Monday, January 11, 2010

Final day thoughts . . .

It’s Tuesday morning, January 12, and tonight at 11pm my Delhi-Newark flight is scheduled to depart.

In an e-mail I received yesterday I was asked if I’m going to blog a “wrap-up” piece, and I really don’t think I can . . . so much has occurred in this past month, I believe the paint has to dry a bit before a final picture (if such a thing exists) emerges.

But I do have some thoughts floating around, and will jot them down here, as always, I hope they inspire some thought on your side; thank you for reading.

Outties and Innies

I don’t know if this is still the case, but years ago, some delivering doctors at childbirth would tie off the cord in a fashion that provided an “outtie” belly-button and others an “innie” -– an outtie being one with a little kind-of-knot. I remember as a kid this was at times a topic of conversation, an early version of “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine.”

Neither (outtie or innie) was better, just different.

Well, I think the “outtie” and “innie” idea, in a subtle yet deep way, applies to much more than belly-buttons. It applies to how we go about living our lives.

Outties is the style in which we primarily take that which is available to us, depend on it, live for it, and bring it inside for our own use. Some common refrains of outties are “I need” and “I’m bored.”

Innies primarily work with what is available to them inside; depending on what comes from the outside for survival and nourishment for that which exists in their minds and hearts.

In life, each person can take one of two attidudes: to build (outties) or to plant (innies). The builders might take years over their tasks, but one day they finish what they’re doing. Then they find that they’re hemmed-in by their own walls. Life loses much of its meaning when the building stops.

Then there are those who plant. They endure storms and all the many hardships of the seasons, and they rarely rest. But, unlike a building, a garden never stops growing. And while it requires the gardener’s constant attention, it also allows life for the gardener to be a great adventure.

Gardeners always recognize each other, because they know that in the history of each plant lies the growth of the whole world.

I have been quite fortunate to have spent the past month in the presence of many gardeners. I hope to be able to bring what I have learned back to my loved ones, friends and acquaintances.

The Two Indias

On the train from Gaya to Delhi I shared a sleeper-compartment with two Indian men, one a chemical engineer for Shell Oil, who was traveling to Delhi to return to his assignment in Stavenger, Norway. The other was an IT professional who was on the way to Bangalore, from where he managed his company’s “cloud computing” facilities in Singapore and Malaysia.

For my benefit, each of them spoke flawless fluent English, were personable, friendly and very well-informed about world affairs; in the four hours or so we spent together talking, our topics ranged from Obama to China to the caste system to international banking to the differences in cultural attitude between the Hong Kong and Singporean workforces.

These men, each in their forties, are citizens of the planet; they are pragmatic, ambitious, scholarly, analytical and seem to be very happy in their lives.

With a population four times that of the U.S., there are many, many more people like these in India, eager and able to take their place in the global community.

They are India in the 21st century.


Bodhgaya, were I spent the past few weeks is in the Indian state of Bihar, an Indian basketcase.

Bihar is the poorest of Indian states, and crime is rampant. Each year, the seasons bring floods and droughts, keeping development down and life very difficult.i

Biharians have always been a object of scorn and ridicule in India. Biharians were the indentured laborers who did the heavy and dirty work, that dynamic still exists. Biharians still pedal the rickshaws of Delhi, their daughters continue to be sold into service in the brothels of Mumbai.

Gun-toting men are a common sights on the streets of the cities (Patna and Gaya). Recently, a local corrupt power-broker went live on TV, daring the state chief of police to arrest him. Kidnappings for ransom are commonplace.

When I was at the Gaya train station at midnight, waiting for my train to Delhi, I knew I was in the darkest, dirtiest, most sinister place I had ever been in my life.

55% of the Bihari population is below the national poverty line, the national average is 33%.

Only 20% of the children (those who are known, many are born in the villages, completely off the grid) are fully immunized from disease (all India: 42%). Almost 60% of these children are underweight (38%); 45% of the women are underweight, the highest percentage in the country.

There is a stunningly heart-breaking display of human illness and misery on the streets.

70% percent of the inhabited areas in Bihar are not connected by motorable roads, industry comprises only 2% of its economy.

82 million people live in Bihar, and the population continues to grow at more than 3% each year. More than 90% live in the “rural” areas.
Terrorist attacks in Bihar are a regular occurrence, both on a tribal basis and a socio-political one (there are, as one might expect in such a poverty-stricken area, Maoist influences taking root from Nepal, which borders Bihar to the north. There are murders, massacres and train bombings.

This said, I have seen few things more beautiful than sunrise over the Biharian rice fields, and met several Biharians I am proud to call friends.

Bihar too, is India in the 21st century.

Odds and Ends

Well, today is my final day of my time here, this morning I am going to visit the National Gandhi Museum and learn more about the great Mahatma. I have been reading a biography of him, and have come to learn how much more there was behind the world famous iconic image.

In the afternoon it's a business meeting, and then off to IGI (Indira Gandhi International) for the long trip back.

I look forward to seeing everyone back home, it has been just a month but seems so much longer. Many stories to relate. I seem to have found my elusive “writing voice” -- whether this is an India-only occurrence we’ll see, I enjoy it and hope to continue once back home.

And oh yeah, for those of you who are curious, from my friend Cynthia, an Australian woman in Bodhgaya for HHDL's teachings, Richard Gere has just an “ordinary” butt.

Stopping the finger now, thanks for reading.