Thursday, November 06, 2008

Activities in Ahmadabad

On Thursday we take up our original program for our project: we wanted to organise workshops for writing about climate change and the situation of the rivers. So our first workshop takes place at the Sabarmati river in Ahmadabad. We leave early in the morning, as the drive on the motorwaYtakes at least one hour. We will stay for one night at the "Gandhi University" in Ahmadabad, which was founded by Gandhi in 1920.

Our first stop is this university in Ahmadabad. We meet with the Vice Chancellor of this university where we have the usual Indian tea. I really like this tea: it comes with milk already (no choice - too bad if one does not like milk in the tea). In addition, it has all kind of spices: I taste some Ginger, also Cardamom. A distinct taste of Christmas honey cakes. A pity that the amount of this tea (which is very strong) is so small: it is always served in expresso-sized cups. Since it is boiled together with the milk, a skin immediately forms on top of the tea - something which I could live without.... (already as a child I did not like when the milk after heating had that skin). But the taste of the tea is just fantastic - and it helps to sooth my aching throat. My infection seems to get worse. during the drive to Ahmadabad I had headache and did not feel very well.

The VC of the university explains to us the basic principles under which they operate here: modesty, back to the roots, back to rural life. Students are required to work with the spinning wheel, to make their own yarn. Technology is seen somewhat as hostile, threatening. Accommodations are modest and simple, people have to stay in double accommodation. We are asked to do the same, unless we would feel uncomfortable about it... and our spoiled western individualism wins, as we agree that we would be a bit uncomfortable with this.

The beds in the guest rooms are indeed very simple: almost just a wooden board, with some blankets on it.

We drive to the Gandhi Ashram, which is located at the banks of the Sabarmati River. There is Gandhi's house, and the houses of some of his friends. A museum is there, with interesting exhibits. In the bookstore one can buy his works.

We camp behind Gandhi's house for our workshop, from where we have a nice view of the river. There is a lot of construction going on: the whole river banks are being rebuilt. It looks like a dam more downstream will raise the level of the river. Big concrete walls are being put in place on the sides, to keep the water in the river. Supposedly this will lead to a revitalisation of the river banks... but some of the people whom we interview do have doubts. Some remember how the river was many decades ago. Right now it is actually fed not with its own waters, but with the waters of another river: the Narmada river. To some, this is a violation of spirituality of the river gods...

We also meet an ardent supporter of this project, who believes this project will be an improvement for all people. Some details from the official side are here:

The workshop goes well. I record several interviews, other participants write poems and essays, others paint - or take pictures.

Around 3pm in the afternoon we are done, and we visit a local woman poet and comunity "activist" who has been engaged in mitigating the violence between Muslim and Hindu fanatics. A few years ago there had been riots between these two population groups, and just a few months ago there had been a few bombings here in Ahmadabad. The woman leads a street theatre group, which performed in the streets to engage people to think. Very interesting - she also read a poem in Gujarati language, to which our whole group listens intensly - just the song of words is very interesting, without actually understanding the meaning.

It is slowly getting dark. We are done with our program for the day, and we conclude it with a visit in a bazar. This is actually just like a large department store, with several floors where different stuff can be bought. As we leave the car, I am the very first one to buy something from a street vendor: a map of India. I am able to negotiate the price down to half (90 Rupies), but later another member of our group gets the same map for 50 Rupies... so much for my bargaining ability.

At the side of the road, an old lady boils some tea in a bolile cart cooker. The procedure looks slightly unhygenic, but the tea water (with the milk already added) actually boils and bubbles, so that I loose my fear and actually buy one - for 5 Rupies. Tastes delicious!

In the bazar I find a very useful item: a wiper for the floor to remove water. I actually buy it: I see an urgent necessity for the shower in our accommodation back in Vallabh Vidyanagar, as the water just keeps accummulating on the floor and does not flow into the outlet, due to some unevenness in that floor.

We drive back in darkness to our accommodation at the Gandhi University campus. My headache which had disappeared during the day, wsa now back, and I decide to get an early rest, without any dinner. A short update on the work blog, then I have a rest.

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