Sunday, July 30, 2006


Ah, the wonders of modern transportation. Left 6 a.m. Saturday, flew from Seattle to LAX, then Los Angeles to Frankfort, Frankfort to Mumbai, Mumbai to Chennai. I have no real idea what time it is supposed to be, or what day, but here I am! And a relatively uneventful trip, which is the best that can be hoped for these days.

Was met at the airport by Gandhiji, Appa's nephew and LAFTI's secretary. This caught me by surprise, as I was told I was being met by Francis, an old friend from Gandhigram days, but plans had changed, and instead of my heading down 9 hours on a train to Kuthur, I am taking a quick 5 1/2 hour one this afternoon to Gandhigram. (This "Gandhiji", by the way is an inside joke - the "ji" is an honorific, usual used for one's elders. Gandhi - the well-known one - was called "Gandhiji" by his close followers. Some years ago, this Gandhi started addressing me as "Davidji" (rather than "Davidbhai" - or Brother David), and I don't feel old enough to be a "ji" yet. So I turned around and started calling him "Gandhiji", which startles the folks around him.)

Somehow, I have attained the status of something between a child and visiting dignitary. I mean I really could make all these travel arrangements myself (well, granted, Kuthur is a little difficult, with the railway to Nagapattinam still knocked from the tsunami.) But the train to Gandhigram was my first trip within South India almost 30 years ago (in 1977), and I really could have accomplished it.

Anyhow, they took me to Sathya's home to sleep a little bit and clean up. Yes! Sathya's pediatric/neonatalogy program has expanded, and she is now working more closely with the primary physicians in the villages before the moms-to-be get to her.

Some things never change. The "new" Chief Minister - Karunanidhi - now 84 or 85 years old, is the old Chief Minister from 30 years ago. But he has done something very good indeed, opening the Temples for offerings by non-Brahmins, so that anyone who wishes can worship in his or her own way. In a country so often caste-ridden, this is a really big step, and hard for an outsider to appreciate.

Tipu, Sathya's Pomeranian (which Aliyah has dubbed an "absurdist" dog, given its massive white furry coat in the 100-degre heat) is not here. Apparently, he has moved to Gandhigram to be with Jagannathan - they take their walks together, and given the kids and all, an all-around better environment for a dog. It required two first-class train tickets to get him there, according to Sathya (who is allowing me to write from her computer which has broadband access! People may lack food, but there are Internet connections to write about it.)

The big news (actually there are several pieces of big news, but I thought I'd get one down before I go incommunicado at Gandhigram) is "The Color of Freedom" has been translated into Tamil, but not the way I thought. Rather, one of Tamil Nadu's largest news weeklies, with a circulation of two million or so, is preparing to serialize it, two pages a week, for as long as it takes! Then, perhaps, it will become a book.

There are ironies of course. The original book was made up of interviews with folks whose native tongue is Tamil, speaking in English, to an Italian, who translated it all into Italian; then translated back into English by Laura and me (I speak not a word of Italian), only now to be translated back into Tamil. It probably would have been easier to have the original written in Tamil, but then, of course, it never would have been written at all! Thank you, Laura Coppo, if you are out there reading this.

Well, while I'm at it, the other big news. Breathtaking to me. Krishnammal went to Thanjuvur District the day after Christmas in 1968, following the burning to death of 43 women in children in a labor struggle (the workers wanted 6 cents an hour rather than four, or some such); the 44th, an infant, was found pinioned to a tree, a knife through its heart. It was this event that triggered the work Amma and Appa have been doing now for almost 40 years. The news is that the land upon which this struggle took place, in the little town of Kilvenmani, has now been sold (by the landlords responsible for the original massacre, and cheaply it is said) to LAFTI, providing land for 1,000 landless Dalit families. Apparently, the national and state governments have also come forward with low-interest loans to help fund the purchase. Things have come full circle. When I see Krishnammal, I hope to get more of the details.

More soon...or least when I can next find some net access.



Anonymous Ellen said...

Hi, glad you arrived safely. Let me know if there is another email other than Lafti to email you at. All is fine here, give our love to everyone there.

7:43 AM, July 31, 2006  
Blogger David Albert and Aliyah Shanti said...

Best method, I think is to e-mail to ourselves. Otherwise, if you post here, i will check it.


11:05 PM, July 31, 2006  
Anonymous Ellen said...

Did you see my email to you? I bet not since I don't think you can see them after I download. I will try to call tonight when I get home from work probably 11:30. I did email P.

7:51 AM, August 01, 2006  

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