Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Supplementary Edition

I trundled up to the airport a few days back expecting to be in Melbourne by Monday night - ha! was I wrong. In fact, it is Tuesday afternoon and I'm still in lovely Hyderabad.

This gave me time to do even more shopping - not for myself of course ;-)

This is a fourth generation perfumery located in a 300 year old building which houses an even older market.

The above building I was told is of such craftsmanship that it is held together by gravity alone - no mortar between the bricks!

Something else I've been learning about is the traditional Hindu caste system. Its structure is divided into 4 main castes:

1. Brahmin (priests)
2. Kshatriya (warriors)
3. Vaishya (merchants)
4. Sudra (peasants)

Beneath these were the Dalits, formerly known as the Untouchables, now officially known as the Scheduled Castes. Although the system has been considerably weakened starting with the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, the caste system is still representative of much of the socio-economic divisions of Indian society. However, through positive discrimination, scholarships to universities and government positions are reserved for the Scheduled Castes - in fact, I'm told the previous prime minister was from such a caste.

One powerful force that I've often felt here, was that of under-representation, generally in the peoples of rural areas and the more impoverished (often representative of the lower castes). Upon showing images like the ones below to the subject of the photo on the screen of the digital camera:

(cleaners at the airport staff canteen)

(a beggar or front of the airport), the person in the image would generally respond with a deep sense of reverent excitement, often expressed in emotional handshaking along with 'thank you, thank you sir' if they speak English. I can't help but think this has to do with the 'bias of technology' as some call it - those whose faces may appear represented on a digital device must be favored either socially or economically in order to gain access. Otherwise known as the digital divide.

On other topics, I've been doing my best to learn the local eating customs here.

Eating with hands - and only one at that (the left hand is reserved for cleaning one's backside).

As I've blogged before, the food here is sooooooooooo fantastic and affordable. A reason to come back in itself. This lovely dish (one of my favorites) is called Thali (pronounced 'ta lee') costs around AUS$1.50 - I'm trying to eat as many as possible!

Night time is particularly beautiful in India.

Whether it's the markets...

the lit-up sights...

in the evenings, things seem to come alive in a different way. Can you spot me in this long-exposure snap?

Well, 3 hours till I leave for the airport, hopefully this time I'll be on a flight and home by tomorrow. The trip's been great, but I'm looking forward to getting home!

Friday, December 16, 2005

e Conferencing in Hyderabad

Left Delhi for Agra (where the Taj Mahal is) and Hyderabad. Met some real cuties at the Agra station

Saw the Taj - one of the few travelling sites that actually choked me up a bit.

Made a bunch of friends when my train to Hyderabad was late

Saw crazy sights on the train (which was very comforatble, served great food and offered no end of good conversationalists).

And then I woke up in Hyderabad and found myself in a different world, far away from the reality outside.

I gave my paper and have been meeting some really great folks here.

who i'm sure i'll be seeing more of.

Today We took a trip out to Cybercity, a mega development sposored by the world's most rich and powerful computer corporations.

I was sickened to see the 'worker's quarters' behind the development.

It breaks my heart to see this boy (wearing no shoes and in pants that must be years old) smiling proudly in front of the looming corporate master behind - a master that knows full and well that what it takes from this boy's belly to line the waistlines and pockets of its shareholders.

On a brighter note, I saw some very traditional classical music and dance called Cootchi Pooti (my two friends and I were the only westerners in the audience and we were treated to the seats of honour - embarrassing really).

Today is the last day of the conference, then I'll have a whole 2 days till flying out - i think i'm going to the country for a bit of a look-see...

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Poverty & Disability in Delhi

The initial impression is that poverty and disability seem to go hand in hand here.

And no doubt it does.

However, the closer one looks, the more clear it becomes that the line between the poverty stricken 'street people' and the street as a way of life is a blurry one.

In the Western world, we are used to a clearly defined distinction between those who have fallen from grace, either by misfortune or misadventure, and those of us who will probably (hopefully) never know such experiences. But in the 'majority world', this line is fuzzy to say the least.

Here in the bustling city of Delhi, people seem to go about their life, doing the normal everyday things we all do, (the things we tend to do behind closed doors and under protecting roofs), they do on the street and in the midst of everyone else.





hang out...



raise families...

grow up...

and die.

A tough life by any standard, full of danger and opportunity, compromise and desperation I'm sure. A life lived by the largely uncounted millions.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Pleasures of Delhi

I've been spending an unfortunately large amount of my time here either in the internet cafe (not a cafe at all) and my small, windowless room working on my presentation for the conference - Note to self: finish all work before going to over seas conferences!

Despite this slavery to my ambitions, I've still managed to have a bit of fun here and there.

There are the markets...

which are sprawling and vibrant.

The food...

yum! - this 'Mexican breakfast' costs AUS$2, which is fairly pricy. (No Delhi belly yet thankfully.)

New friends of course...

Yvette - the trade union organiser from Sydney & Paul a nuclear engineer from England.

Enis & Shakir from Kashmir.

No end of crazy distopian scenes - more of which are coming in next installment.

Tomorrow morning I head off to Agra for a brief stop at the ole Taj Mahal, and then on to Hyderabad for the conference. May be a few days till a post, but I'll have a huge load for next time (i've been saving a bundle for a special feature on 'Povery & Dissability'). Till next time...

Thursday, December 08, 2005

No Pictures Please!

I learned a thing or two about taking pictures of embassies today.

I had an appointment with Scott Beale who works at the US embassy fighting human trafficking in India. The rickshaw driver I had hired dropped me off at the immigration department - the wrong gate (no big surprise - they often go just as far as they feel like, and still charge the price you negotiated to go all the way). As I proceeded to find my way towards my appointed meeting place, I noticed the large amount of Indians in line and waiting to be seen at immigration. Something about this scene captured my imagination, and I took a couple of quick snaps.

As soon as I had lowered the camera, I noticed a guard beckoning me over. 'Aw shit!' I thought - just yesterday I had met with a woman at placed called Sarai, a new media institute a part of the Centre for Studying Developing Societies. She had told me of an Indian friend and film maker who had traveled to Australia and on two separate occasions, had been very unhappily detained and questioned by secret security types - for simply filming some street signs and city scenes (and having dark skin)!

'Of course pictures aren't going to be allowed here.' I thought as the guard approached, reaching for my camera. I can tell you that I felt apprehensive about giving it to him, however that was less disconcerting than when I had to hand over my passport next! Looking at the two pictures I'd taken, he said 'Oh, that's very bad.' My stomach sank. He made a call on his radio and told me I had to wait while his boss came over.

After his boss, then that bosses boss, and another boss again showed up, my passport was taken and photocopied, all of my travel details, home address and working addresses in Melbourne noted. The guards were friendly enough, complementing my home country (everyone is here is very impressed with Australia's success in the cricket) and assured me not to worry, that it was mainly a formality.

In the end, the pictures were deleted (I was worried they'd delete them all, which they thankfully didn't) and I was escorted to my meeting with Scott. It was somewhat embarrassing as the hefty security official (in dressed in black with dark sunglasses) explained what had happened. Thankfully Scott said he understood because he'd done the same thing on the Indian / Kashmiri border - he'd lost his memory card - all his pictures from his entire trip!

It then took another 5 or 10 minutes to get security clearance to be allowed into the embassy for lunch (once again embarrassing as Scott had to call his superior and say 'yes, the one who took pictures . . . its ok, he's a friend who just arrived in Delhi and didn't know any better.'

Fortunately I was allowed in and we had a great lunch. I learned that there's at least 200,000 trafficked prostitutes in Mumbai - generally married off in bogus weddings and then sold to brothels in the city and forced to have sex with up to 30 people per day. That is a small city of slave prostitutes in just one city in a country of 1.2 billion! Unfortunately, last year, only 10 people in Mumbai were convicted for such crimes. There is also an enormous amount of children trafficked for slavery in a wide variety of horrendous situations.

After a great time talking, we made plans to meet again on Thursday evening and I went on my way - a little shy about taking my camera out. Despite the title of this post, here's a few highlights from today!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Life & Death in Delhi

How can one be prepared for the extremes of India? I knew enough before I left to realise that this would be a powerful experience. That conceptual knowledge however couldn't prepare me for the visceral nature of this land.

Extreme poverty - people living in the dirt and eating from the trash on most streets. It is incomprehensible, a life of the harshest kind.

Density of population - morning noon and night, the streets are crowded and bustling with men, women, childeren...


and cows. (They're so cute, but you're not supposed to touch as they are sacred - if only that were the case in the rest of the world.)

Opportunistic living - from the auto and bicycle rickshaw drivers (above), touts (salesmen), beggers, con artists...

...even the traffic seems imbued with an intensity that screems 'take it while you can, now or never!'

Despite, or perhaps due to the hardships of this place, there is the sense that the mystical, biological power of the universe is hard at work here. The creative force is whipping up a special brew - potent and diverse, powerful yet unfinished. India is the supercharged wildcard. Supreme success or catastrophic faliure, in either case, it wll be spectacular!