India-Smuggling Gandhi Home

My last post was 11 days ago. It’s strange being back in the US.  I live in a rich country , we have houses with good roofs and plumbing. Trash is picked up and animals do not wander the streets  leaving excrement on the pavement.

I  just celebrated Thanksgiving with family and we ate a lot of  great food. We had the turkey and then indulged in a variety of desserts.  We were warm, cozy and sat on comfy chairs and slept between clean sheets and blankets.

But my country is stressed and angry. It is severely divided.  Life expectancy is dropping as suicides and drug use increase. We are in trouble.

On my tour, we stopped at Raj Ghat, to see the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial.

And then we went on to The Gandhi Remembrance Museum.

It was the first few days of my journey in India and I had jet lag. I tried to put Gandhi in the context of what I knew about him.  I was awed by his greatness.  Reading and observing as much as I could in the museum, I was overwhelmed by the enormity of his life and his message.

I smuggled Gandhi home with me. I have unpacked him into my mind and heart and like any  souvenir from a wonderful trip, I have come to treasure him.  Taking the time to quietly study in my own environment, free from schedules and excursions, I am getting to know him well. And I wonder, can his message, his brand of leadership, be applied to our country in its present state of disarray?

Gandhi saw his life as a journey as he went through a number of stages and identities that finally gave him his valuable purpose.

During his childhood, Gandhi lived in a rural part of india. His family was in one of the lower castes and considered  lower middle class. In his large family he was his mother’s favorite child  and she was able to instill in him Hindu values including  fasting, self control, and ahimsa (nonviolence).

Next came his emulating stage, his desire to become a English gentleman. In 1890 at age 21 , he went to London to study law. He loved the precision of British law and its ability to uphold an empire.

He became a very successful lawyer and quite wealthy and in 1906 became a barrister in Johannesburg , South Africa,  part of the British Empire. It was there that Gandhi relinquished his loyalty to the crown.  He witnessed apartheid, blatant racial discrimination and decided that Britain should not rule his people in India anymore.

He returned to India to promote Satyagraha, his concept of the firm adherence to truth and love in the form of civil nonviolent resistance.

The Amritsar Massacre on April 13, 1919 was a turning point in his life. It was a Hindu holiday and 10,000 men, woman and children were gathered in a walled off square the size of a football field to celebrate.  The British, fearing that a gathering so big would lead to trouble,  had their soldiers mount the walls and start shooting.  400 people were killed and 1500 wounded.

A militant Indian group wanted to retaliate with terrorism against the British but Gandhi stepped in as leader of a different approach, civil nonviolence.

“An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”- Gandhi

Gandhi simplified his whole life, even in the way he dressed, and devoted the rest of his life to nonviolence and helping India gain independence.

In my next blog post, I will write about Gandhi’s  Salt  March and what we might learn from him that could help our country in these troubled times.

copyright 2018 @ The Autonomous Traveler

India-The Caste System

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One of enduring understanding about India we learned about in school was the caste system.  It fascinated us, that people were labeled and this label was carried throughout a person’s life. We were especially intrigued with the “Untouchables”.  On the tour, I learned that people of higher caste would always be alert when walking in public because an Untouchable’s shadow could contaminate a person.

The Indian social hierarchy consisted of the following:

 Brahmins-those of the highest intellectual (wisdom) and spiritual (goodness)attributes (teachers, religious leaders, and philosophers)

 Kshatriyas-those possessing courage and energy, the protectors of society (nobles, rajahs, and warriors)

Vaisyas-the producers of things, (those involved in commerce and agriculture)

Shudras-unskilled laborers and servants

The Untouchables-the impure who cleaned up excrement, blood, cremated remains and dead animals.

The whole system is based on merit and the essence of personality. The position is the caste was consequence of  past actions in a previous life, Karma.

In 1950, because of the efforts of leaders such as Gandhi, discrimination because of caste titles was outlawed. But  covert sigmas still remain.  Caste loyalties form political voting blocks but  reform is evident. Prime Minister Modi is from a lower middle caste and President Ram Nath Kovind is an Untouchable.

However,  the modern use of plastics has presented an unintended consequence.  In the past, garbage in the form of paper, wood and other degradable matter had been either burned or returned to the soil.  Now India is being buried in plastic because gathering it is considered socially demeaning and no one will do it.  In this case, social rigidity is crippling India.IMG_3169

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India-Hinduism

79.8% of India’s population is Hindu, 14.2% Muslim, and 6% is of various religions including Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism and others. The people in my tour group learned to spot active and inactive temples. They were like living things and if people did not use them and bring offering they basically closed up and metaphorically died.  Active temples had  priests present and flew flags to show they were thriving and open to worshipers.

 

Our tour went to Jaipur and the temples of Badoli, my first visit to a Hindu site.

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I’m in awe when I see religious sites from the past. Across the world, many gathering places of worship amazed me as I witnessed the hard work and devotion of the people who created them. The remains of the temples at Badoli  dated back to 10th-11th century and were very impressive with their intricate detail.

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The Hindu religion has 33 million deities. I felt that I would need a guide book with pictures to make sense of it all.

 

But it all came together.  Our guide pointed out the things that were significant and I did some reading when I got home.

Hinduism is the oldest religion in the world. It has no single founder, no single scripture, and no single governing body. Its foundation is dharma, a right way of living based on duty, conduct, and virtue. The three stages of  Hindu life are birth, death, and rebirth.  Salvation (Moksha) in the afterlife is obtain through good actions and deeds (karma). There are three main deities, Brahma (creator of the universe),Vishnu (the protector of the universe), and Shiva (the destroyer of negativity).  All living creatures have a soul, the eternal true self.

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I learned the most about Hinduism from observing the wonderful spirit of acceptance, tolerance, and joy in the Indian people. Their religion teaches  interconnectedness, to see oneself in all being and all beings in oneself. What a great way to live!

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India-An Event Remembered, Old and New Delhi, and a Mosque

My plan for my blog was to write about the tour one day at a time. After downloading almost 2000 pictures and realizing how much we did each day, I am presenting India in short mangable bites. I discovered by the end of my trip that India is a land of millions  and millions of little details,  each with its own significance. You will understand this when you see my pictures. India is a busy place where a lot has happened and is happening.

I mentioned in my first India blog post that I came to this country with an open mind and without doing too much research. This had some disadvantages but it may have saved me some anguish.  As we drove up to our first hotel, I saw that the whole place was a fenced-in compound with guards at the gate. In order to get into the hotel, my luggages and purse were scanned. I also was  further scanned by a female guard. The lovely hotel was part of the Taj chain. I then remembered the images from a news story in 2008 concerning an attack by Pakistani terrorists on another Taj hotel in Mumbai. The hotel was seized for three days  and 31 people were killed. I’m  glad I had forgotten about this. I would have made the trip anyway but the fact that I hadn’t recalled the incident had saved me from additional  pre trip nervousness.

I didn’t have time to think about this anymore because our tour group had a full day ahead of us. Our bright orange tour bus drove us through Delhi, the newer part  with its well laid out and landscaped streets designed by the architect, Edward Lutyens  for the British who colonized India from 1858 to 1947.

Then we went on to Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India built between 1644 and 1658. Within in its walls its courtyard can accommodate up to 25,000 people.

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The  tour I was on was called “Mystical India” and I chose it deliberately because I wished to see first hand different kinds of religious practices. I have become more  interested learning about other spiritual paths as I  realize that good and evil have no affiliation, that there is good and bad in all groups, that there is good and bad in all of us.   Gandhi started,  “A variety of incidents in my life have conspired to bring me in close contact with people of many creeds and many communities, and my experience with all of them warrants the statement that I have known no distinction between relatives and strangers, countrymen and foreigners, white and colored, Hindus and Indians of other faiths, whether Musalmans, Parsis, Christians or Jews. I may say that my heart has been incapable of making any such distinctions.”  I find great value and comfort in Gandhi’s philosophy of inclusion.

Our next adventure was a rickshaw ride and a stroll through “Old” Delhi. I think my pictures speak for themselves.

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It was only the beginning of that day.  There was plenty more to see and learn.

India-Getting There

 

Going to India did not only require that my passport was up to date but also that I apply for a visa. A visit to the travel clinic at my local public health department advised me that in addition to the hepatitis and tetanus shots I had received before a trip to China, I also needed a typhoid inoculation and to take malaria pills.

And then there was the packing.  Trying to select the appropriate things, both from the aspect of practically and fashion, is the only time I ever wish I were a man.  Being a traveling male seems  so easy,  a few shirts,  some pants, one pair of shoes.  No worries about makeup or hair styles.  I packed and repacked.  I finally looked on the internet and thankfully saw a travel blog advising female readers  going to India to wear  loose fitting clothes and to not wear shorts.

And then there was the over 15 hour flight. The tour company by chance booked this country girl on Emirates, the airline based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. It was one  of highlights of my trip.  I was economy, of course, but the food was great, the movie selection was fabulous, stewardesses wore awesome uniforms, and I had brief stops in Dubai to change planes.

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Everytime  I used the washroom at the back of the plane, I  couldn’t help sneaking a peek at the full sized winding staircase that led up to where wealthy passengers enjoyed luxurious first class heaven. Must be nice, I thought.

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When I arrived in Delhi, I was greeted by a tour representative and transported by car to my hotel.  My first impression of India was that it was a place with an extraordinary amount of  loud honking.

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All through the trip, whether on highways or on city streets or villages roads the use of horns was constant.  When I mentioned this to my tour guide or local residences they dismissed it as both nothing unusual and very necessary.  They explained that people in moving vehicles needed to tell other people where they were.  But with all the noise being made, I wondered if communicating this way had any effectiveness.

India has 17.7 4% world’s people with a population of 1.35 billion., second only to China.  I wondered if the honking was an equalizer, a way for all classes, rich, poor and in the middle, to have a voice. I watched an India political discussion on the TV  in my hotel room and witnessed the same loud passion as each people spoke over the other, each politician asserting his or her existence and proclaiming, “I am here.”

And then I thought, is this honking in India so removed from the human condition? We all want to be heard and to feel that our existence is and will be significant. This has always been mankind’s desire. In southern France there are handprints on cave walls dating back to 25,000 BC.  They too proclaimed, “I was here”.

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I’m not much different. I’m writing this blog so my grandkids will know my story and remember that I was here.

Keep honking, India.  I hear you.

India-WHY?

I have a strange way of picking my travel destinations. I do it by whim, waiting to be inspired by some sign or a feeling of intuitive direction. If you are a regular follower of my blog, you might remember that I chose to go to Barcelona, Spain because I saw the city on an episode of  “The Bachelorette.”   I’m a little ashamed about this bit of impulsiveness but Barcelona turned out to be one of my favorite trips as I learned about the famed architect, Antoni Gaudi, and discovered The Age of Modernism.

I picked India for my 2018 trip in the same unconventional way. While walking through St. Augustine, Florida on a trip during March,  I came upon a sudden explosion of eastern culture, a colorful float and joyous smiling people singing and dancing in lovely vibrate clothing.

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Looking for some sort of explanation, I approached a card table set up with Hindu books and various other items. I was welcomed warmly as I quietly looked at the titles. I  immediately felt included in all that was happening.  I mentioned that some day I would like to go to India and was given a set of Hindu prayer beads.  I asked how much they cost, was told they were a gift, and was invited to join the group for lunch after a parade through St. Augustine.  I was convinced, my next trip would be India.

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I signed up for a 17 day tour called “Mystical India”.  Before I went, the tour company sent me packets of historical information which overwhelmed me and I stopped reading them because I wanted go on this adventure with an open mind. But I can’t help but wonder if I  took this attitude because I was a “teacher” or  because I’m an arrogant American. In my career in education,  I was taught to promote “enduring understandings” that would stick in young minds forever.  For example, World War I  was reduced to the fact that King Ferdinand was shot and the entirety of economics was explained by the simple concepts of supply and demand. As I soon learned, these quick shots of education were far from adequate.

My  pre trip enduring understandings of India were neatly wrapped up in three concepts: Gandhi,  cows, and “Slumdog Millionaire”.  My gracious tour guide, Rashid, dealt with me patiently as I misunderstood the great Mughal Empire as something to do with the Mongols and thought Britain took over India after WW I instead of long before in 1857.  Rashid , if you are reading this, I hope you have forgiven me.  

However, I did take along with me something of value that kept poking around in my memory. A few years ago I listened to a”Great Courses” set of lectures called “Power over People-A History of Political Thought”. The very interesting talks by Professor Dennis Dalton from Barnard University ended with a segment about Thoreau and Civil Disobedience which promoted me to take a trip to Walden Pond.  But I remembered something else. The professor had started his survey of political history with a lesson about Hinduism. Why had he chosen India to start a course about political thought? Though my direct experiences in India and some focused discovery since I returned home, I  found out why.  It is quite a lesson that has great value for all of us especially in today’s world.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”― Marcel Proust

copyright 2018@ theautonomoustraveler.com

A note to my readers: I will  be taking you on my journey through India  for the next few weeks. Please click on the “follow” button on my blog so you don’t miss a day. Thanks!