Delhi 19-24 August

New Delhi Travel Blog

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Chennai was a quick stopover on the way to Delhi for the Experts meeting on the National Anti-Torture Legislation.  I was able to squeeze in a quick visit with Sharon a former intern at People’s Watch.  For a few hours, Sharon, her friend Alan and I went to the beach and caught up.  Then, the next morning, I went to Anitha’s house for an afternoon with her family.  Besides eating amazing dosai (my welcome back to south India) we also went to the fish market for dinner.  This was my first official fish market, and though the photos show the market, they really don’t capture the perfume of warm fish on wooden tables or the music of the fish-hawkers yelling in Tamil. 

 

From Chennai, we caught a flight to Delhi and arrived at our hotel at 1:00 am, meeting to start at 9:00 the next morning.  I slept well, but only a few hours.  Then, like I never left, I was back in all day meetings.  We reported on the meeting, capturing comments and ideas as our experts debated the merits and problems associated with different aspects of the legislation as well as relevant laws and treatise for inclusion.  Though the Day 1 of the meeting concluded at 5:00, our work commenced at 11:00 when we set to capture the unifying principles.  Mytili, Rebecca, and I worked from a hotel room, listening to music and trying to find the common themes from a room of diverse social activists.  By 4:00 am we had “succeeded” in preparing a draft.  Our rejoicing would have to wait though, because we needed sleep before our 8:00 am meeting.

 

3 hours of sleep, and we were back at the venue, computer in hand – coffee in veins.  I remembered how tiring these meetings were.  But we pushed through again and then set to work finalizing the project until 2:00 am.  Thus, my time with the NGO officially came to an end; for the second time.    

 

Though I had hoped to explore Delhi with Rebecca and Mytili, and have a proper goodbye dinner with them, it would have to wait.  The next morning Mytili left, sleepy-eyed for Chennai.  I slept in.  Anitha woke me at 10:00 am to let me know the National Director wanted to see me in the meeting he was conducting the state directors from the 9 project states.  So, I got out of bed, did a sun salutation series, shaved, showered, and headed into the meeting for what I thought, just maybe, might be one more assignment. 

 

But it wasn’t.  Henri wanted to thank me for my work and time over the last 6 months.  I’m not one to honor myself, but I feel its worth recording what I recall from those few precious minutes.  Not precious because I feel I deserved it, but rather because it felt good to know that I helped and made some little difference over the past six months.  Recognizing that I did not do the work alone, he thanked me nonetheless for starting the wheels of the annual report and for assisting with the Public Tribunals.  He said that not only did I do a tremendous amount of work myself, but I also organized the work so that others could come in and seamlessly start, and exit, without any change to the momentum of the project.  He said I worked with extreme humility, ensuring that he was consulted at every stage, but also taking it upon myself to ensure a quality final product.  He then turned it over the state directors with whom I had worked over the last 6 months in Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Bihar, and Rajasthan.  Mohan from FNSt began, by thanking me for my hard work.  He also stated that one of the projects shortcomings was that there was no plan for finalizing the annual reports, and that was something that PW was going to have to rely on interns for, both for the language and legal skills required.  He said that those interns did not materialize during the first two project years.  But this time they did, and he thanked me and those I worked with for seeing that a final product was released.  Several of the State Directors and State Legal Officers then thanked me in turn for working the tribunals, helping them organize the volunteer reporters.  The remarked on the fact that no matter how late it was or how hard we were working, I was always smiling and encouraging the volunteers. 

 

When all were finished, I spoke.  As I was talking I realized that I had a lot to say, and so censored myself, simply thanking them for welcoming me as a friend and family and for making my introduction and transition into Human Rights work one I will never forget.  As I spoke to these familiar faces, memories flooded through my mind – most of them sitting in auditoriums packed with Indian villagers in their colorful saris and men in lungis and dhotis.  Most were poor and probably Dalits.  Most had been marginalized their entire life and police torture was only the latest incident in a life of mistreatment and societal disregard.

 

I thought of the preparation of cases and the organization of files.  Of meeting the volunteers and introducing myself, knowing that I would be asking them to dig deep into themselves and work for 2 days and nights, and wondering whether they would be committed.  I remember sitting with them as the clocks were blinking 2:00; 3:00; 4:00 reminded us all that time was racing past, that sleep would be short and work long.  Without fail all the volunteers hung in there, and all gained much from the “real life” experience of seeing and assisting the victims. 

 

I thought of the hours I spent in the Media Lab with Anitha, Dorian, Neville, Rebecca, and Mytili.  Planning, working, venting, eating biscuits, laughing.  But all this was too much to share with the room.

 

In the end, I was simply glad that whatever I effort I was able to put forth, helped all of them accomplish the work they had set to do for 3 years.  That I was appreciated and that they were happy with me is the greatest reward for which I could ask.

 

21/8/08

 

In the afternoon I met with Kanika and Kritika.  Kanika I met in the desert with Dan way back in November.  We stayed in touch via email and the occasional phone call.  It was Kanika’s birthday on the 22 Aug, and she was kind enough to extend the invite.  After an afternoon and evening of shopping in Paharganj, we completed our purchases of peacock feathers and colorful pants for the monsoon-theme party. 

 

It was great to see Kanika and meet her sister.  Both have sunny personalities and unbelievable outgoing personalities.  Interacting with them is like spending time with really fun cousins, feeling like I have known them for years rather than hours.  We had a nice dinner taking advantage of Kebab Month at QBA.  After a pan desert, I returned to this Vishwa Yuvak Kendra.  

 

22/8/08

Rebecca and I spent the day sightseeing in Delhi, seeing the Red Fort, the mosque, returning to Paharganj to pick up the peacock feather dress for Kanika and then back to the hostel for a quick sleep before the main event.

 

With some trepidation, Rebecca and I headed to West Punjabi Bagh for the party.  I never know what to expect attending the party of a new friend.  We were warmly greeted, and instantly I was comfortable. 

 

Bottles piled on the table on the terrace, fans transformed the humid Delhi night into a comfortable breeze, music, dancing.  Suddenly, I was a million miles away from Madurai.  Girls smoking, drinking, wearing skirts!  Men in pants, drinking, smoking, swearing, talking to girls, dancing WITH girls!  Everyone was young and successful, the future of India’s business world.  Also I learned that several of the attendees were only 19 year-olds or early 20s, and suddenly I felt very old.  Kritika dubbed me “Shanti Chacha” (Nice Uncle), and instantly she became my “Bacha” (Baby).  To which now I find I can only respond Haji Bacha (which is like, as you wish little baby) to her requests. 

 

I stayed sober, except for the 4 Red Bulls.  I had wonderful conversations with several of the guys about India and its future.  Not the most party-time conversations, but interesting to me.  We back-and-forthed on the future of this country, which contains untapped resources, endless person-power, and political and nuclear might, but which cannot seem to feed the hungry, create an acceptable standard of living, provide basic services to its citizenry or fight the greed and corruption which swallows what money flows into the country.  I felt I had more hope for India’s future than its young professionals.  Many of their concerns for the future mirrored my mine; how to help others, but still make enough money to live.  How to find balance so one does not end up only working an entire lifetime away.  How to be true to your dreams in spite of family and societal pressure to get an education and a “respectable” job. 

 

The sun rose while I was sipping sweetened tea.  I watched as Kanika danced to the dawn, her blue skirt and mirrors reflecting in the baby blue nascence of morning.  Eyes and bodies fading, people were laid out or sleeping on the cushions to ambient-electronic.  The mood, the heat, the colorful costumes, I felt like I was back at Burning Man; just as I had been shortly before leaving SF to Delhi; and now shortly before leaving Delhi to SF.  I hugged everyone goodbye in the morning, watching as they headed back to their lives and I to mine, but hoping it was a beginning and not an end.

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New Delhi
photo by: peeyushmalhotra