr. Venkateswara Rao. He is the Director of the Gandhi Studies program at Sri Y.N. College in Narsapur. He met us at the train station and provided my colleague Stephan and me with beautiful flowered “leis”. Wow. We were then put up at the college in a room overlooking a beautiful river that runs through the city. Dr. Rao saw to all our needs. He translated for us at the various settings and brought us to his home to help me save my pictures on a DVD so I could take more! I took 1500! We met his daughter and his mother. He showed us the comprehensive Gandhi library he has helped create at the University! This man, like Prasad, is being the change.
We had two presentations to students at schools today. My roommate Stephan Waligur did a peace concert which I could not attend due to another meeting.
PRISON PRESENTATION MEETING WITH INMATES BEGINNING TO TAKE GANDHI CLASS FOR 3 MONTHS.
We left last night from Rajaumouron and the prison. We were to speak at this prison. This is the largest one in India. Unbelievable Experience. Security checks in the ante-room; there are guards at the main entrance bayonets flaring. Then the huge wooden gates opened and we saw two rows of beautiful hedges and trees that lead to a central courtyard. It is organized with cell blocks in a spoke like fashion. Murals on walls painted by inmates. They provide lots of rehabilitation opportunities for their convicts. There are 2300 inmates there.
Our guide’s, Prasad’s, aunt died and he could not be with us. I was very surprised when I was told we would be speaking to prisoners. I wasn’t sure what to say. There was a banner saying I was a peace activist. My colleague said “go for it”. It went well. We are all peace activists or we should be. I spoke about:
1. Hope, Vaclav Havel, Mandela and Gandhi
2. Anger, Channeling Anger for positive change - re Martin Luther King
3. The Prisons in the US/ Compared to this prison
4. The importance of staying in their children’s lives
5. Importance of the Arts
6. Gift from Racine.
Mike talks with
one of the prisoners
I spoke about Vaclav Havel’s notion of Hope. We either have it or we don’t! Mandela had it despite being in prison 27 years. Gandhi who spent 7 years in prison had it. Despite their surrounding hope can be alive.
I told them I had been incarcerated for only one day - at Fort Benning in Georgia. I could not pretend to know their pain. I told them about Martin Luther King as a boy being so angry when his mother was told to get up from her seat on a bus because she was black. He used this anger to drive him for improved civil rights the rest of his life.
I spoke about my experience as a Principal and the need to write and affirm their children and stay in their lives. I shared my perception of the ethos of their prison compared to the US where our prisons are sterile. I did not expect to see the green of India’s rice fields inside the prison. Nor did I expect to see the arts manifested in the murals seen everywhere.
I used a beautiful picture that Sue Hollow had painted to color my talk. One of the prisoners (who will be out in three months is going to paint it and enlarge it for the prison). After we spoke one older inmate got up and spoke; another young man got up and sang a song to his mother. My colleague Stephan Walligur sang a beautiful song with them about Krishna and Allah.
Later that night we spoke at an elementary school. The setting was surreal. Rich green rice paddies on the left, a huge moon over the field. Students were sitting in rows of 20 about 15 rows across. I had a chance to play with them at a recess before. We were throwing a rubber ring. I stressed three key principals about Gandhi. How he overcame his shyness. Even when he was a lawyer he had a tremendous fear of speaking. He would write out his comments and have someone else read them! He overcame this to gain self-confidence. He demonstrated great courage in confronting the British. Finally, his perseverance was very apparent as he stayed determined despite being in jail for 7 years of his life; his respect for others and his love. After the talk, the students were very attentive, I asked a student from the front of each row to throw a rubber ring to the next row. We did this after challenging the student to yell out if they could live out Gandhi principles, work as hard as their parents, and be great students. When they hollered yes, we threw to the next row. No incomplete passes. They wanted autographs from me afterward. Prasad who had returned by now, told me the next morning that they would not ask for an autograph from an Indian. The British took that out of them. But they would from an American!
JANUARY 19TH Train to SEVAGRAM ASHRAM ARRIVE 8AM
Greetings Friends from Amazing India
The people here are overwhelmingly lovely --- Great hospitality and care. Virtually everyone sees the God in the other here. This was Gandhi’s condition for civility some would say this is a lost art in America.
The days are blurred. Good thing I have the Journal Anne gave me!
At 8pm Tuesday night we took a 13 hour train to Sevagram where Gandhi created an ashram in 1936 and lived there for 10 years. I went in his home. Saw everything, sandals, watch, broom, toilet bucket. Very moving. Then we had lunch in the kitchen and eating area where he did.
6:30 Ashram Cleaning
8–10:30 Field work agriculture. They grow their own foods. Can see mango trees!
12 −2 Rest
3:30 5:30 Rest
6:30 Communal Prayer. All faith denominations are honored. People spin as they pray.
Tonight we saw the prayer service where Gandhi prayed. People spin while they are praying. They pray to all religions. Only snafu a dog had to chase a monkey away from the assembly area.
Tomorrow Thursday we leave for Mumbai to Meet Gandhi’s granddaughter.
Grace and Peace,
JANUARY 20TH THURSDAY AM Mumbai FLY TO MUMBAI
We get up at 4:30 am to go to airport in Nagpur for flight to Mumbai.
We are stopped by a train crossing with no train going by. It took 15 minutes to get the attendant to raise the bar…..
AM VISIT MUMBAI BEAUTIFUL WATERFRONT ON THE ARABIAN SEA.
Queen’s Necklace in Mumbai
Ocean front is called the Queen’s Necklace due to shape of shoreline. It is reminiscent of Chicago’s outer drive but more of it.
AMAZING DENSITY OF POPULATION: 3 million people in 1 1/2 square kilometers. 1 million people on street! 120 million people in greater Bombay
Saw home of world’s richest man, 26 stories! His name is actually Monee. They say he leaves his shoes on one floor and car keys on another. He has a staff of 400. Wealthy get permission to build high rise condos with no parking requirements which adds to parking problems.
MEETING WITH GANDHI’S GRANDDAUGHTER IN MUMBAI PM
Lunch with Usha Gokali, Gandhi’s granddaughter
Usha Gokali Gandhi
Gandhi’s granddaughter, Usha, is a strong vivacious woman. She is 84 and widowed. She had many beautiful stories about her grandfather. Some of her favorite memories: Walking with him, she was 21 when he was killed.
Grandma made the family- Gandhi’s family was the world. He taught her in a very subtle way. If her singing was off a little he would judiciously correct her. She called him the first environmentalist. He was very particular about his use of time, never wasted 5 minutes. “Some say he is not relevant…He is more relevant than ever”. How would he address the USA? He would find something like the salt march to demonstrate the evil in our midst. Gandhi’s powerful statement “We hug the chains that bind us.” He loved music and the arts. I asked her about his prayers. He prayed for energy to serve the people of India. He valued silence. No talking Mondays. Notes only.
There were several assassination attempts on his life. 10 days before death a bomb went off. He was not hurt and reassured people near him. Police wanted to provide more security. He said no. “When my time is called I will have done what God expected” There were 6 attempts on his life. She gave us beautiful gift of Gandhi’s seven deadly sins. She pointed out that she has been asked,” Do you feel cheated because her grandfather left you no money”? She replied “He left me with an incalculable treasure his life message”. His museums echo throughout India “BE THE CHANGE’.
Finally she told us the story of how Gandhi lived in a nearby apartment when he was a lawyer When Martin Luther King came to visit his Gandhi’s former quarters in the late ‘50′s King was to go to a banquet that night. King refused to go. He slept on the floor there. Martin said he could feel the presence of Gandhi. Obama visited this apartment in Mumbai on his recent visit.
An amazing fact---, India has 1 billion 100 million people. Every one of the people virtually nods their heads or gesture their hands in respect when you meet them. Just beautiful! Namaste or Naviskar-bowing to the God within you. AHAM BRAHMASMI : I AM THE GOD THERE IS GOD PERSONIFIED WITHIN ME.
Yesterday we visited a remarkable university that Gandhi started in Ahmadabad in 1920. Everybody spins cotton at the U. When interviewing people, some of them take out their Chakra or spinning wheels. We then went to the first ashram he started 1917-Sabarmarti. It is still a functioning Ashram. It is very well done; like a state park, it’s is on a river. This is where his compatriots planned the famous Salt march to defy the British salt tax. He started from here at the age of 71 and walked about 200 miles to the sea to harvest salt in defiance of the British. There is a museum near-by.
Spinning during prayer
at Ahmadabad University
The students pray daily to all different religions. As they move to prayer, they are carrying small cases that contain their spinning devices. The school is founded on developing the head, heart, hands and feet of the students. Ahmadabad is in Northwestern India in the state of Gujarat. It is the fastest growing state in India. Considerable business here in terms of pharmaceutical and high tech.
Then my friend who organized this marvelous tour, Prasad, took me to a pre-wedding party. We got there after 9 pm, after looking for a tape recorder to capture all the amazing sounds here. They began playing at 9 and without a break the band played and may be still playing we left at 11. Hannah they dance the same way I dance, so I danced with them. Not really-I did try. The colors where something. All the leaders of the Gandhi movement are here for the wedding; wonderful strong old men and women who are called freedom fighters. They still are fighting corporate power is now the enemy. I have had “audience” with many of these key people. The second in command Mahander asked me to speak at the wedding this afternoon. There must have been 600 people on a beautiful sunny day.
Khadi is native cotton made clothes. It is a big part of the movement because it honors local village workers. Since I was a speaker at the wedding I was taken out and fitted into a long white cotton shirt. It felt good but I think I looked like the Pillsbury dough boy.
Off to Delhi tonight on the Rajastan Express. High class train (Scott Walker take note)
Grace and Peace,
JANUARY 22 SATURDAY AHMEDABAD
The spinner from Ahmedabad
The Power of Spinning!
Met an amazing man this morning. He was watching a youth band practice. We started to talk. I mentioned Chicago. He has a son there. I invited him to breakfast with us. He came. My friend Stephan asked him how Gandhi had touched his life. The old man paused. He would wait and reflect and then speak in beautiful English. He was honored. No one had ever asked him this before. He thought and spoke. He was a handsome tanned elderly man. He said he came to Ahmedabad with his family in 1941 when he was 4 years old. The war started and his father lost his job. The family was very poor. Then a fellow student taught him how to spin! By spinning he earned a modest amount of money, just enough to help his family get by. He later became a highly successful student and mechanical engineer. He has won many awards in his life for his skills. He attributes this to the concentration and focus he learned in spinning!
He thanked us for asking him. He then shared a sad comment. When he retired and moved to his home nearby, his son threw out his spinning wheel, not knowing the importance of it for him! He invited us to his house.
People dance continuously. Colors are amazing! Circle dances are done, with students from nearby ashram watching.
JANUARY 23RD SUNDAY
Wedding today! Gathering at 10. I meet the head of the Gandhian movement while he getting ready in morning. He is very interested in America. Invites me to speak at wedding. With Prasad’s help we run and buy a knee length white contton ‘shirt’. I want to be wearing Khadi to honor this movement at the wedding. Several freedom fighters speak at Wedding.
Rajastan express to Delhi. Leave at 5:30 pm. Good service tea in morning as well as food for supper and breakfast.
MONDAY JANUARY 24
Delhi Daily PARLIAMENT
India got its independence at 12 am on the 15th of August 1947 from Britain. Prime Minister Nehru’s famous words were “While the world sleeps a giant awakens”. The day before Britain had declared Pakistan a British dominion and a Muslim state. Recent historical documents indicate that Britain separated off Pakistan to protect its’ oil interests. (Just as Britain had tried to undermine democratically elected president of Iran in the 1950′s because he was going to nationalize the oil companies of Iran.) Gandhi worked feverishly to keep religious factions together. It cost him his life, as he was killed by a Hindu, who thought Gandhi was catering to the Muslims.
Quite a day! I met with the Joint Secretary (Raiya Sabha Secretariat) of the Parliament of India. His name is Sahu and he is a good friend of my Indian mentor Prasad. We had great conversations. The John T. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation, who underwrite many PBS programs, have invited him to speak with their team regarding the state of India today. He is a strong Gandhian and his written several provocative articles about the relevance of Gandhi today. He is very interested in American policies. He was the former speech writer for India’s past president, Kocheril Raman Narayanan. Sahu greatly admired Narayanan.
Parliament at night
I saw the Indian upper and lower chambers and the central room where Obama spoke recently. Their congress is not in session. The upper house here has 225 members elected every 6 years, the lower house 580 members elected every 5 years. More and more elected officials have strong business interests according to Prasad. Then Prasad and I went to the park where Gandhi was cremated (The Rajghat). Beautiful peaceful memorial.
Tomorrow night my friend Prasad leaves for an important meeting in Southern India. He has arranged for several exciting activities for my last five days in India. Wednesday the 26th is Republic Day or Democracy day and I will go to the parade. Their constitution was adopted on January 26th, 1950. Then on Sunday, before I leave, I will be a guest at the Gandhi Day celebration at the Smriti or assassination site. This usually involves the Prime Minister.
I am beginning to feel like Zelig.
Last part of day was spent with students from different parts of Kashmir. They feel Gandhi is the only answer. They enjoyed the opportunity to interact with other students from Kashmir. They had no idea of the common concerns they all faced. The students live in fear of violence due to the border conflict dating back to the late 40′s when Britain determined Pakistan a separate entity. They feel adult leadership has failed to provide them with peaceful life for themselves and the people of Kashmir. One student felt that adults had “snatched this vision of non-violence from them and we need to bring it back.
This interaction was provided by the Gandhian Educational Foundation or Darshan Samiti. The Director of the Dashan, Manimala, led a discussion with the students as they were preparing to leave. Manimala sees a growing movement toward Gandhi. At the center, they use real issues to bring students together to develop leadership. She is feeling a peace as she works “to take this shroud of violence from the world”. I was asked to speak to the students regarding income disparities in the U.S. (See United for a Fair Economy: www.faireconomy.org).
Delhi: The parts I have seen are beautiful. British city planners of the 1870′s would be pleased at how they city they envisioned has matured. Wide tree lined boulevards extend everywhere. I will be seeing the growing slums as well.
Grace and Peace,
JANUARY 24- 25 - MONDAY NIGHT/TUESDAY
DELHI DAILY NIGHT SEARCH FOR CYBER CAFE
I just had the most amazing ride looking for a cyber-cafe. We went through several bustling markets, small fires on the streets keeping people warm, cows, hundreds of shops 12 feet across with corrugated pull down aluminum doors selling stuff from furniture to Hindu gods to cell phones. I am in the back of a backpack store typing. For some reason you have to give your passport to use the computer in India (more security).
JANUARY 25TH TUESDAY MORNING
DELHI DAILY ASSASSINATION SITE
Today I visited the Gandhi Smriti or place where he was assassinated on Jan 30 1948 at 5:15. The grounds are beautiful. Embossed footsteps mark Gandhi’s last walk along a path to the prayer group he met with each day at 5pm. They have an astounding interactive museum adjacent to this site.
Here is where I am at with India. It has roughly 4 times our population in 1/3 the landmass. 10% of Indians are fabulously wealthy. There is a growing (15 %) middle class and a huge village /urban poor population. Yet they are a strong, proud, caring, hospitable people. Gandhi honored the poor. The 1950 constitution removed the untouchable class from the country on paper. Gandhi gave them pride. You see it the proud strong faces of the women. I will never forget the image of a garbage heap with pigs of some kind foraging and a woman in a beautiful sari walking resolutely by.
It all comes down to Namaste or Namiskar. Virtually everyone I meet nods or gestures in respect. Namaste I bow to the God within you!!
Thursday I hope to go to the slums after a short presentation to some students.
Friday and Saturday off to Jaipur overnight and then Agra and back to Delhi.
One other thing Khadi: This is handspun or hand-woven cloth. These are materials made in the villages. The spinning wheel or Charka was at the heart of Gandhi’s effort to take India back from the western influence Britain had exerted for so long. It was to be the salvation of bringing more income into villages. Khadi represents Gandhi’s spinning efforts at self sufficiency for villagers. Spun cotton products and other natural products (soaps- gems /jewelry/leather work) are sold in fashionable markets throughout India. These products are termed Khadi with government overseeing the legitimacy of these labels and distribution of monies. They are sold throughout India in both high end and more modest settings.
The Old College Try
P.S. The Spinning wheel is on India’s flag. Here is what the flag symbolizes:
FLAG: The original design Gandhi was presented with two colors, red for the Hindus, and green for the Muslims. In the centre was a traditional spinning wheel, symbolizing Gandhi’s goal of making Indians self-reliant by fabricating their own clothing. The design was then modified to include a white stripe in the centre for other religious communities, and provide a background for the spinning wheel. Subsequently, to avoid sectarian associations with the color scheme, saffron, white and green were chosen for the three bands, representing courage and sacrifice, peace and truth, and faith and chivalry respectively.
Grace and Peace,
WEDNESDAY JANUARY 26th
Delhi Daily--- SPECTACULAR PARADE, KEY WORDS’‘’
Here is how you count in Hindu ( Hindi) ek, do,tin, char, panch, chhe, satt, ath, no, das. There will be a test Sukarwar (Friday.
Wow! I saw the parade of parades on Wednesday, a National Holiday. It is India’s Constitution/Republic day (Jan.26 1950)! The parade started about 10:30 and went till 12. Here you go. Each aspect of the defense of India was represented. India, despite all its poverty, spends one/third of its entire budget on the military. They are fearful of both Pakistan and China. Tremendous security! No cameras -everyone is searched on the way to the parade twice. I had a camera which I gave to a condo parking lot attendant before the last checkpoint. He had it for me after the parade.
Now for the most dramatic aspect of the Parade. It starts with the President’s Guard. Lean strong men on black horses. Sabers pointed forward, a dramatic beginning, followed by their band. As the Navy came by, the soldiers would march with their left arm up and down about 180 degrees. (White gloves advancing in tremendous precision.) All groups march in this dramatic fashion. (Mark Hertzberg would be in his glory) Then the Navy band would follow. Surprisingly they played Stars and Stripes forever! Unlike our parades, where the bands are infrequent, virtually every marching corps had a band following it. But the most unique part is the hats. Many are topped with beautiful fans (like the ones women use to stay cool). Each member of the military cadre seems to have a unique fan. The colors were dazzling. Some men or women wearing turbans some without. Fez, cowboy hats, plumed hats and most striking 60 Teddy Roosevelt’s marching at you with their hats cocked to the side. The coup d’état was the Border security. They came on bejeweled camels. Tails tied in and tucked under the saddle. The soldiers are mustachioed back to their ears. Does it keep the sand out? They had rifles pointing forward. Their following band was on camels. Somehow they play as the camels plod forward. Then coming at you are 60 Teddy Roosevelts, marching at you with their hats cocked to the side. Check out India Republic Day Parade to see this amazing event. I did not want the parade to end! THE BOTTOM LINE: Sahu told me the parade is a statement about the power of the Indian military as well as the integration of diversity among its ranks.
VEGETARIAN FOR TWO WEEKS.
I have not had any meat since I came here. I think it is working. A Hindu came up to me after the parade asked me for directions, in Hindi or some language.
I was talking to a group of high school students who were watching with me. They were very welcoming and friendly. I received some language lessons from them. By the way they say ….Walk a mile and you will hear a new language in India. There are 16 languages spoken here.
Here are some phrases that may be helpful: Shugria, thank You; Urdu, older form; Dhanyawaad, thank you more contemporary form; Bhoag Ja, Dog get away (Actually while there are dogs around me, I never felt threatened by any) and maybe ….Paagal bana rahe ho!= Just kidding.
THIS BUD IS FOR YOU
The paraders took a break in front of us (it was warm). It was the Delhi Police group. Water and food was passed out. After about 5 minutes, they broke into something like the Budweiser dance the badger band does. Great Spirit. The band in front of them played while they did something like the twist. There was hugging and amazing pride.
Speaking of hugging, you will interested to know that surprisingly there are no homosexuals in India. You go to jail for this. Therefore perhaps since it is not a problem men hold hands or put a hand on their friend’s shoulder. You see boys riding bikes with a hand on their friends shoulder. Quite Nice.
Today as I was coming to this cyber-cafe down one of the wide tree lined boulevards that make Delhi the most beautiful city in India, amidst the trucks, vans, cars and three wheeled taxis where two elephants trudging along!
Wednesday night Sahu took me to see Nehru University where he attended college. It is on the outskirts of Delhi. He still has strong contacts with some teachers there. He then took me to the capital which was lined with lights. Huge buildings---a stunning sight. Imagine Congress and the White House with thousands of white perfectly spaced lights. No fireworks here.
Mother Mother Teresa visiting
Tomorrow I go to Jaipur and then to Agra. Then Back to Delhi. I am staying at the Gandhi near the Rajghat (The Gandhi memorial) where he was cremated. There were several attempts on his life. On Jan. 20th a bomb was set off near him. He calmed people down and the home security director told Gandhi he was very concerned about what might happen. Gandhi declined stronger intervention. “I will work until God has no more need for me”. He was killed 10 days later. This story was told to me by Gandhi’s granddaughter, Usha.
Sunday there will be at special recognition program for the memorial of his death. It will end in silence at 5:17 when he was killed.
Gandhi foresaw and provided answers to many key issues in India then and to the world today. As I told you I met with some students from Kashmir who said if Gandhi’s principles were in place we would not see as much violence in their contested state.
Grace and Peace,
JANUARY 27TH THURSDAY
DELHI DAILY: PEACE CIRCLES /TEACHERS FROM NORTHERN INDIA
I was asked to meet with a group of teachers from northern India about peacemaking efforts in the US. Susan Hollow, who has pioneered peacemaking efforts in schools throughout Wisconsin, was kind enough to give me some booklets on the Peace Circle effort in the Racine Schools. I shared this with them. We also talked about Parkside’s effort to secure mentors for students and to identify peacemakers in all levels of our schools. I got them engaged by teaching the slow breathing technique using my newly found India counting skills. ek, do, tin, char, panch. A translator assisted me with this.
JANUARY 28TH FRIDAY
DELHI DAILY INDIA ON THE ROAD -JAIPUR AND AGRA
We left Delhi this morning at 6 am for Jaipur the Pink City in the state of Rajastan south of Delhi. Prince Albert came here from England 150 years ago and the Maharajah painted the whole city Frank Lloyd Wright Sandstone Red. It is quite interesting gives the franticness of the city a sense of order.
Elephants move through the city with painted faces; monkeys here and there; beautiful huge structures many of which are World Heritage sites. There is a 17 mile “Great wall of Rajastan”.
By the way, the Mirrored Palace or Amber Fort is fascinating. The ruler had four palaces facing each other, one for each season of the year. If you get a chance look it up. Air conditioning in the summer (via dripping water, monsoon protection from the slippery marble during the wet season. Insulated walls in the winter. Beautiful walls made of plaster of Paris mixed with coconut milk. Aromatic fragrances poured in the cisterns! Imported mirrors from Belgium were slivered and placed in the plaster. At night 100 candles equaled a million sparkling lights. They played Parcheesi with real people on a huge patterned gameboard.
Fangs for the Memories. (Sorry I had to do it)
As I came out of one of the palaces there were two flutists lulling a Cobra. I got some nice pictures from behind, and wanted to pay them but noticed the money was in front of the Cobra so I had to walk around to pay them. It was a narrow passage. They encouraged me and then invited me to sit with them. That’s when the buck stopped. I threw the 20 rupees down and got out of there. After taking some nice shots of his mug.
Now for a confession……Millions of Indians do this every day. I felt that since I was here …So I got into a dark bathroom and did the deed. The water (or relief pitcher as I call it) really helps if you don’t get your shoes wet. Anyway I did it in a way so that the right did not know what the left hand was doing. They are still on good terms.
Nice hotel in Jaipur hot water shower. Off to Agra at 3:30.
Arrive at Taj Mahal after seeing it through the haze from Akbar’s tomb in Agra also. The Taj Mahal is beyond words, It was started in 1631 to honor the wife of the Raj who died in childbirth. Completed in 1653-----Thus 16 towers and 53 fountains. 20,000 laborers created this wonder of the world. High security at all the entry gates.
Later this day we visited Mathura the birth place of Lord Krishna. Krishna is one of the most important of Hindu Gods among the many that they revere. This place is from time immemorial one of the most sacred sites in India. Krishna, it was believed was born in a jail in this location and then grew up here as well. My fellow tourists and I were escorted to various dioramas representing him as a young man as well as other important Hindi Gods. Our escort a Hindi Brahman, was very articulate. Chants which everyone knew were sung to the Gods as we moved through the temple. The adjacent city looked very poor but the region has become an important center for arts and culture.Thousands visit here each day.
As you leave the temple a tradition is offered. You can buy various sizes of boxed candies that allow the visitor to bring the sweetness of the Lord Krishna back to their homes.
Prasad had told me that Hindus believe in reincarnation and that you have 7 lives or 360 years to get it right!
Can’t wait to get home.
JANUARY 30TH SUNDAY DELHI DAILY:
PRASAD: PASSIONATE ABOUT GANDHI’S MESSAGE
GANDHI ASSASSINATION MEMORIAL NATIONAL HOLIDAY
I hope you all get to meet my host, Prasad, someday. He plans on coming to Racine in March.
Prasad & Mike at Smriti,
Gandhi’s Assassination site.
There are 1 billion 100 million people in India and I had the privilege of meeting one of the most passionate men in terms of bringing Gandhi’s story to more people. His name is Prasad and his mission is spreading the Gandhi message not only in India but throughout the world. He had made contact with some people in Milwaukee and had taken some of them on a Pilgrimage of Peace to India to learn more about Gandhi over the past several years. I was fortunate to have one of them, Bob Graf, pester me into going this year! Through Prasad’s connections I had access to unbelievable contacts and experiences.
Through Prasad, I was invited to attend the annual Gandhi memorial at the Smriti, or assassination site. Gandhi was killed on January 30th, 1948. He was staying with a friend, Mr. Birla, at a restful site in Delhi. He had a prayer service each evening on these grounds and was shot at 5:17 while walking to prayer. This day is a national holiday in India.
Here is what the service was like:
It is a cloudy day about 75 degrees. There is high security to get into the event. I had heard that the Prime Minister, Singh, would be attending. About 200 students, knees crossed, are sitting on grass facing Indian musicians and religious leaders, television cameras at the ready, parrots are chirping. All the gates and fences are festooned with chains of yellow and orange flowers. Like all holy places people have removed their shoes and in some cases socks. This has a way of democratizing events, as you see elegant men in Nehru jackets, blue turbaned -white bearded gentlemen bending over to take off their socks. Many sari-ed young and proud older white haired women are seated. There is an orange muted sun today behind a delicate feathery tree; it must have been a beautiful place to gather, especially in January which is India’s most beautiful month.
Drums begin to play. The host notes “We are assembled in a prayer garden where Gandhi would pray with others each day”. The songs begin. Children sing beautiful strong melodies. I ask the student (about 12) next to me to write down the words. They are singing a prayer to the good lord Rama for our freedom fighter. The next song is we are all one people! The student writes that this song is about the many religions in India. My student translator refers to Gandhi as Bapu or grandfather. All students in India study Gandhi’s life. Prayers now begin by men and women of 9 different religious groups.
They represented these religions:
World Peace Gong at Smriti,
Gandhi’s Assassination site.
Buddhist Prayer (Japanese)
Buddhist Prayer (Tibetan)
Prayer from Judaism
Readings from the Holy Quran
Readings from the Guru Granth Sahib
The only prayer in English was by the Baha’i. It was sung and read quite beautifully. He sang of the mother earth and the sea and then read the psalm “Though I walk through the valley of death…..My cup overfloweth…
After, the prayers the Prime Minister and his wife arrive. He walks to the death site and bows at each corner. All Prime Ministers of India have attended this event. Gandhi is the father of their country. He then bows to the children and to each of the religious leaders and sits down. It is about 5:10 now. The students and the attendees strongly sing another song.
I AM YOUR SON, PLEASE GIVE ME YOUR BLESSINGS AND GIVE ME THE STRENGTH TO FREE MY COUNTRY INDIA. I LOVE MY COUNTRY SO I WILL SING THIS SONG RAMA RAMA
It is approaching 5:17 at which point there will be a silent closing. The young student writes this is Gandhi’s favorite song. It is a repetitious chant to Rama.
The students and audience join in and proudly chant together. At 5:17 there is silence. Rama, Rama was Gandhi’s last words.
As I walk out looking for my shoes, I notice an Indian soldier, rifle in hand standing right by the room Gandhi lived in for his last 144 days. On the ground I find a yellow sticker indicating the Delhi police had cleared the TV cameras as part of an anti-sabotage check.
Off to the airport at 7. Beautiful, spacious, new airport.
There are 5 checks for security. 1) Army does not let you in airport without ticket/passport. 2)Typical ID check at check in, 3) typical check to get to luggage check, 4) luggage check 5) and then when you get to your gate all carry-ons are x-rayed.
When will we embrace his message of non-violence? It is the only solution….
I went to India looking for hope. I found it. The tenacity of the people is beyond inspiring. I have images of men bathing in the village pump in Northern India when the temp is no more than 50–55 degrees; a woman in beautiful sari carrying steaming cow dung to make fuel. The clever entrepreneurial nature of the village and city shops owners. These clever small business owners fill every human need imaginable from warm peanuts to carved Hindu gods, from furniture to carpeting all from narrow rented stalls with aluminum pull down doors.
To my surprise college education is free in India. Getting to college is the key. Government elementary and high schools are considered weak. Those who can afford it send their children to the many private schools. There is a great debate raging in India. The government requires English from pre-school on. Many Indians are concerned that the children will not learn Hindi well unless more time is provided. I met teachers with classes ranging from 35(high school biology) to 70 (Telegu - language instruction in the state of Andra Pradesh).
I met people of all religious persuasions. When my ATM card wouldn’t work a Muslim money changer helped me. In Hyderabad, I met the monk who oversees a beautiful Buddhist temple. Mostly I interacted with Hindis but no mention of religion was ever made. Ironically, in retrospect the saddest moment I probably had was on the airplane before getting off. A Baptist minister from South Carolina was with us near the back of the plane. While waiting to deplane he knelt in prayer facing the body of ta window. When he got up he told me he was preparing to bring Jesus to the ministers he would be training! Gandhi had many strong things to say about missionaries! To me this sincere young man represented the American hubris that has been at the heart of our disastrous foreign policy for so many years. Krishna for example dates back to about 3200 B.C.E., well Well before St. Paul, who never knew Jesus, spun the Christ story.
Government & the Villages
Corruption and bribes are commonplace in the Indian bureaucracy. More legislators than ever are businessmen. Election victories go to the top vote getter, regardless of how few votes he/she may get. You can win with 22.4% for example. There is a movement to intentionally move many village dwellers to the cities with modest housing provided. The Gandhi movement continues to fight for local skill development in the villages. Village artisans are what Gandhi hoped would block the siren call of moving to the cities. The jury is out on this. Many villages looked desperate to my jaded western eyes. But people are living with family. They walk with pride and often a smile. And despite the proclivity to throw garbage everywhere, an enduring memory is people sweeping in front of their businesses or shelters.
Interest in India is at 8%; however inflation is at 12%. Global warming is an issue. Famous basmati rice is getting shorter and less flavorful! The state of Gujarat in Northwestern India was written up in the New York Times (1/10/11) as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The leader of this state on the other hand was accused of fostering tension between Muslims and Hindis!
Gandhi’s message today
As his granddaughter told us, Gandhi is more relevant than ever! She said “he was the first environmentalist”! He saw the dangers of Western consumption in seducing people from the villages. As my Indian guide and mentor Prasad told me “We have moved away from slavery, feudalism, colonialism. They are easy to overcome because the enemy is clear. Mass marketing, however, masks the enemy.” Gandhi perhaps summed it all up best with this phrase— “We hug the chains that bind us”.
These chains need to be made manifest. I asked Usha Gokali Gandhi what Gandhi would do in America. She said “He would find an issue like the salt march and create worldwide empathy for the victims of unfair policies”. As noted in the recent book the “Spirit Level” when inequality between the rich and poor becomes too lopsided (America has the second largest gap in the world), the quality of life for all, rich and poor becomes diminished. How do we make this clear?
Or as Gandhi might say: How do we be the message?
“I shall work for an India in which the poorest shall feel that it is their country, in whose making they have and effective voice,an India in which there shall be no high class and low class of people;an India in which all communities shall live in perfect harmony. There can be no room in such an India for the curse of untouchability, or the curse of intoxicating drinks or drugs, women will enjoy the same rights as men,we shall be at peace with all the rest of the world. This is the India of my dreams.” Gandhi in “Young India”, 1931
For information on the 2012 Pilgrimage of Peace contact: