Monday, August 01, 2005

Gujarat (Aliyah)

So I’m back from Gujarat. The Internet isn’t working, and the expert – Gandhi – won’t be back until tomorrow at the earliest. He’s in Delhi with Krishnammal and Jagannathan. They met the President of India there, who said he was very glad to meet them, and who had already read half of The Color of Freedom.

Gujarat was gorgeous. The floods that had delayed my visit had receded, although it was still raining, and life had mostly returned to normal. The countryside was an extraordinary shade of green, with paddy and sugarcane fields growing lushly, intermingled with trains, cows and water buffaloes and goats grazing along the roadsides. At Jyothibhai’s house in the little community of Vedcchi, the flowers were blooming all around in beautiful shades of red and pink and yellow. There were rosebushes beneath the laundry lines, and I was glad to see a familiar bloom. I wanted to take photos, but my camera batteries had run out and I hadn’t brought the charger!

In four days I never strayed more than a kilometer from the house. Malinibehn, Jyothi’s wife, has been ill for almost a year, and so Jyothi rarely goes anywhere. She had her 81st birthday on the 21st, while I was there. I spent the time reading, writing, and walking around the village. It was a fine holiday, though I did miss the Tamil food. I think I lost a bit of weight, though that might not be so much due to the food as to the fact that Jyothi and Malini aren’t so pushy about getting me to eat more, which I appreciate very much. The phrase “Jewish Mother” comes to mind, but “Indian Mother” would be much more appropriate. My own Jewish-raised Mom never particularly cared how much I ate, as long as I ate something.

Jyothi helped me a bit with the LAFTI history book, which it is now clear will not be done before I leave, mostly due to my own procrastination, at which I am a master. Another project for this cruise boat David’s mother is taking us on next month. I’m not looking forward to it. I look at a cruise boat as a giant floating hotel with no escape, and I hate hotels. This will, at least, give me something to do.

While I was in Gujarat, Medha Patkar called Jyothi, asking him to be at a meeting in Ahmedabad the same day, presumably on the issue of the Narmada Dam. He had to decline, of course; it would take him more than a day to get to Ahmedabad, and he couldn’t leave on such short notice. Apparently, none of the Gujarati Gandhians are on speaking terms with him anymore, due to his association with Medha. I guess she’s too much of an activist. Many Gandhians in their old age have gone into their own secluded centers and busied themselves with various constructive projects, or with nothing at all. Activists such as Amma and Appa, and even Jyothi, are definitely exceptions to the rule.

Jyothibhai narrated an anecdote about his first meeting with Jagannathan:

In the ‘60s, Jagannathan was president of the All-India Sarvodaya association, and he was going around to visit various Gandhian centers. He came to Gandhi Vidyapiht, in Vedcchi, a school at which Jyothi worked for a very long time, and met the president of the school. There was a program planned for a whole day’s visit. Jagannathan asked the president, “Where do you come from?” “From Valod (the nearby town),” the man replied. “Do you own land there?” “Yes, my brothers and I own some land.” Jagannathan further inquired, “I have heard, that in this area there is often a difference in wages between laboring men and women. Is that true?” “Yes, I pay one rupee a day to men and twelve annas to women.” (In the former, non-metrical system of India currency, there were 16 annas to a rupee.) At this, Jagannathan became very angry, and said, “If the leader of this center is participating in this injustice, there can be nothing worth seeing here.” He left fifteen minutes after arriving, and never returned.


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