Tuesday, January 04, 2005



Aliyah is off this morning to help dig out and clean up more
schools. I'm sure she'll have a very rich report when she gets 
back. I am assigned to office work, which includes washing our 
clothes. As in hand washing and wringing, whacking it against 
stones, and setting it out on a line to dry. It won't really be 
clean - I'm not particularly good at this - but cleaner will 
have to do, and Aliyah needs something to change into when she 

And I have discovered that inside Krishnnammal's Kremlin (did
I mention that the front verandah has the Indian versions of two 
Corinthian columns?), there is a shower! Cold water to be sure, 
but a real live shower. And there is a "hot" water spigot, too, 
and it is almost tepid. I am in the lap of luxury! No wonder Appa 
won't work in the building.

My brother is headed here from Gandhigram. He is a specialist in
child trauma, and they want him to provide quick training to 
Tamil-speaking social workers. Most of those from abroad are 
well-meaning, but they lack the requisite language skills and 
knowledge of the culture. Even among the Tamils, the rural and 
fisherfolk have their own patois, and it is difficult to provide 
help where barriers are so great.

The Oriyans - both the medical teams and the school-cleaning
teams - had a rough time of it yesterday. I am still stunned that 
the Gandhians in this state, one of the poorest and most backward 
looking in India, have sent such a robust relief team. And they 
are used to the work, as cyclones hit the coast of Orissa at 
least twice a decade, or so it seems.

The medical team says that, even 10 days later, new patients
are showing up with severe injuries. It has taken that long for 
the daze to wear off, and for men, women, and children to find 
their way to care. There are many broken bones, half-set, that 
had to be rebroken and set correctly. Internal injuries as well, 
and perhaps worst, infected flesh wounds that have been 
festering for more than a week. Getting these folks to stay 
on a regular antibiotic regimen will be a real challenge, and 
the doctors are using a spectrum of second-line antibiotics, 
as they doubt that, if the first antibiotic fails, the patients 
will ever find their way back.

The school-cleaning team found two more bodies buried against
the side of the school. The death toll continues to rise. It 
is well over 7,000 in Nagai District alone, and there are perhaps 
as many missing.

The Oriyans are a very engaging crew, and I am enjoying them
immensely. They are much less formal than the Tamils, and much, 
much more laid back and open than those from Bombay or Delhi.  
They describe themselves as lethargic, and revel in it. They 
laugh readily, which helps, given that Oriyan English has always 
been, for me, the most difficult to understand, and I doubt that 
my New York accent, or Aliyah's soft voice, helps them any.

Still, I have been treated to the most wonderful lectures. When
Aliyah noted that she was a music composition major at Smith, 
one very genial man, heavily bearded and dressed in all white 
like a cloud, launches into a learned dissertation on the nature 
of art. Art, he says, must raise the mind to the larger realms, 
to the spiritual. If it fails to do that, it may share the medium 
of art, but art it is not. Another, a child psychologist, talks 
about the failures of applying the assumptions of 
British-American education to rural India, and how Vivekananda's 
psychological studies are used in the U.S., but not in India.

We have many mutual friends as it turns out, which surprises
them greatly, and I was close friends with two of their most 
respected leaders, now deceased. This has resulted in several 
formal invitations for me to come speak on education in Orissa. 
I know that this is not in the cards for the next several years, 
but we dutifully share information. Over breakfast, we sing the 
Gandhian hymn on the oneness of the God of all religions, and 
I am pleased to see that Aliyah remembers the words as well as 
I do. (Proud dad moment.) And they all want to tell me about 
the bauxite mines in Orissa, how they have been taken over by 
Alcan and various Canadian/American concerns, and leeching toxic 
sludge and water into the surrounding area, ruining the 
agricultural environment upon which millions depend for their 
livelihoods. Sigh. This is not a new story. The market run 
amok among people who have no voice in the marketplace to 
begin with.

Amma has discovered that herding Oriyans is difficult, and is
mildly exasperated. I have not seen her sit down in four days. 
Aliyah is the first one on the school-cleaning bus, and then 
about 37 others climb on, all sore from yesterday but finally 
ready to go, with shovels and picks and other tools, on a bus 
meant for 24. I literally mean "climb" - by the time they leave, 
there are four sitting contentedly on the roof, a rather normal 
mode of transportation in Orissa.

I discovered that the District Collector is very pleased with
the school-cleaning operation. Apparently, none of the other 
relief organizations wanted to dirty their hands. That's all 
right - the division of labor is much needed to prevent the 
groups from all tripping over each other, and Amma wants to 
greet the children and their families when they come back to 
school. She will be around long after most of the other relief 
organizations have departed, and the government has lost 
interest helping the poor.


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