Posted by: rotarytrek | January 22, 2010

“…. and that is the beauty of cow dung”

25 days have elapsed since I arrived in India, and after hearing the above quote from my host today I do think it is time for a word or two on the widely known and perhaps one of the most bewildering aspects of the Indian culture to the Westerner -the sacred cow. My prior knowledge of the sanctity of the bovine was fairly limited: Hindus do not eat cows because they believe we are reincarnated and in our most advanced stage of this perpetual cycle is to end up as a cud-chewing, fly-swatting, four-legged cow. I am not sure I have gained much more insight into the origin of the cow-worship, or veracity of my over-simplified explanation, but cows definitely hold a distinct place of reverence in the heart of India.

Cows, like people in India, are ubiquitous, and much like the vehicles with which they share the road, India’s cows are colorful. Almost all have brightly painted orange horns, but I have even seen the occasional blue cow and several with painted hooves. Most cows roam alone or in pairs, often loafing along the side of the road picking through trash and rotting vegetables, but they are also put to work pulling plows or carts (in which I have the unique honor of being a passenger of… twice). Cattle are a measure of prestige; I had one host who expressed the wealth of his temple by the number of cattle it owned (3,000). I have also been told the cow’s stomachs is where more than 30 Crore. (30,000,000) gods call home.

Yet above all I believe cows are revered for their usefulness. Indians have an affinity for anything multipurpose. Coconuts are a common welcoming gift as the meat, water, hull, and fronds, can all be either consumed or used in household items. Indians tout the value of cow’s strength (farming), appetite (street cleaner), and excrements (milk, dung, and even urine).

Milk is the most common and immediate visible use of the cows. Indians drink milk…. A LOT of milk. Tea and coffee are really just warm glasses of sugared milk with a hint of spice. Every dessert I have tasted in India had its origin in milk (generally powdered) and all good Indian dishes start with a healthy ladle of homemade ghee (butter made from fresh milk). The milkman delivers milk each day, and the short shelf life ensures a heavy pour from the pot. (The milk is generally boiled before serving). Yet apart from milk the cow dung and yes even urine are profoundly important. The dung serves as fertilizer, fuel, and building materials. I learned today from my host that only houses that survived Chernobyl were those lacquered with cow dung. I was also informed cattle urine doubles as an all-purpose disinfectant, insecticide, and fungicide –perhaps this explains the aroma in the public restrooms…

It is very obvious that the cow is worth more to an India alive than dead; I suppose this is why leather and beef are noticeably absent from the list of useful purposes for the cow. Whatever the actual origin and true belief in the cow, it is obvious this creature is more valuable alive to the Indian alive than a la’ oscar. Word to the wise: -if you are unlucky enough to ram your car into a regal animal that takes a wrong step, keep driving. For unlike running down a human, killing a cow is a billable offence by Indian law

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Posted by: rotarytrek | January 19, 2010

Autograph Please

Before I left the US I banished my blond hair, hoping a nondescript brown might blend better into country of brown and tan. I quickly learned that any attempt to just fade into the landscape of the hundreds is laughable. Indians seem to have a supernatural ability to tune out loud noises, speeding cars, free-roaming livestock, and public urination, yet as soon as pale-skinned girl in pants walks by they snap out of their self-induced daze, stop and stare. If they can recover quickly enough the phones come out and they start snapping pictures with their cells. I still have not gotten use to the celebrity-like status our group continually receives wherever we roam.

Most of our travels are to factories or Rotary Club project sites such as schools, parks, and hospitals. We rarely go out into the streets and public places in India, but when we do the crowds slowly begin to form and it only takes one or two bold children to start the barrage of hand shakes and ÒsnapÓ requests. During our stay in Solapur the city was in the midst of a 3 day celebration of the birth of local guru/prophet, Sankreet. The last of the festival we tried to sneak into the main temple in the middle of town for quick look of the festivities. Following our police escorts we slipped off our shoes (strictly forbidden in all temples) and started our tour through the throngs of people. I am sure the 7 uniformed police and the special access (we were allowed pass the barricades to view the statue up close) did not add to our anonymity. We were allowed a close up view of the literally tons of fruits and vegetables that were artfully laid at the foot of this ancient guru. The colors were beautiful but by Day 3 the flies were beginning to assist the god in enjoyment of the fruit. One quickly learned lesson for crowd control is to keep moving, so after the requisite stop by the inner temple (which I begged off, due to allergies and claustrophobia) we moved on to our waiting van where we slipped in and drove off.

Just another day in India.

Posted by: rotarytrek | January 11, 2010

Impromptu Rotaract Meeting

After a breakfast, tea, emu farm visit, deaf and dum school, tea, elementary school dance presentation, lunch, 10 min hotel stop to “get fresh”, tea, and mineral water plant we arrived at Shirdi Resort for a Rotary Club meeting at 8:00 pm. Anthony and I were approached by a young Indian boy, literally shaking with with enthusiasm and spouting English at a rapid pace. Turns out we were the first foreigners he had ever met. After presenting to the 10 Rotarians of the Shirdi Rotary Club, the Boss encouraged us to have some “interaction” with the 4 Rotaractors who had travelled 45 minutes to meet us.   The 4 boys are MBA students at a nearby agricultural college where they “earn and learn” and are anxious for success and financial security. They claim their Indian culture gives no value to festivities and that birthday parties are useless (I didn’t even bother asking their favorite kind of cake). Despite this rather dour prognosis we describe our club’s motto of Learn, Socialize, and Serve, and I even mention I serve beer when conducting our New Member Orientation, which I am sure blows their minds as women rarely speak to groups and NEVER ever drink alcohol in this rural areas of India. Anthony encouraged them to use the internet to continue working on their English and suggested they start a English tutoring program to earn some rupees. They asked for our addresses, but Anthony reminded them of the internet and said that general mail was archaic. In this town, which is named after a turn of the 20th Century guru (think prophet) Shiri Sai Baba, I think the Rotaract Club of Shirdi might have found a new god in Anthony.

Posted by: rotarytrek | January 7, 2010

Traveling with the Boss

For the last several days we have been under the careful guidance of Dr. Jayant. According to our itinerary his specialty is general surgery, but after being his special guests for 2 days we are beginning to feel like we are being shepherded through an underworld where secret head nods and grunts are authoritative commands. We were taken to a movie theatre the Saturday night to see the Indian smash hit “The 3 Idiots”. We walked into the theatre (truly stadium seating) and breezed past the ticket counter, when an attendant asked for tickets, the boss grunted a few words and we kept walking. Seating was pretty tight but with a few nods, a row cleared out and we filed in. The next day we travelled to a nearby town to visit a Eye hospital sponsored by the Sangahmere Rotary club. We got caught in some road construction and traffic was pretty backed up. While Anthony and I passed our numerous bouquets of flowers out the window to confused passer-bys, the boss hopped out of the car and stopped the crossing traffic which allowed our van to pass smoothly through the clogged road. Everywhere we travel people clear the way, no standing in line, there is always a back door and the only charge is that we pose for a half dozen “snaps” and graciously accept endless coconuts and flowers. Our car is never far and everyone stops to stare as the only white person in town clamors into the back of our “Maxi-Van”. More on “The Boss” from Anthony later.

Posted by: rotarytrek | January 2, 2010

Roving Reporter Downing

Posted by: rotarytrek | January 2, 2010

Win suprise gift from India

We’ve been seeing and taking some very interesting photos here in India that leave us speechless. Help us write a caption for the pictures and the best caption will win a free gift from India on us.

Shirt reads: I never stopped loving you just stopped showing it

I never stopped loving you just stopped showing it

Be on the look out for more.

Posted by: rotarytrek | January 2, 2010

Full day

Our day as a team began with a tour of a seamless pipe factory, after watching steel rods pierced under our feet (and of course having the requisite chai and cookies) we headed off to one of the main projects of the Ahemednagar Midtown Rotary club: Snehalaya (www.snehalya.org). Snehalya is an amazing nonprofit center that has several missions which are primarily focused on women and children -specifically women subjected to prostitution and their children. They also house, educate, and provide medical care for children infected with HIV. We were met at the primary facility with flowers and the traditional ceremony, after watching a video on the work we were presented with rubber trees which we helped plant. Once again, the cameras flashed and I felt as though I was mistaken for some celebrity. Also on the agenda for the day was a carnival tour, snacks, lunch, tea, more pictures, medicinal garden, break-dancing puppets, and then a pit-stop by an artists workshop.

This artist, Pramod, is a sculptor, painter, sketch artist, and all-around “swami.” After stepping over plaster waste and under giant horse sculptures we were lead to his small office where he took out a sketch pad and began to draw. 20 minutes later I truly had a doppelganger. Of course our seating made us late for our next appointment and we had to rush home for a quick shower so we could be picked up for our New Year’s celebration at 8:00. The party was at Dee’s Place and the outdoor venue was quite reminiscent of a field party. Little bonfires, loud music, and Anthony on a 5-hour energy drink, definitely livened up the party. Half-way through my Pepsi and rum our hosts were explaining that drinking in India was still relatively taboo and women NEVER drank. Oops… So I finished my drink and headed to the empty dance floor. I was having a great demonstrating my customary “Caroline-dancing”  when I was pulled aside by a couple of sixteen year old girls who giggled as they pulled me to a little pavilion on the side and told me only men danced outside. Oops…again. Not deterred I continued my dancing within in the confines of the pavillion only to be interrupted by Dee on the loudspeaker announcing that I had won the “best-energetic-dancer” award. I proudly  accepted my  prize –a box of cookies (they know me well). We hung around until mid-night and after the firecrackers died down we loaded in the van and headed back to Yasmin’s, where she insisted everyone come in for “just five minutes.” Yasmin is a Parsi (of Iranian descent) and as she put it Parsis like to “eat, drink, and be merry.” Wine (sherry) was poured and the party continued. Fortunately the glasses are quite small and after one glass all agreed the New Year had been sufficiently greeted and I fell into bed.

Posted by: rotarytrek | January 2, 2010

War Eagle from India!!!!

Great job Tigers!!

Posted by: rotarytrek | January 2, 2010

Dance Contest!!

Caroline and I won dance contest at Rotary’s New Year party…..scary….very…scary!!

When in doubt do the electric side…K-Rob you would have been proud.

Posted by: rotarytrek | December 30, 2009

Second post on India trip

Can someone please post Auburn Outback bowl score, really hate I’m missing bowl games!!

Thanks and War Eagle!

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