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Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Cows, Jews, and Tikkun Olam - Emma

Hey all.  I'm a bit nervous about posting this, and I apologize in advance for the superfluity of parenthetical statements. (tl;dr crowd: don't even bother.) 

I am Jewish.  This in and of itself isn’t particularly surprising.  A Jew in New York? Not such a novelty.   Judaism and I have undeniably had our issues.  We grapple several times a week, woman vs. religion,  (“Call me Yisrael*,” my epic would begin) and I have disavowed it more than once in a fit of general distaste.  However, never before have I felt so keenly connected to my own Jewishness than here, in Ahmedabad India, of all places.
*Yisrael, a Hebrew word meaning 'He who wrestles with god,' was the name given to Jacob, one of the fore-fathers of the Israelites/Jews, after he literally wrestled with God.
There are a few approachable reasons for this discrepancy, the least of which is the sudden deficit of an abundance of Jews in my immediate vicinity.
First: yesterday, ITSA went to a beautiful Swaminarayan Temple which, for those of you that don’t know, is a temple devoted to the celebration of Lord Swaminarayan, a religious figure from the 18th century who has been deified for his teachings in a sect of Hinduism.  In this massive and paradoxically opulent temple (I say paradoxical because Swaminarayan was an ascetic who allegedly both survived for eight years with only a gourd, a loincloth, a rosary, and a book of scripture and managed to climb a Himalayan mount without shoes) was a herculean idol, a huge and golden Swaminarayan.  


Perhaps it was my recent and prolonged proximity to holy cows (with whom Jews have had tense relations since that one incident at Sinai), or perhaps it was instinct, but my personal primordial Jew was awakened at this sight.  I suddenly felt an abrupt (if ultimately superficial) connection with Moses on the mount.  Where were my stone tablets of divine dictation?  Unlike Moses, the idol itself wasn't what pissed me off.  It was the deification of a man and the sight of people prostrating themselves before him. (But what of Buddhism? my inner judge cries.  To this I say the following; though Buddhism does venerate Gautama the Buddha, there is never any confusion as to his status as a mortal.) 
(Forgive me if I have offended you by commenting so harshly on Swaminarayan.  I don't know enough about it to cast judgement, truly.  What is written here is merely my reaction to the idol.)

Second: (there is a long preamble to this one) there are many monikers for the Jewish people, most of which are somewhat less than flattering. The one which I consider most pervasive is neither insulting nor complimentary: ‘the Chosen People.’  Though it smacks of a certain egotism, a certain quality of selective righteousness, I do not think it means ‘the people who have been chosen to go to heaven and live under God’s favor.’  Jews don’t have a heaven or a hell and they most certainly haven’t lived under the favor of a benevolent being.  
Personally, I think it is an epithet of burden and responsibility rather than of divine aristocracy.  

There is a Jewish concept, tikkun olam, which literally means “repairing the world.”  The idea is that the world is somehow broken or incomplete, but not irreparably so. An imperfect God (or an imperfect whatever divine absolute you choose to believe ) 'selected' the people who would become the Jews and gave them the responsibility of finding the remaining shards and placing them to right. It is a profoundly beautiful concept, one which simultaneously traps and frees. 

An aspect of tikkun olam is tzedakah, a word which means 'justice' and denotes a meting out of human justice, a concept similar to charity.  The idea is that one ragged shard that God callously left behind is poverty, and it is strongly suggested that we devote ten percent of our yearly income to tzedakah.  Essentially, if a person asks for money or help Jews are obligated not to turn away from them and to give whatever we can.  This has never been particularly important to me before, but confronted with the abject poverty and persistent begging common in India, I have found the fiat more and more pertinent and present in my mind.  I cannot guarantee that it will remain so back in the US, but it has been getting exceedingly difficult to turn beggar children away.

An old joke goes like this; one prostitute asked another if she could borrow the second's bed for the night.  When the second asked why, the first replied "I have a Jewish customer tonight.  Your bed is bigger than mine, and I need room for the Jew and for his guilt!"  Jokes aside, I am beginning I think to feel this guilt, this Jewish inclination towards tikkun olam and all its implications. Whether or not I want to be rid of it is something I have yet to decide, yet to fully comprehend. 

Eh. In the meantime, l'chaim! To life.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Who Should We Save?

Hey everyone (tl;dr people, go to the end).

    Three years ago or so, my group in sleep away camp had us all play a game.  It involved an impending and total nuclear holocaust and the ability to save only five people.  Each village member was gifted a single sentence descriptor of a person - mine was 'seventeen year old heroin addict' - and was told to choose which five (out of forty) were worth saving.

     A single description isn't a lot to go on, especially when you are acting as the arbiter of life and death.  There are things you must consider! For example; do you save the children, who might be dead weight, or the adult who, although useful, might not ensure the continuation of the human race and for that matter, is the perpetuation of the human race necessarily the ultimate goal at all?
     It is terrible and fascinating work to do, and in the previous workshop, we had the kids attempt to do the same.

Something funny was said

     Once they were divided into three groups, they were informed that the city was flooded, but there was a boat that could hold ten people, though fifteen were available to save: a smoker, a Muslim mother, a 150 Kg man, a rich bachelor, a beggar woman, a Sikh soldier, a female celebrity, a ten year old maid, an alcoholic, a Hindu man, a blind man, a man with AIDS, an engineer, an artist, and a mason.

     At first, the group I was in made snap judgements without a second thought. As an onlooker, I found it truly difficult not to react to some of their rationalizations with excessively acrobatic eyebrow gestures ("We shouldn't save the Hindu man!" they all agreed,  "he has nothing special to offer.")  When the decisions got too superficial for me to bear, I began asking questions.  Needless to say, my group got aggravated very quickly - first with me ("You're making things so confusing!"), then with each other ("You're only saving the Sikh soldier because your father is Sikh!"). 

    Then, they started to fight for the admission of certain individuals against others, giving critical reasons and backing them up.  It was sort of exhilarating, though when I laughed to myself the kids gave me looks of utmost incredulity.  Their views on certain people are unshakeable and solid, but as they fought I saw them pausing, sitting back, and blinking a bit at what they found themselves saying.

 Some of the kids explaining why their choices made it onto the boats (and lived)

    When it came to a group discussion though, the judgements came back a little and got more provocative.  Juliana, another intern, brought up the idea that instead of claiming that we are noble judges, suited ideally for choosing who might live and who might die, we ought to choose randomly.  No one person is ultimately more deserving of life than another. This went over their heads entirely.

     It is, of course, a long process.  You can't expect people who have been taught under an indoctrinatory education system their whole lives to rip free of inertia and bloom immediately into critical thinkers after only a few exercises.   Unrealistic, to be sure, but still, they are blooming at a remarkable speed. They have been so incredibly inhibited, mummified by the system, and it's such a pleasure to see them rip the system to shreds with a vicious pleasure in the workshops. I'm a bit giddy with excitement watching it happen, actually.

(tl;dr - we played a provocative game about choosing who gets to live in the workshop and the kids were judgmental but quickly more critical and then it was exciting)

~Emma, Intern 2011
Bard High School Early College

"We must keep the 150 kg, he is most certainly a wrestler!"

Hello bloggers!
So far, I have just posted blogs about the sightseeing that the ITSA interns have done in
Ahmedabad, but, as Emma already said, our reason for being here is not merely to explore the country, but to explore and gain a deeper understanding of the Indian education system. Before actually arriving here and participating in the workshops, Riana Shah & Jwalin Patel (the 19 year old co-founders and co-director of ITSA) had described the Indian educational system as extremely strict and rigid. The reason for this, she explained (I am going to give some brief history now, so stay with me), was that the Indian education system was set up under British Rule during the industrial revolution, and as a result was aimed at creating technicians, not independent thinkers. Consequently, the Indian education system involves a lot of rote memorization and teaching directly from textbooks, as opposed to discussion based, seminar style classes. However, not until I actually got a chance to participate in the workshops and talk with the students did this become evident. 

Above is Rajvi (right) and Paranshi (left), laughing while playing The Boat Game. They were, no doubt, laughing about the fact that another participant, Nishant, had just said, "we must keep the 150 kg man. He's most certainly a wrestler."

On the first day, every student was asked to describe themselves in one word (the workshop's theme was identity), and most of the kids described themselves as "obedient" or "tactful", or, most popularly, "disciplined", as opposed to what you might hear at Bard (to name a few: creative, independent, or a learner for the sake of learning). Afterwards, when we moved on to open-class discussion, most of the interns (myself included) felt that the students responded in a way that they thought we would approve of, instead of responding openly and self-critically. Riana & Jwalin explained this by saying that these kids had been hand-selected by their teachers to participate in the ITSA workshops, which means they already knew how to effectively promote themselves and give their teachers exactly what was expected of them. 

In yesterday's workshop, which was the fourth, we did a very provocative exercise called "The boat game." In the boat game, you have 15 people who are described in only a couple of words, like a sikh man in the army, a beggar woman, a muslim mother, a 10 year old maid, etc. The world is undergoing some sort of epidemic, like a flood, and only 10 out of the 15 can fit on the boat, based solely on their few word descriptions. What this exercise aimed at doing was to explicate the point that you cannot define, or stereotype, a person based on only thing. The man who was described as 150kg, might be a genius, for example, or the smoker--an engineer. However, interestingly we found that the students had many pre-concieved notions, no doubt propagated by their society, their parents, and their educational system. For example, all of the groups eliminated the beggar woman without much hesitation pretty early on, and seemed to have no concept that certain social structures might change once only 10 people were left on Earth. 

What this exercise, and the workshops as a whole, made clear to me is just how stifled these kids are when it comes to independent thought, and when it comes to doubting the structure of the world around them. In light of this, ITSA is like a breath of fresh air. In a set of interviews which we conducted yesterday (led by intern Mariah Widman), one of the participants, Paranshi, said, "every week I can't wait for Friday's and Sunday's to come, so I can go to the ITSA workshops! It's what I look forward to during the school week." And considering that sunday is the only day these kids have off, that's saying a lot.

~ Ana, Intern 2011
Bard High School Early College

Ken Robinson: Changing education paradigms | Video on - Ana

Here is a great video relating to the type of educational system that India has. A bit long, but completely worth it! Enjoy.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Picture Post

Every now and then, we are going to post a picture sans a blog post. This is the first of these.
A boy and his motorcycle - Emma

The Monsoons - Emma

Hey all. I’m going to wax briefly poetic in this entry and I beg forgiveness in advance.
The monsoons started a few days ago, and I don’t have any relevant pictures.  None of the ones I took were good enough.  The rains had been teetering on the edge of release for my entire stay in Ahmedabad thus far, but hadn’t come.  The odd dryness lent, I realize in retrospect, an aura of anxiety and tightened lips to the entire city.  Without the rains, the year cannot progress.  Without the rains, the city could not move forward. It is thus with excitement and joy that they were met when they finally began. 
The rain wasn’t the torrential buckets of water I was told to expect but it flooded the streets in minutes anyway, forcing walkers to wade through impromptu lakes and turning cars into ad hoc boats.  The clouds rolled overhead in great cataracts of grey.  It was awesome in the biblical sense. 
this is the best picture I got.  It is still inadequate

       The thing, however, that had the greatest impact on me was the juxtaposition of the water against the the city.  Ahmedabad has sprung into a truly urban environment only in the past thirty years or so.  A city of advertisements, concrete, and cars, it is modern and intensely so - even if it appears to Western eyes to be a bit delayed in that modernity. Seeing the rain (this primeval torrent of water, this persistent pattern which provided the constrictions by which India, both modern and ancient, was formed) stream into the city was a sort of stark reminder that even in the midst of the 21st century, the rains are the rains are the rains are the rains (as Gertrude Stein might posit).  The rains are the past and the present and the gateway to the future.

In the meantime, however, they are the harbinger of bugs.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Max: Gandhi Ashram

Hey all;
Before visiting Gandhi’s Ashram, I had a sense of who Gandhi was and what he stood for, but I didn’t really understand how large a role he had in the public conscience. Martin Luther King Jr., who was inspired by Gandhi, left a similar legacy to us, but not nearly to the extent Gandhi has for India. His Ashram was an incredibly peaceful place. An ashram is spiritual community, and we had gone to the one Gandhi had lived in for thirteen years. Before entering Gandhi’s house, the ITSA team sat outside while a woman showed us how to spin thread. It was a calming activity, and the Ashram itself was quiet, something you begin to value more when cars begin honking at five a.m.
It's not only Gandhi’s political achievements that I find so remarkable. If Gandhi had lived the way he did and spent his entire life in a small village, he would be no less extraordinary. I’ve seen a quote of his, “My life is my message,” in multiple places around Ahmedabad, which, to me, sums up what I'm trying to say. He was able to live a meaningful life, and his achievements flowed out of that. So often the outside world appears to be incompatible with whatever peace I can find internally. How can someone be truly virtuous and at the same time stand to live in a world with so much suffering? For instance, state-sponsored torture is something that seems so empty of meaning that any religious experiences I’ve had in my life seem hollow. Gandhi’s Ashram was a very comforting place for me because it was the home of a man who was able to apply his ideals to hsi life so thoroughly.
A room in Gandhi's house with a spinning wheel and chair.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Old City - Emma

Hi, everyone.  A brief disclaimer - please click the links for more pics or go to my flickr account here or here.  It's worth it, I promise.

There is an assumption (at least among cynical New Yorkers) that when you travel, you never really see the full width and breadth of the place you are visiting.  To a certain extent, this is true.  Tourists tend to stay near tourist attractions, if only because they are safe and often the only place they know to go. But - and this is a large interjection - the full scope is there. All that's required is searching a little further than we ordinarily would.  
Here. This is what you search further to. 
(this picture doesn't even begin to capture the insanity, the color, and the beauty of the old city)

Today, we went on a historical walk in a part of Ahmedabad called the Old City, which is saturated with a combination of reminiscent atmosphere that seems almost fictive and the stampede of modernity.  It is all winding, narrow streets, stone houses, an eclectic mix of architecture (imagine an ambivalent artist, switching from European styles to Indian to Middle Eastern and back again, irrespective of time period), motorcycles and motorized rickshaws and people thrust together by the limitations of space.  

The walk began at the Swaminarayan Temple, snakes through the domestic pols (neighborhoods) of the city and ended at the spectacular and entirely unique Jama Masjid Mosque.  This is one of those times when pictures speak louder than words, so let me yell.
You can't tell from this distance, but the woman in the window is beaming. 

Throughout our stay in Ahmedabad, we have received stares.  This in and of itself is unsurprising; we look different and some of us (myself included) have hair color that simply doesn't occur naturally in India. However, we don't usually get smiles and frequent petitions for photographs.  The people here are friendly, incredibly interesting to look at, willing to be photographed,  though they are poor (I'm not sure why this is a concessive clause, but I cannot deny that it is.)   

 This woman asked me to take pictures of this child and of her.  It is a way, I think, of raising awareness.

They live. They yell and gesture and love and cook and clean and honk and almost run us over with rickshaws and sometimes, they just stare.

Like this gentleman.

I can’t begin to describe how wonderful it was to smile at people (I couldn’t stop) and to receive wide and often surprised grins back.  I cannot fully communicate the feeling one gets when walking through narrow streets, knowing that you are there.  I can’t explain why going into a mosque can translate you from one universe to another, one where the heat rising from the white stone of the courtyard is - as another intern said - raw and the odd contrast of white on white is somehow more profound. I don't know how to explicate the excitement that comes with the chaos of narrow streets and the smells of different cultures. How can anyone perfectly put into words the snuffling curio of claustrophobia and the sheer, clean relief of the open sky? It is something a person simply has to experience for themselves. 

Mariah: Initial Observations

      Anyone who has read E.M. Forester's A Passage to India will be familiar with Adela Quested's continual desire to "see the real India."
     Throughout my time here I have been attempting to understand why, exactly, the "real India" is so elusive.  No one could show the impatient miss Quested the truth she was searching for, so in her stead I am investigating her failure (never mind that she's a fictional character).
     Ahmedabad is, by India's standards, a pretty calm city.  The traffic is crazy, but there's no alcohol allowed here, so credit goes completely to the citizens.  Every visible piece of asphalt is an opportunity; people, cows, dogs, two-wheelers, and rickshaws weave in and out of traffic as though they are on a loom, although any fabric they produced would be very tangled indeed (perhaps that's why the textile industry is migrating south).
     Women ride motorcycles, wearing scarves and sunglasses to cover their skin; whole families can be seen on the back, shoulders cradling sleeping children.  Women in bright orange saris sit in the back of trucks that read "horn ok please."
At some point someone must have realized, but probably didn't have the heart to mention anything, considering that it's written on the back of almost every large vehicle here
     People's faces are weathered, brows furrowed.  They don't look except to stare, some excitedly, others suspiciously.  At times they exude a sense of fatigue.  When beggars ask for money people look away, an expression of forced apathy on their faces.  It is too much to see the child in the arms of these women, to feel a sense of empathy, because that is where the real expenditure lies, not in the pitiful sum of ten rupees that they ask for.  To care for one would mean having to care for all, and so people squint uncomfortably and fix their gazes anywhere else.
     Why couldn't Adela discover the key to India?  Because no one possesses it.  No one is India – or its gatekeeper for that matter. The narrative of every citizen is so different that there is no way to understand the conglomerate force of energy that drives everything here.
Almost getting run over by a cow in the old city seems tame compared to the stampede that ensues every time a bus stops
     The starkest contrast that I have seen here so far is that of poverty and wealth, and not just in the monetary sense.  There is an abundance of life everywhere you look, but at the same time a paucity of it.
Not a second is wasted.  Every breath of fresh air, every sidewalk, every storefront is used constantly. Ahmedabad is completely saturated.
     India bore this city, spending itself continuously in the form of mangoes and monsoons.  But its populace is spreading far faster than can be contained.  People and animals blossom, yawning into the dust.  With pluck and tenacity they work to coax bungalows out of the trash and shrubs, to carve patches of grass from this exhausted land.
     Those who succeed are able to recline in the absence of chaos; they have tamed (lizards aside) the small plots on which they live.  Those who do not must continue on in the heat.  Like their predecessors they tumble forth, swept away by the inertia of Ahmedabad.

Historic Tour of Old City-Ana

Hello Bloggers!

So, today, on our seventh day in India, we went on a historic walk in the old part of the city. Similar to when one walks into China Town in NYC, the density of the people immediately quadrupled. Crossing the street involved ducking and running for your life, and walking in a straight line involved turning  sideways, and moving ones legs in a manner resembling the minister of silly walks (Monty Python). However, chaos aside, the old city was everything about India that one imagines. It started in a beautiful old temple where men and women were separated by a partition, and where the sounds of bells and Gujarati rose, and floated in the air above us. Then it led us through tiny streets from the 14th century with secret passageways that connected courtyards, and finally to a mosque (Gujarat is a muslim state), where we were met with stern stares, curiosity, and suspicion. Unsurprisingly, for a bunch of high school kids from the city, this experience was simply incredible, amazing, fantastic, superb, and any other adjective you could think of to describe something so unbelievable. So, without further ado, the picture of a (not too ecstatic to be photographed) Jain monk, exiting a smal temple...

The ice man (attacking his ice with admirable determination), who we saw in the narrow streets leading to the mosque...

And, finally, a beautiful woman (with a, might I say, incredibly subtle nose ring), in the temple at the beginning of our tour.
More to come, anxious bloggers (shout out to our 7 followers)! Love, Ana

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The Workshops - Emma

Hey, all!  
So I never actually described the full purpose of my presence in India and my previous blog post may have indicated that I am here primarily to observe and tour.  This is an untruth. Here is a picture of some goat herding women that I took.
some goat herdesses 

No, but tourism aside - ITSA, the organization that brought me here, is a social action organization that is attempting to give Indian students the critical thinking skills they need to become fully functional global citizens.  Last Friday and the subsequent Sunday, the first two ITSA workshops took place.  They are themed on identity and aim to explore the minds of the participants as fully as possible. 
The above picture is from the second workshop and shows the kids explaining how the pictures they drew on their folders represent aspects of their identity. 

As an onlooker, this has been a fascinating two classes.  Back in the city, I attend Bard High School Early College, a school affiliated with Bard College and some of its programs.  One of these is the Writing and Thinking workshop, a weeklong workshop in the beginning of each academic year that forces students to think critically and carefully.  It can be a bother (by the end of the week in the past, I've had spurts of intense resentment for both writing and thinking) but it always forces you to grow and to think in ways that require personal involvement.  

These kids have never had that.  Searching for ways to describe and determine their identities and polestars is novel to them. Watching them push themselves so hard and enjoy pushing themselves that hard is absolutely wonderful.  In just two classes, it seems apparent to me that they have been hooked on the freedom of thought (yes, of thought) and expression that comes with the workshop.  In that line of thinking, one participant even crowed to her friend "it's like you have complete freedom of speech here!"
some of the participants writing short sentences on their identities.

I cannot wait to see these kids - not really kids, they are in eighth and ninth grade, so young adults, I guess, grow into their full mental potential.  It's exciting and fulfilling and damn but it's fun to see.

Thol Bird Sanctuary - Ana

On our first full day in India (INDIA!) we went to the Thol Bird Sanctuary just outside of Ahmedabad, to see the sun rise. After a chaotic ride through the streets, entering Thol was like a dream. The land was dry and cracked open, and deer-like animals rode off in the distance, and birds swooped overhead. Considering that at the same time the day before all of us were sleeping in airport chairs during our 9 hour layover in Mumbai, Thol was, of course, disorienting, but even more so, breathtaking.

On our way leaving Thol, we saw a man sitting by the lake with a walking stick. The man was staring at  a water buffalo in the middle of the lake (and as you can see, neither of the two were very happy to be photographed). One of our interns, Max Baird, got a little too close to the man when photographing, and was subsequently shouted at in Hindi…or maybe Gujarati. As we left Thol and re-entered the insanity that is driving on an Indian road, we were reminded of just how diverse India is, and we love it even more for it.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Coming to Ahmedabad - Emma

Hey there, reader. (tl;dr crowd - go to the last picture)
I’m not particularly fond of drawn out greetings or farewells, so forgive the abrupt start.  My name is Emma and what ensues here are the thoughts, pictures, and experiences of both myself and of my fellow interns at International Thought and Social Action in India (ITSA).
We arrived in Ahmedabad, a city in the state of Gujarat, India, on the 30th of June, about thirty hours after departing from New York.  There were three planes, two layovers, and one day lost entirely to the vortex of time zones.  It was a long trip, but then we were there.  There is something about arriving in new places that makes you sniff the air (desperate, perhaps, for a bit of air not recycled within an airplane).  Every place smells distinctly different, and the oxygen in India seems sweeter than America.  The air is thicker and smells of cream (on the brink of going sour) mixed with some spice. Cinnamon, maybe, or cumin; I’m not really sure.

The smell is the least of it.  Driving through the city was startling; odd and wonderful.  There are stray dogs everywhere and the free roaming cows act as garbage collectors of sorts. The great horned bovines are to left their own devices to eat the trash on every street corner and they are a source of perfect wonderment.  Though I’m more or less used to their presence, they are still endlessly delighting.  

Most shocking, perhaps, is the disparity in class.  Of course I’d been warned.  Of course I’ve seen Slumdog Millionaire.  But hearing and seeing on a movie screen are entirely different from encountering reality.  Ahmedabad is dilapidated and sometimes very, very beautiful, but it is not, as I expected, segregated.  On our first night in Ahmedabad, Ana and I looked out the window of our lovely air conditioned room (which really belongs to our marvelous host sister, Deeksha Joshi), expecting a view of the city, and were met with a slum.   But hush, we breach that topic with care.

There are beggars on the streets, but for the most part, they are ignored.  They touch their mouths with their hands, asking for food in a way that seems almost passive, almost defeated, but they nod as they do it. I ignore them too, I guess. I’ve been told not to give out money, unless I want to be swarmed by the hopeful impoverished. 

But there is color! Ahmedabad makes New York look like a city in grayscale.  Women in saris ride motorcycles and their scarves flutter (forgive the cliche word) behind them. Cars are red, signs are impossibly bright, vendors peddle deep orange-green-yellow fruit, and from the thousands of balconies, rainbow laundry hangs starkly against a grey sky tip-toeing monsoons.

It is beautiful.  It is bizarre.  But what strikes me most is that I’ve barely seen any of it.

Ahmedabad Close Up - Ana

Hello bloggers!
My name is Ana Powell, and I am an intern for ITSA-India from New York City. I am here, in Ahmedabad, for three weeks helping with the program. So, as Gandhi said, "my life is my message." I'm here to share mine with you.
You always hear about the cows in India, but holy cow are there a lot of cows! In the mornings, people come and buy the grass for 5 rupees, and then feed the cows. These cows are owned by people, but as embodiments of holiness, they are free to wander around the city during the day, even sitting in the middle of a traffic jam if they so choose. In my guidebook before coming to India, it even said that "an Indian will be more likely to crash into a pole trying to avoid hitting a cow than hitting the cow." On the right side of the picture, there is also a rickshaw, which is an open-air taxi. All in all the rickshaws and cows make driving in the streets of India, a chaotic, and yet wonderful experience.

As you can see above, in addition to rickshaws and cows, there are also a vast amount of motorcycles on the road. Coming from the airport, one of the most memorable experiences for me during that delirious jet-lagged drive into the city (after 26 hours of travelling) was the women riding their motorcycles, with their beautiful fabric blowing in the wind behind them. As my wonderful host sister Deeksha Joshi tells me, the sign behind this woman, reads " Harish Keri Bhandaar", which means "Harish mango shop." This picture is just a glimpse of all the things that makes Ahemdabad so distinctly unique, and at the same time so distinctly wonderful.