For every evil in India, whether it be in education, corruption or the greed for power and money, there is a good. Maybe it's not a full counter-balance but it's there.
On Friday, my flatmate Stephen invited me to run an afternoon workshop on developing partnerships for a course he's running for marketing in NGOs. The students are postgrads, all of whom want to work in NGOs. The nine students, seven women and two men are bright, articulate, keen to learn and above all committed to working for the good of their communities.
I started by getting them to discuss the nature of partnerships, why NGOs needed them, who with and the actions needed to ensure they could run smoothly and meet agreed aims. I then split them into three groups of three, each group being responsible for developing an outline plan for attracting and developing relevant partnerships for an NGO working with the environment, another with children and the third with animals.
Their presentations were thoughtful and clear but what intrigued me was that each of them concentrated on partnerships they would NOT have; government because it was corrupt, corporates because the were corrupt and wealthy individuals because they were mostly corrupt. One of the students in the discussion that followed, said that his charity would have to pay bribes because their money would not otherwise come through or at best be very slow if they were funded by government. I challenged him on this. Wasn't he part of the corrupt system himself? Wasn't his NGO part of the problem? He looked startled and shrugged. 'It's what happens.'
It made me angry and I laid into him. As a future leader of NGOs, he should be working to ensure that every NGO has written into its constitution that they would NOT pay bribes. If he and others stood together and kicked and screamed and shouted publicly, getting local and national publicity, reporting the bribe takers, surely he and they could help to rid India of this cancer. Someone, somewhere has to stand against it and a lot of people are. Many of the newspapers and magazines carry highly critical articles on politicians and business people. Surely it is this generation that needs to develop that fight. We had a meeting of minds. They knew they needed to take action. Let's hope that they do.
Earlier in the week, I met Sham Sundar who was working at the National Institute of Engineering in Mysore, heading up the Centre for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technologies. His passion for his subject was palpable and he introduced me to Chida Shivanna a Mysorian who had set up a successful IT software business in Mysore and Seattle. Chida was passionate about cheese and India has practically no cheese other than paneer.
Using much of Sham's technologies, especially in building, he has set up an organic dairy farm a few miles outside Mysore on which he is creating a cheese making plant where visitors will be able to watch the processes and learn about different cheeses.
He is trying to persuade his neighbouring farmers to become organic but they are frightened that their yields will drop even though their soil is now dead and they are having to pay more and more for even more chemicals. The grass yields Chida is getting through organic methods may yet persuade them. In time.
Yesterday I had lunch with two friends, Payal and Sanjay. Payal runs Go Wild, a small NGO working with children in schools to help them to learn about the wildlife around them and the importance of biodiversity and the environment. Sanjay is an environmentalist, the Deputy Director of Zoo Outreach Organisation (www.zooreach.org) and Founder Editor of The Journal of Threatened Taxa (www.threatenedtaxa.org). They had just returned from Nagaland, a state in north-east India where they had been working with villagers to help them understand why they should stop the killing of all their wildlife for meat. They have beautiful forests but there are no birds in them. They have all been killed.
After our lunch, I decided to treat myself to a massage. Ayurvedic massage is a Mysore speciality. I had been recommended a place to go to. The building was somewhat run-down but that's ok....small cubicles for consultations, plastic chairs, rather dirty looking sliding doors. I paid my 500 rupees for an all-over body massage and steam bath and followed the masseur up three flights of stairs to a small room with a well-oiled massage table and a box into which I was supposed to squeeze myself for the steam bath. I got undressed, no modesty towels here. For those of you, dear readers, with a squeamish mind, look away now.
Ayurvedic massage is done with special oils....lots and lots and lots of oil. I was pummelled and pushed and rubbed back and front for 45 minutes, feeling like a slippery eel. Every time he pummelled me, I slid up and down the table. Let's just say that it was somewhat stimulating and move on to the steam bath.
The steamer is a box which you sit in with your head sticking out of the top. The steam for this box is provided by a plastic pipe connected to a pressure cooker on a one-ring gas burner. No sophisticated technology here. It was scary but efficient and I was duly steamed alive. For fifteen minutes. Never was a cold shower so welcome.
I have booked my flight to Uganda for July 8th.