Monday, February 7, 2011

More Pictures Posted

I've pretty much finished going through the pictures I took on my most recent trip to India and have posted my favorites. Some I've posted previously, but most are new. You can view them here.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Akash Kapur on the Two Indias

Kapur has been writing a series of articles from India about the contradictions between the new "shining India," the grinding poverty in villages and slums, and about the environmental devastation that accompanies rapid modernization. I was struck by how much his assessment accords with the one I posted after my return from a second visit there. This is the last in a series of articles he's been writing and you can read it here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Can India Leapfrog China?

An interesting article on the New York Times website about the competition at Davos between India and China. It reflects a number of the points I made in my last post. Here's a brief excerpt:

"Indian executives here prided themselves on the things that set their country apart from its biggest rival among emerging markets, China: democracy, a reliable legal framework for investors, a widespread command of English, a young population due to overtake China’s by 2030, and of course its famed information technology sector.

But there was also an acute sense of envy of China’s superior infrastructure, Bejing’s capacity to map out long-term economic development unbound by election deadlines and the country’s comparatively high literacy rates, particularly among women. . . Despite the government’s pledges to the contrary, growth in India had not been inclusive. Child malnutrition had barely improved over the past two decades . . . and caste politics still excluded millions of people from real opportunity. While most children now enrolled in schools, 65 percent drop out and only 12 percent go to college."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Some Final Thoughts About India

This is the last blog post I wrote in India. Unlike the narrative blog entries I posted, this one sums up in a tentative way my thoughts about the country after two visits. It reflects discussions I had with others on the trip, particularly Ross Miller, with whom I traveled alone for the last ten days of my time there. We had many spirited discussions about the issues I cover here, and it's a little difficult at this point to unthread his insights from mine.

It's 1:20 in the morning in New Delhi and I'm waiting at the gate for my 3:05 flight to Brussels and then a connection to Chicago. The new, sleek Terminal 3 here, which handles all international flights, is jarring to return to after everything I’ve seen in my travels around India. It underscores the dramatic division I’ve seen throughout India between the well off and the destitute, the high tech info parks and the slums, new cars sharing the road with carts pulled by bullocks, the slickly dressed businessmen and the wandering ascetics and sadhus wrapped in saffron or white robes with painted faces, a walking stick in one hand and a beggar’s cup in the other. Half the people I’ve seen on this trip could never imagine such a place. The terminal here is vast and gleaming, full of the same shops and restaurants I’d expect to see in Paris, Rome or London. Much of Delhi has changed since the Commonwealth Games (I was last here in 2008) – all of the cows have been moved to the countryside, many of the slums appear to have been cleared out, the new sections of the subway are  sleek and modern, and everything seems a bit more orderly. The new airport is a signal example of these changes, and what they portend for the future. All of the airports we've used are brand new, and the rapid, heavy investment in them is revealing. The older infrastructure -- the road system, the trains, the electrical grid and plumbing systems are in many places in terrible shape, but the airports are twenty-first century, brand new and very efficiently run.

This is no accident, for airports are central to the new, “shining” India. The burgeoning middle class, foreign businesspeople, and tourists, all plugged into the explosive economy of globalization are using the airports, and it seems like India can't build them fast enough. Investment in these airports is understandable, but it vividly dramatizes the class divisions that are so stark in India, for the majority of Indians live in villages or large towns that lack adequate roads, plumbing, sewage treatment facilities, and reliable electrical systems, and many who scrape by in India's cities live in slums, tents near the construction sites they work at, or in terribly cramped and dilapidated buildings. In many, many places India lacks the kind of infrastructure most people in the West in the late 1950's would have expected. Indeed, many people live under conditions that substantially haven't changed since the seventeenth century. India is pouring its money into the airports while the rest of these problems fester. Money follows money while those who have nothing get little attention, locked into lives that would be shocking to most visitors from the West. It seems to me the future of India depends upon the extent to which it acknowledges and then deals with this vast paradox.

I wrote about these problems when I visited India in 2008, but from the more narrow perspective of how the Gandhians my group met with were dealing with the competing demands of villages and cities. Many of the activists, writers, and environmentalists we met with during that trip were committed to Gandhi's critique of modernity. Preoccupied with improving the quality of village life, they were often openly hostile toward the city. For Gandhians the city represents the West, the history of colonization by Britain, environmental pollution, and everything that is wrong with contemporary globalization. While the logic of this position is understandable in both historical and political terms, it seems to me framed in an overly idealistic way that ends up ignoring the realities of social, economic and political life in contemporary India and is therefore counter-productive. To think through the problems of urbanizing India one must get beyond the orthodoxy of a rigid Gandhianism and face a number of ironies, paradoxes, and contradictions related both to economic, environmental, and cultural life in India. In terms of the environment, there's no denying that village life leaves a modest, manageable footprint on the environment, whereas life in India's large cities takes a terrible toll in terms of pollution of every kind (the air quality in the cities is terrible, the heaps of trash unimaginable until you see it). In terms of the quality of cultural and social life, the village has a kind of social cohesion and cooperative cultural structure lacking in the chaos and alienation those new to the city and seeking menial labor no doubt experience (although from what I’ve read corruption in villages is as big a problem as it is in cities). And in purely economic terms, while people in villages live close to the land with little money or modern comforts, there isn’t the kind of destitution here you see in the city (the Indian writer and critic, Ashish Nandy, has made the distinction between poverty and destitution and argues that no one in India's villages experiences destitution – poverty, yes, but it is managed by the social system in the villages and, according to Nandy, no one goes without basic needs). Compared to village life, then, the environmental, cultural, and economic conditions in cities must be shocking. The environment is degraded, there is destitution, and the culture of the modern Indian city must strike the newly arrived villager as fragmented, alienating, and largely meaningless in the context of village life.

This last point, about the cultural transformations the city fosters, is worth pausing over. India's culture is profoundly religious (Hindu, Muslim, Jain, Sikh, and Christian) and everywhere in the cities and large towns are temples and shrines. People visit them day and night. But much of the culture here is secular and driven by the kind of materialism associated with globalization. Seen from this perspective, the village seems a much more positive and stable place than the city. But the pull of the city is inexorable because the economic imperative trumps everything else. There is a fundamental poverty (again, using Nandy's distinction) in the villages that I think is simply becoming unacceptable to the younger generation who see what life is like in the cities and in the West on televisions that glow here and there in the villages and draw young people to what the city has to offer. The rhythms of life in the village, and the largely agrarian and difficult work done there, is just not attractive to young people. This all amounts to one big trade off, but it's a trade off the millions ever day streaming into India’s cities seem willing to make, and this kind of thing has been happening around the world for generations wherever modernization takes hold. Traditional ways of life, identity, social and cultural structures, religious practices, styles of cooking, dressing and building are inevitably transformed under the forces of modernization, whether animated by colonial, regional or global forces. On the one hand people improve their economic lives under modernization, but on the other hand traditional identities and ways of living are transformed or erased altogether.

So, while the downside of modernization fueling the growth of Indian cities is clear, modernity draws young people from the village in waves, and that is only going to continue. I've talked to many Indians about this, and they all say the same thing. You can't get the younger generation to stay in the villages to do back-breaking agricultural work for subsistence wages when the city and its opportunities (and its culture) pulls at them for all the reasons I've just rehearsed.  I had an interesting discussion about this with Krishna Pillai, who we stayed with in Kerala for a few days. He explained that so many of the rice paddies along the backwaters of central Kerala have gone fallow because there is no one to work them. Young people simply don't want to do this kind of work. They're interested in jobs in the technology sector, in engineering, or in medicine, and so they reject working the paddies in favor of school and the city. Of course this means that the traditional social and cultural world of the villages around the paddies is changing dramatically, and may in fact be threatened with disappearance altogether. The big industry now in the backwaters of Kerala isn't rice but tourism. Many of the paddies lie fallow. The huge boats that used to ply the waterways piled high with rice have been turned into the kind of houseboats we enjoyed in Kerala, floating homes with two or three air-conditioned bedrooms, a kitchen, multiple bathrooms, a large dining room, and viewing decks, housing that eclipses in quality, space, and luxury, the way most Indians live.

Kerala is a relatively wealthy state, but much of the money comes from Keralans who work abroad in construction or engineering in the gulf states and send money back home that then gets invested in a variety of ways and is supplemented by the rise of the kind of infotech parks like the ones we saw popping up here and there as we drove around Kerala. During one of our drives I saw a large billboard that brought into stark focus the changes I've observed in India. It featured the image of a smiling, young, 20-something man in a clean white shirt and dress pants with a messenger bag hanging at his side, looking out at the far horizon. It was an advertisement for some sort of school, and at the top, in big block, boldfaced letters were the words: Study. Work. Migrate. This, in essence, is the deep structure at work in the new, shining India. Whether the journey of migration is internal or transnational, the trajectory and its effects are the same. Young people go to school, learn English, are exposed to new opportunities in the technology fields, engineering, or medicine and, drawn to work in these areas, they migrate either to the cities of India or abroad, to the gulf states or, like the young man from Bangalore sitting next to me on the plane from Delhi to Brussels, to places like the University of Iowa to earn an MBA and then try to get a job in the U.S. (where he'll earn three times with his degree what he'd earn in India, which still would be a small fortune by the standards of a vast majority of the Indians I've seen on my two trips here).

Study. Work. Migrate. This, of course, is central to what we call globalization, a contemporary word for the effects of development and modernization in places like India that have been going on and accelerating since the rise of the Mughal Empire and then the imposition of the British Raj, a profoundly double-edged epoch of domination which paradoxically altered India in negative ways but which also provided the means for it's great leap into the twentieth century (a railway system, democratic political and social institutions, English, etc.). Each of these are profoundly problematical, of course, for the rail system was designed by the Brits to get booty out of the country rather than to move people around in it, the rise of English as a dominant currency of power serves as a kind of exclamation point for the continued dominance of the West in India that has marginalized the power of indigenous languages and people, and democratic and social institutions are rife with corruption. In spite of all this, political democracy, it seems to me, has been remarkably successful here in structural terms, even if imposed from without on a culture whose entrenched caste system seems absolutely alien to it. Indeed, this is the great miracle of democracy in India, at least according to many of the commentators I've been reading, that the founding fathers of India, Nehru and the untouchable Ambedkar most prominent among them, were able to turn an India whose population was made up of a diverse set of religious groups historically committed to an entrenched caste system into a democracy, a system basically alien to the historical structures that determined social, political, and economic life here prior to the twentieth century.

However, one should not confuse the structural success of the democratic system of “one-man-one-vote” with economic democracy, for India’s vast poverty and uneven modernization belies the idea there is anything close to such a thing here. One’s impression of how wealthy India is, how dramatically its economic profile is changing, will largely depend upon where one goes in India.
If you come looking for the new, shining India in places like Gurgaon (the new New Delhi) or in Bangalore you'll find it. But these pockets of development and modernization (hooked as they sometimes are to free-standing off-the-grid contemporary housing developments) are small islands of wealth in a vast sea of impoverished towns and villages, and the dilapidated housing and slapdash commercial structures that dominate India. I don't make this observation simply to be critical of India, a country I love. It's just a simple fact that the India journalists like Tom Friedman write about is a tiny sector of a vast country where most people reside not in the twenty-first century but in the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, or early twentieth centuries. Ashish Nandy, in an interview with Christopher Lydon, has observed that India is one of the few countries where one can choose to live in any century, but this way of underscoring the wonderful diversity of India tends to elide the fact that people do not so much choose to live in these earlier epochs as find themselves locked into them. They have no choice. Surely there are many people living in villages who want to be living there. Some of them no doubt want no part of the towns and cities linked to modernity in India, but all over India in my travels I've observed people clearly trapped in living conditions most people would escape in a minute if they could. There are systematic and deeply institutionalized reasons for this kind of entrapment and they won't go away without a systematic and institutionally mobilized effort on behalf of the government. As I note earlier, the more India's wealth (and the wealth from abroad pouring into India) gets funneled to the already well off, invested in the tech sector, airports, and gleaming shopping centers for the upper middle class and business elites, the longer India will be putting off dealing with its vast underclass and the ruined infrastructure that houses them. It's hard for me to see how shining India can emerge as a real power in the twenty first century if it does not address these problems. At the same time, of course, it can't stop modernization at the top end. The two projects have to happen simultaneously.

Here's where I think commentators like Friedman are getting things profoundly wrong, trafficking in reductive, overly positive, blinkered thinking about India and, by extension, about globalization. Most of the places I've seen on my two trips to India simply don't register in Friedman's version of India. It's still the case that around 75 percent of Indians reside in agricultural villages with little resources, off the grid of modernization. And I haven't visited a city or large town in India where a significant portion of the population don't live in slums, on the street, or in substandard housing, and where the streets and walkways are clogged with roving animals of all kinds whose feces is everywhere. Indians are amazingly entrepreneurial, and so the villages, towns, and cities are a vast and complicated network of shops, repair stalls, and street vendors jumbled together with speeding scooters, motorcycles, auto rickshaws, and cars. But here one encounters a blanket of pollution that dirties the air, and the excrement of animals (and occasionally people) litters the street. These scenes are less frequent in large cities like Delhi where there are blocks and blocks of modern facilities and organized commerce and traffic, but in small cities like Varanasi and Jaipur and in towns all around the country what I've just described is often the norm. The economic miracle that is India in the eyes of Friedman and many other commentators writing about twenty first century globalization simply does not exist in huge swaths of the country. An accurate, nuanced, honest view of India needs to take this failure of economic democratization into account. It isn't at all clear to me, either, that the so-called rising tide is going to lift all boats without systematic state intervention, massive investment in infrastructural development that puts the impoverished population to work building roads, railway systems, and making over the electrical and plumbing grids (something we need to do in the U.S., as well). The future of India belongs to it's youth, who are moving through India's educational system into the kinds of jobs that will make them far better off than their parents, but they can't all be doctors, engineers, and software developers. Some will have to rebuild the country's infrastructure and enter the service sector. I've been struck traveling around India by how many children don't seem to be in school. There appears to be a whole lost population of destitute kids out there, most dramatically captured in the little beggars who, at the behest of their parents swarm the streets in some areas, but also by kids everywhere who are just hanging around their parents as they try to eke out a hardscrabble living together.

Finally, there is the vexing question of religion and its place in contemporary India. This is a topic Ross and I found ourselves kicking around often during our ten days together after the larger group left for home and which I'm still trying to sort out for myself (so the thoughts that follow are very tentative). One of the miracles of democracy in India, as I pointed out earlier, is that it has been forged around its religious diversity.  While the caste system, though officially outlawed, is alive and well and works against the realization of economic democracy, it's remarkable the extent to which political democracy has taken root in a land dominated by Hindus but populated as well by Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, and Christians. This is of course the case in the United States as well, where the key to democracy has always been the separation of church and state. This same separation in India largely accounts for the success of political democracy in India, but the cultural world of religion here is, in strikingly obvious ways, far different than in the United States. In India religious devotion is woven into the everyday fabric of life in ways you don't see in the United States. This is the case in spatial as well as experiential terms. Where in the United States towns and cities are neatly dotted with churches, synagogues, and mosques, India has temples, shrines, and altars everywhere which serve what seems like the Indian propensity for constant worship. They run from huge buildings to small altars built around trees or just taking up a few square feet in the middle of a shopping street.

In India if you're a Hindu you don't go to church on Sunday. You visit temples and stop at altars every day and evening. There is a constant flow in and out of these places, and a small army of what often seem like self-appointed priests, sadhus, or ascetics who tend to altars and small temples or inhabit the larger ones, setting up their own small shrines within the temples.
Hinduism in this way is a constant presence. It's a central part of the visual culture of every village, town, and city (whether an altar built into a banyan tree or a full blown mega-temple like those we visited in Tamil Nadu). The iconography of the gods is everywhere, on walls, doorways, shrines and altars. I wrote earlier of Varanasi that the whole city is a temple, and this is in fact often the case in many of the larger towns I've visited. It was certainly true in Rajasthan. The main streets and shopping bazaars of Jaipur and Udaipur are dominated by the visual culture of Hinduism. These images, altars and temples are seamlessly integrated into the commercial sections of town, so people can flow in and out of temples as they flow in and out of shops. And the larger temples are the center of a remarkable culture of pilgrimage marked by a kind of ecstatic fervor rarely seen in the U.S. I witnessed these pilgrimages during both of my trips to India. When these pilgrims merge with the daily population of temple visitors (both local and those who have swarmed in from around the country to visit the great temples of Tamil Nadu and elsewhere) you have the kind of spectacle I described in my blog posts, a mixture of ecstatic devotion, carnival, and theater. There is a boardwalk quality to some of the larger temples, where hawkers in stalls selling religious souvenirs, devotional items, or just a blessing compete for every pilgrim and tourist rupee they can get. Everything is sold in the temples, and they are populated by commercial vendors as well who chat you up and end up trying to get you to visit their shop across the street or around the corner. It takes you awhile to figure out that the fantastically dressed and decorated sadhus in and around temples, with their elaborately painted faces, striking decoration, and smoky altars, while they may be devoted to their religious practices, are also trafficking in a kind of commercial theater carefully calculated to make a living off both the locals and tourists. It's often clear that they are dressed up to get your attention, competing with one another in dress and decoration to get you either to allow them to bless you with a bit of ash on the forehead or have you take their picture so that they can then demand payment (such photos are often openly solicited).

In making these observations I don’t mean to be sacrilegious. It’s simply a fact that everything is for sale in many of the temples of India. The sadhus are there out of devotion, I'm sure, but also to earn a living, and the temple grounds are full of people who want you to pay them to be your “guide” or simply to watch your shoes while you walk barefoot across the temple stones. The other day in Udaipur I spent a long time just sitting in the main temple leaning up against a pillar watching people come and go and taking in the rich feeling of the place. I found myself quite moved, and ended up leaving a large donation in the box used to collect money for the disabled and indigent. When I left the main altar and went to get my shoes a nice man approached me and said, with real sincerity, that I seemed particularly moved by my visit, unlike the typical tourist. He was right, and I told him, yes, I was. He continued to talk with me as I walked out and down the steep steps to the street, and then, sure enough, he broke off our conversation to tell me he had a shop down the street where he sold miniature paintings, and he began to insist I pay a visit. The whole encounter was orchestrated, his words calculated to ingratiate me to him so that I'd feel obligated to buy something from his shop.

Such spaces, of course, are not limited to Hindus, for nearly every town and city has its mosques and its Jain and Sikh temples where the same kind of commerce takes place (and where horribly disfigured people roll on the ground begging for money). Everything related to religious devotion at these sites is for sale. The devoted and the tourists alike are hit up at every turn, and its just something you put up with in a culture where everyone is trying to make a living under difficult circumstances. I found myself pretty inured to it, able for the most part to walk the shopping bazaars and temple sites and just ignore all of the hawking. Indeed, the religious culture, both as spectacle and as devotion, is one of the big draws of India. We come to see the temples and the mosques and to experience the religious faith and fervor that swirls in and around them, and to experience the spectacle of this world. But what role does all of this play in India's attempt to modernize? In the United States secular modernity seems to have no problem developing while significant portions of the population embrace religious beliefs many secularists or non-believers find bizarre and backwards, so why can't the same thing be true of India? Or are its ancient religious cultures a drag on modernization, and who is in the privileged position to be able to make that judgment? Of course this may simply be a problem for the outsider. How do we reconcile the seeming disparity between a profoundly devoted and institutionalized belief in the supernatural with economic and material modernization and the development of political democracy? How does the outsider reconcile the holiness of cows, the public burning of dead bodies, the frenzy of ecstatic pilgrims, and the kind of animism that seems at the core of Hinduism with India’s call centers, burgeoning hi-tech industry, gleaming new airports and shopping malls? Are they compatible, or will India’s striking religious culture have to change if modernization is to take hold all across India?

Take the case of Varanasi, where this tension is dramatic and the paradoxes of modernization are most apparent. The Ganges is the holy river of India, the mother of India, really, and a vast resource of great historical significance. People come to Varanasi from all over the country to bathe in its waters and cremate their dead. But the river itself is dead, turned into a vast cesspool by the very people who venerate it. It's hard not to see both the historical and the modern city of Varanasi as a victim of the very religious devotion that made it significant in the first place. Not only is the river polluted but so too are most of the streets, which are covered in cow feces, soaked with polluted water and sewage, and strewn with trash. The air is polluted by the riot of vehicles zipping through its streets, and the infrastructure is as dilapidated as any place in India. To make Varanasi a really livable place -- which is to say, a safe and sanitary place -- the river has to be cleaned up (a vast new sewage system is being built to redirect sewage away from the river), but how do you do that and still allow for the cremation of bodies on its shore and the burial of others directly into the water from boats? How do you keep the streets clean and sanitary and still allow cows to roam free because they are sacred? In Varanasi religion is both the life blood of the place but also seems at times like its worst enemy, and for this reason the seeming contradiction between traditional religious practices and modern economic development here seems stark, symbolic of a problem the whole country faces. This is a global problem, of course, this clash between tradition and modernity. What makes India perhaps the most interesting nation in the world is that the clash between tradition and modernity here is so dramatic, that it takes place on such a grand and complex scale. Everything going on in the world is going on in India, and how it comes to terms in both practical and existential ways with the tension between its religious traditions and its secular, political, and economic aspirations will be intriguing to watch.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Jaipur to Udaipur With Two Flat Tires

On our last night in Jaipur I woke up in the middle of the night with a hair-brained idea. Why drive a third of the way to Udaipur the following day to see some major sites, as we had planned, then drive all the way back, pack, have dinner, and then take the overnight train to Udaipur, arriving at 6 a.m., when we could drive to the sites we wanted to see and then just keep going by car to Udaipur? Ross liked the idea and by 9 a.m. we'd changed our plans and were on our way to Udaipur with yet a third driver, Ashu, a cousin of the other other two drivers, Awad and Raja. The car was a bit run down and slow, but Ashu was a good guy, spoke tolerable English, and seemed to drive well. And the highway out of Jaipur was a good one. But then, about an hour into our drive, we had a flat tire. No problem. Ashu pulled over, unloaded all the baggage, took out the spare, and changed the tire. While he was doing so Ross pointed out to me that the left front tire had very little tread and we both just shrugged.

An hour or so later after driving through flat countryside mostly planted to mustard, which grew in sheets of bright yellow from each side of the road, we passed through a spectacularly busy area full of large marble slab merchants where the traffic in cars, trucks, camels, people, and herds of goats was chaotic. Once we punched through the congestion we began to climb into high desert terrain that reminded both of us of the landscape between Albuquerque and Santa Fe in New Mexico. All of the way the traffic was harrowing, roads congested with cars and huge trucks and buses, two lanes, one each way, but shared in a chaos of outragous passing gambits that seemed like games of chicken. I've gone through this before in India but this bordered on the truly terrifying. One has to learn the system here and then it's not so bad. Driving in India is a cooperative social exercise. Signs on the back of trucks say “Please Honk” because they want to know you're behind them and want to pass. When you do pass and face an oncoming truck things look ominous, but the oncoming truck always slows down so you can get around (the guy driving the truck doesn't want to die any more than your driver does), or it shifts over to the side of the road. Everyone looks out for everyone else, they slow, shift, pull over, and never get mad. Once you get it you can calm down and read your Lonely Planet guide to Udaipur on your iPad, which I did later in the trip.

Another hour or so into our drive we found ourselves on a winding high-desert road where there was enough water to grow wheat in a tranquil, hilly landscape of small villages and farms. People rode camels along the roadside and some pulled carts full of building supplie or tools. Our destination was an old Jain temple near a town called Pushkar, where there was also an important temple devoted to Brahma, the only such temple in India. We pulled into the sandy parking area of the Jain temple and spent about a ½ hour enjoying the place. It was mostly abandoned, but there where clusters of people meeting together with priests performing some kind of ritutal. We returned to the car to press on to Pushkar only to be greeted with the news from our driver that we had another flat tire. It was that bald left-front tire, of course. Off it came, our driver hopped into someone's car, said he'd be back when he got it fixed, drove off, and there we were stranded alone in the high hot Rajasthani desert with all of our bags locked in the car. I made the best of it by wanderng around taking pictures and chatting as best I could with some of the local guys playing cards, while Ross hung around the temple. Nearly an hour later, at a moment when we were beginning to wonder what our back-up plan ought to be, the driver returned, the repaired tire was remounted (with some effort, for the wet sand ground didn't hold the jack very well), the bags returned to the trunk, and we were off again and heading toward Pushkar, so glad to be on our way that we quickly forgot the whole episode.

The big pay-off for all our troubles came when we arrived in what turned out to be the dazzling holy city of Pushkar, one of the most wonderful places I've visited in India. Pushkar is a small town organized around the Brahma temple, which has apparently been here for centuries (the story is that the god Brahama visited Pushkar and decided to stay for good, hence the temple). It's easy to see why he stayed. The town is built around a small, beautiful lake with ghats where people bathe and take the sun. The main street (or margh) winds from the automobile entrance to the temple entrance, with beautiful shops and small restaurants and cafes along the way. I thought the goods for sale here were far more attractive than what I'd seen in Jaipur and I regretted that we had to rush through town so quickly. There wasn't time for shopping. Here, as in Varanasi, many of the Europeans and Americans were dressed in pseudo-Indian garb, scarves and pajama pants and tie-died blouses and shirts, with long hair or dreadlocks. There were many hippie parents with their somewhat bemused children and people my age who seem still to be living in the 1960s. The town was of course full of Rajasthanis going to market or just buying supplies, lovely, elegant people who made the streets seem graceful and serene. The areas bordering the lake were particularly beautiful, with what seemed like palaces in the distance shimmering their reflection in the lake, and hordes of pigeons everywhere. Of course like everywhere in India their were entrepreneurs of every kind at work, sadhus in elaborate garb and painted faces carrying begging tins posing for pictures they charged for, shopkeepers agressively eager to get you into their shops, and young men hanging around near the temples who offered flowers to tourists. The deal was you were to take the flower to a priest who would dot your forehead with ash and then you'd leave the flower as an offering, paying both the priest and the boy. When I demurred from following this routine I was berated more than once for not showing respect for the temple. One has the feeling of being constantly hassled, whether in the bazaars or at the temples. But people have to make a living and so you understand and deal with it. My choice is to make big donations now and then at temples that help the poor. If you gave money to everyone who asked for it or needed it, you'd be broke after the first couple of days.

The rest of the drive to Udaipur was long and tedious, but uneventful compared to what had come before. All the guidebooks say not to drive at night in India but actually it's the safest time, at least on the larger highways, because few people are on the road. We stopped once at a roadside restaurant for soup but other than that drove straight through to Udaipur, arriving about 12 hours after we'd left. It was worth the drive, both for seeing the landscape of Rajasthan, Pushkar, and arriving in Udaipur at 9 at night rather than 6 the following morning. And we were ecstatic at what we found, a beautiful lakeside hotel, a huge room with large windows opening onto the lake with pillows and pads for sitting beneath them, and a expansive outdoor garden restaurant on the lake with dazzlying views across to the old city and it's Palace. We felt like we'd arrived in a medeival hilltown in Italy, a resort in Switzerland, or Venice. Udaipur is a little bit of each when seen from this point on the lake shore, and it is as serene a place as one could imagine. I've written often about how noisy India is but this place can be nearly silent. Right now I'm writing this at an outdoor table at the restaurant looking across the lake at the palace and the mountains in the distance on a hot, sunny afternoon, and all I can hear are the sounds of a few crows, the whirring of a boat motor in the far distince, and the soft clanking of silverware and quite chatting from the tables behind me.

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 After our visit to Varanais we flew to Jaipur via Delhi, a trip that took most of the day but was restful because it gave me a day off from the intense days we've had. Somehow just sitting in an airport and on planes proved a kind of tonic. Jaipur, in Rajasthan, is yet an other India. It's visual culture, geography, food, and way of dressing, and it's landscape, bear little relation to Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Delhi, or Varanasi. What strikes you from the moment you leave the airport are the wide roads, large, new, well lit business buildings, bars, and restaurants. The prosperity. One small telling detail. On many of the business streets coming into the city there were diagonal parking spaces for cars on the streets in front of stores. This jumped out at me as a very western mode of organization I'd not seen anywhere else in India. I really could not recall seeing parking like this anywhere. In most Indian cities autorickshaws and cars are crammed into parking lots or jammed in chaotic ways together off the road. The order of the cars here seemed emblematic of some level of more general order I was being introduced to. And sure enough here, in this city late out by Princes and Majarajas, there's a logical city grid of streets and traffic flows in a relatively logical and manageable way.

Jaipur is also a whimsical city. Its central tourist sites, the City Palace, it's astronomical observatory called Jantar Mantar, and the extraordinary Hawa Mahal have an element of kitsch and folly to them that starkly contrast with the devotional seriousness and frenzy of Varanasi, and with the agelessness of the place, for Jaipur is a 17th century city built to help the Majarajas help administrate the British Raj. The City Palace is an interesting place to visit, but one quickly notices that, in contrast with the magnificent Taj Mahal, that the walls are plaster, not marble, and the decorations are painted, not inlay work, a kind of reminder that this place came late and the Maharajas here did not have the resources Shah Jahan had. The shopping bazaars in the old city are uniqe. There is little motor traffic on the streets, which are divided into areas which specialize in different items – predictable trinkets for tourists where the hawkers are active in trying to get you in, but also lanes where Indians are doing there own shopping or buy vegetables where no one hassles you at all. Like most places that have become tourist meccas, I found the shopping in Jaipur pretty much ruined by the tourist trade, for the goods for sale where mediocre and the agressives sales pitches annoying. I was happier wandering the back lanes where tourists didn't go, which I did by myself for a couple of hours yesterday afternoon when we'd finished visiting the spectacular Amber Fort, which is a short drive from Jaipur.

Located on a hill above a man-made lake, the building itself is breathtaking to see from the road and parking lot, and changes angles and shifts colors in interesting ways as one makes their way up the path and into the main courtyard of the fort. It's a pretty splendid structure, but again, like the City Palace, it has a painted lady kind of look to it. The trajectory of our walk up to and through the structure was more interesting to me than the structure itself. The initial series of courtyards and pavillions are pretty impressive, nicely decrorated, well-kept up, and full of tourists. But then as one makes there way north through the building, into the more common areas which are less and less decorated and kept up, the often superficial grandeuer of the place steadily gives way and attenuates. It was fascinating to make my way to the far end of the fort. I wandered through an increasingly labryinthine series of stairs and halls that were unpainted, plain, and dark. There were fewer and fewer tourists in these areas and less noise, until finally there was no one else at all and what I was seeing was all form, light, and shadow. There was only silence, which is a magical thing to find in India, which usually roars. All I could hear was the occasional flapping of a pidgeon's wings. As I made my way back to the more central parts of the Palace it was like watching a movie in reverse. Color and decoration returned, more and more people showed up, the noise steadily increased, and soon I was back in the rush of people visiting the more colorful pavillions and courtyards, until finally I spilled out with them onto the path and down the hill where we met up with our drivers.

How we hooked up with our driver, Raja, is an interesting story. In the afternoon of our first day in Jaipur Ross wanted to stay in for a nap but I was restless to do more and so I set off from the hotel lobby to grab an auto rickshaw to walk in a nice park I'd seen on our way back from the old city, just to enjoy the afternoon light. The guy who happened to appear as I emerged turned out to be a guy named Nawab Ali, and he turned out to be unlike any auto rickshaw rider I've encountered in India. He spoke pretty good broken English and was quite interested in talking with me. It turned out that, like most auto rickshaw drivers here he makes a living getting tourists to engage him for an afternoon or the whole day. The deal goes like this: he'll take you to the sites you want to visit but when it comes to shopping he's going to take you places where he gets a commision on what you buy. This means you often get hijacked by these guys (it happened to us the next day), taken to places with pretty tacky goods where the prices are high and the aggressive selling unpleasant. Anyway, I hit it off right away with Nawab. I knew the deal, but I liked him. He took me to the park, but then after a short stroll I came back and asked about a temple I might visist and he whisked me off to what turned out to be a spectacular place, the white marble Bilda temple on a hill beneath an old fort. Sice it was a major holiday I was treated not only to a marvelous sunset but fireworks as well. By the time I'd returned to the hotel I decided to engage Awad, or his brother, Raja, who had a car, to take us around the following two days. The next day Raja took us by car to the Amber fort, then tried, as most drivers do, to hijack us for some shopping at places where he gets a cut. We indulged him one stop, but then cut it off. Ross ended up going back to the hotel and I had a nice two hour walk through the bazaars and back alleys, taking photographs rather than shopping.

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   You think you've been to India and then you come to Varanasi. All of India seems condensed here, concentrated into its labyrinth of narrow teeming streets and broader walkways that lead down to the ghats along the Ganges, wide, steep steps running down to the river where people come in the morning for devotional baths and in the evening to chant, sing, and cremate the dead. Where cows have lately been removed from Delhi and seemed scarcer than before in the other places we visited, here the bull is holy and they roam free everywhere, crossing the wider streets, foraging for food along the edges of roads, and taking up most of the space in the narrow walkways that thread their way back from the river. The place is a riot of shops, services, and food vendors, and the variety of people here is striking—Buddhists, beggars, some terribly crippled and desperate, wandering sadhus painted and costumed in striking ways, shop keepers in turbans or in western dress, people in regional dress from Kerala to Rajasthan, all here to make a living, enact a pilgrimage, or bury their dead. It is said that people come to Varanasi to die because to die here insures a transcendence of the cycle of living and dying. Near the area where the cremations take place are huge piles of firewood and long bamboo poles used to make palanquins to carry the dead down to the pyre (we saw some bodies, wrapped in fine fabric and covered in garlands laying on these palanquins just this morning as they awaited cremation). Poverty is everywhere, delapidation, disrepair, people in tatters trying to find food. This side of India, vast to the point of being overwhelming -- the slums, the ruined or failed insfrastructure, radically complicate the version of “shining” India the government wants to propogate and which we in the west are fed in articles about the booming economy in India with its high-tech explosion. This is a fraction of the economy in India in terms of the people it effects. What we've seen here, I'm afraid, is sweeping poverty, a dangerous lack of sanitation, and in infrastructure that can't keep up with the economy's expansion. It's not the kind of India journalists like Tom Friedman write about. He ought to spend a few days in Varanasi and less time in the gleaming towers of Bangalore.

Like many historical sites Varanasi is a kind of paradox, a place people have considered holy for thousands of years, where timeless rituals are played out today much like they were 2,000 years ago. Yet, it is a tourist destination as well. It would be wrong to see it solely as a place of purity threatened by tourism, but it would be just as wrong to see it simply as a tourist site whose significance has been obliterated by tourism. It seems to me that the ancient pilgrimage tradition is itself a form of tourism, so there is a link between contemporary tourism and and the city's history as a destination for pilgrims. There is a tension between the two, of course. We saw it this morning when we were out on our boat 25 yards from the shore where devotees were bathing. On the ghats you have devout Hindus bathing, and in the boats you have tourists taking pictures of them. For the most part it seemed the bathers were content to ignore the tourists, and the tourists were careful not to seem too overzealous with their photography. But then a large group of Rajasthani women in sarees came down to the bottom of the ghat and began to unwrap their sarees, exposing their breasts and beginning to bathe in the river. A man who seemed to have brought them there as a guide became incensed at the tourists in the boats who were taking pictures of the women (Ross and I had put our cameras away by then). He was absolutely indignant about the tourists, shouting loudly at them through the dense fog and ordering them away from the area. Eventually the women finished their bathing while the tourists eventually put away their cameras. This incident seemed to me to capture the paradox of the place, and to reveal how uneasy the accommodation is between those who come to worship and the worst voyeuristic aspects of tourism.

The evening boat ride was intoxicating, a spectacle of color, music, singing, light and mist. It was one of those experiences where one feels utterly transported, lifted out of one's body and one's normal experience of the real. It is interesting how, at moments like this, the sheer visual panorama of experience takes over. Ross and I have talked a lot over the course of the trip about this element of spectacle at the temples and the complicated nature of its function, but here the whole city is a spectacle. The ghat-dominated shoreline of the Ganges is effectively one long outdoor temple. The whole place is holy, the whole place the sanctum sanctorum. Yet at the same time what we walk through and take in is utterly mundane, the fabric of everyday life for the people who live Varanasi. What seems extraordinary to us is simply the normal course of things here. Everything here seems hyper energized, however. This is partly due to the sheer compression of so many people in one place. India in general and Varanasi in particular is crowded as hell. It's physical and aural energy is immense. But the place is also shot-through with a kind of ecstatic energy that comes from their religious fervor and excitement of the pilgrims who come here to bathe in the Ganges or cremate their dead. It must build for months as they plan trips and then for days, again, as they make their way here, so that upon arrival there is a kind of explosion of excitement. And we tourists, pilgrims of another kind, walk around nearly open-mouth, but in awe of what is simply everyday life for the people who come here.

This afternoon we took a long walk with our guide, Ashok, along the entire length of the ghats, the strip of river buildings associated with the city of Varanasi. We began at the far south end proceeded north until the buildings fade from the river side, giving way to scrub brush on the other side of a large bridge that spans the Ganges. This walk took in the entire rhythm and texture of life along the Ganges in Varanasi. The far southern end is all but deserted, dilapidated buildings along the river bank give way to steps (ghats) running down to the river. There are views across the Ganges of a long sand bar that runs down the middle of the river, then, later, of the other side of the river, mostly a flood plain but in places dotted with green and the occasional group that's taken a boat ride across. It isn't until the long middle section of the ghats that one begins to run into crowds of people, a mix of pilgrims who have come to bathe in the river, an assortment of wandering ascetics or sadhus, kids flying make-shift kites, cows, bullocks, goats, monkeys, water buffalo, and tourists from all over. Here and there are barbers giving a shave or a haircut to men by the side of the river (working out of a small box of instruments and lotions), kids selling little candle-filled bowls of flowers to leave in the river as an offering, others playing a crude version of cricket. People pour down two or three central ghats from the narrow lanes above. Beggars line the way down, many in rags and some terribly disfigured or crippled, sharing the space with men carrying bundles of firewood down to the cremation sites, women carrying food or other supplies atop their heads, and an assortment of vendors. This central site is the setting for the music and prayers we witnessed the night before, the central social space along the ghats. As we walked in this area we passed bathers and vendors, but also a women who was adding water to chunks of burned wood she had gathered, kneading it like dark gray bread into a concoction that could be dried and then re-used for fuel. At another point two women had collected cow dung and were kneading it down and separating it out into large pancake-shaped pieces that, once dried, are used for fuel in household kitchens.
There are two points along the ghats dedicated to cremations, one about a third of the way up river from the south end, and another, more populous spot near the north end. For the outsider not familiar with this form of dealing with death these are nearly surreal, even shocking places. I had no point of reference for them. The banks of the river and the steps leading down to them in these places are piled high with firewood, as sea of it everywhere. There are eight or ten cremation fires burning at any one time, more in the evening, creating a spectral effect from a boat floating on the river. Families bring the shroud-wrapped dead down to the Ganges on bamboo-shoot palanquins They are wrapped in colorful shrouds and garlanded. The palanquin is laid gently into the river, the head cover pulled back, and water from the Ganges poured into the mouth of the deceased five times. Then the body is covered again and set on a pyre for burning. Some pyres had almost burned out, others contained half-burned bodies, still others the shroud-wrapped bodies of the dead waiting to be ignited by the eldest son. After the pyre has gone out the men (and only men conduct and attend these rites) take a ritual bath in the Ganges. It is hard to describe the space dedicated to these rituals, tight, dark, crowded, piles of wood everywhere, small and large fires burning here and there, the heat associated with death paradoxically warming your body chilled from the cold, foggy weather. I didn't hear any wailing or crying. As with nearly everything in India, these spaces seemed to embody a riot of activity, controlled chaos and ecstatic, hectic effort.

Our guide explained the virtues of this approach to death in a compelling and moving way (he actually called it “scientific”). When someone dies in an Indian family you don't call the mortuary and have the body taken away to be prepared for burial by a mortician. The body is cared for and prepared for burial by family members, washed, perfumed, clothed, wrapped in a beautiful shroud, prayed over and cared for every step of the way from last breath to dying ember. The body is brought down to the pyre by family members and mourners. In this way Indians are not alienated from death but participate in it in a ritualized way that enables a deep connection with the deceased and helps them to deal with loss. I was reminded here, movingly and surprisingly, of my mother's death nearly two years ago. My brother Greg and I were with her in the end. I held her hand and counted her slowing breaths until finally there were no more. We wouldn't let the mortuary people come to take her because my other brother, Criss, had not arrived yet from New Mexico. We drove to the airport, picked him up, broke the news to him, and then drove back to spend two or three hours with her body in the room, talking, reminiscing, even joking. It was our way of easing the pain of the loss and of somehow participating in the transition connected to her passing. I recall Criss talking about his regret that in our culture we did not prepare the body for burial as they do in India, that we treat death in a phobic kind of way, letting strangers deal with our loved one in antiseptic rooms following ritual forms which in some senses alienate us from death and from the bodies of those who have died. Here that seems never to happen. The living accompany the dead in their final hours and participate in the transition death represents. These cremation sites were, for us, a kind of visual spectacle unlike anything we'd ever seen, but they also represented an engagement with death that was moving, even chastening.

At the end of our long walk along the ghats yesterday our guide met up with a good friend of his who lives nearby where we concluded our walk and we went back to his house for tea. Most of our guides are eager to take us either to their home or to the home of a friend, and these have always been fascinating experiences. The man we met was named Gupta, and his family live in a small, cramped three-story apartment off a busy main road behind a maze of small lanes that seemed to get narrower and narrower until they dead-ended at his doorway in a tight alley. Gupta and his two sons run a cleaning and maintenance service for banks out of their small home, which contains an ample kitchen, and entry area, an office, cleaning supply storage areas, and small bedrooms. A smoky fire on the floor of one room worked to slightly heat the place, the smoke drifting around and up but with no place to really go. It is striking that this family of four, with very little money and living in what struck me as very difficult circumstances, had two servants. This seems the norm all over India, for in other houses we visited there were multiple servants to help prepare food, to clean up, etc. In India you never just have “tea,” of course, for people are extraordinarily hospitable and prepare all sorts of food for you. Gupta's wife, Nimla, made for us what we both agreed was probably the single best dish we've had so far, a simply mix of rice, peas, and spices with a few golden raisins. The rice was unlike any we'd seen. In its uncooked form each piece had somehow been pressed paper-thin so that when it was cooked it had much more surface area and lightness than regular rice. I had struggled with a slightly upset stomach on and off since getting to Varanasi. It had been getting better, but still bothered me, and I said so in trying to avoid eating a spicy dish. But Nimla's son assured me her dish would sooth my stomach. Sure enough, it was the first thing I'd been served in 48 hours I found myself eager to eat. I finished the plate and my appetite immediately recovered.

Like nearly every place I've visited in India, the infrastructure here in Varanasi is in horrible shape. The sewage system, the roads, the electrical grid, plumbing, and the general state of buildings is dilapidated During my last visit to India this seemed to me to be the biggest problem with modernization in India. The economy in pockets is booming, but where it is booming people tend to live off the grid in high rise apartments or housing developments with their own roads, electrical, and sewer system. They don't have to worry so much about a dilapidated infrastructure because they live in a kind of bubble. The rest of the population often lives amidst rubble, in substandard housing with poor sewage, no hot water, early 20th century plumbing and electrical systems, and a crude road system. The big challenge for India, it seems to me, is to find a way to spread the wealth that is now concentrated in small pockets around urban centers and info parks to the wider culture, those who live in the slums in cities and scratch out a living in villages (here, most young people are migrating to the city, they don't want to do agricultural labor because it is perceived as very difficult work that pays little) and to rebuild its infrastructure. The two, of course, are obviously linked. India needs to find a way to systematically put people to work rebuilding its infrastructure. The money for doing this, according to commentators I've read, can come from foreign investment. India is becoming a magnet for foreign investment, and if this money can be channeled into infrastructure projects that put the vast underclass to work, then you'd have a real “shining” India (instead of the one where a handful of billionaires hold 23 percent of the country's wealth). It is telling that the state of the art infrastructure in India is the airport. This is telling. The roads, plumbing, and electrical grid are woefully inadequate, but the airports, which cater to the commerce of globalization, to tourists, and the Indian upper classes, is in super shape. Along with investment in infrastructure development would have to come modernization in the technologies and forms of labor currently used here to get things done. Road maintenance, the laying of sewers, and the maintenance of archeological sites, for example, are done with a hodge-podge of 20th-century and primitive tools. There are tractors moving earth and large bulldozers working here and there, but elsewhere women in sarees with rags on their heads for padding fill large woks of dirt or gravel, put them on their heads, walk 10 yards, dump it, and return to do it again.

Our last full day in Varanasi was taken up with visiting Buddhist sites and attending a teaching by the Dali Llama, who, luckily for us, comes to Varanasi at this time each year to deliver a series of lectures. Our guide is Buddhist and he had the right connections to get us tickets, which weren't easy to acquire. We spent the morning at Sarnath, the site where it is said Buddha gave his first sermons after achieving enlightenment. He came here to teach five ascetics who broke with him over his taking of rice pudding from a woman who had offered it to them. In the centuries after his death a small devotional city developed here, with temples and stupas and monasteries. What's left looks like a miniature, well-kept Pompeii, low lying brick ruins of votive stupas and temples that spill across a vast lawn and are dominated by a massive decorated stupa or tower. It's a tranquil place, and antidote to the riot of activity in greater Varanasi and along the Ganges. There is a relatively new temple on the site, built in the early 1930s by a Buddhist from Sri Lanka who traveled India in the first decades of the twentieth century trying to reignite Buddhism, which had waned in popularity with the rise of Buddhism in the 11th and 12th centuries. The temple contains murals that depict the life of Buddha (it reminded me a bit of the Giotto murals at Assisi depicting the life of St. Francis, although the aesthetic quality of these murals doesn't match Giotto's frescoes). We also visited a museum nearby which houses the fabulous sculptural work dug up in the ruins we visited (the dig was spurred by some Brits in the mid 19th century who stumbled on some bricks and decided to dig a little deeper). Jewels in this museum include a large decorative column with four lion heads (the symbol of India, it appears on every rupee) and an exquisite stone carving of a sitting Buddha who is teaching).

After the museum we grabbed some snacks and headed for the lecture by the Dali Lama. For some reason I'd always envisioned us sitting in an indoor auditorium, but of course the lecture took place outside on a huge dirt field with a dais for the Dali Llama and other monks at one end. There had to be 4,000 to 5,000 people there, many of them monks and the rest seemingly from Tibet. Ross and I bought an FM radio and some ear buds and we were able to tune in to a very good and clear translation of the lecture. The Dali Lama spoke extemporaneously for awhile and then began to teach from a text many people in the audience had. He spoke for two hours, intelligently, compassionately, and often with great humor. We left in a dangerous crush of people all trying to get out at once through a narrow lane, not very safe and, ironically, it was the monks who were the most pushy and aggressive trying to get out. The Dali Llamhad spoken at the end of his lecture about compassion and I couldn't help thinking it would be nice if the monks pushing and jostling me had a little compassion for the rest of us.

On the drive back into Varanasi we stopped at a ruins site of a bluff above the Ganges where people believe the city was first established, then we headed to an amazing bookstore, Pilgrimage Books. It had a wonderful collection of books about India and Indian philosophy, religion, and architecture, and the interior space was beautiful. We finished with a visit around the corner to the most significant temple in Varanasi, the Durgha temple. It's a dark busy space. You enter through a side door into an open court with the main sanctuary in the center. Around it are pillared platforms to walk, meditate, prostrate yourself, or simply look up at the crescent moon and be amused by its ironic comment on everything you're seeing. The entreprenuial energy of India is a work here in the various “priests” how attend statues of dieties. They invite you vigourously to come to their space, to be touched with ash, and then pay them some rupees. Like wise an astrologer sitting in one of the spaces. The commercial and the spiritual are absolutely fused here, but what church doesn't find a way to collect tithes from its congregations, or solicit its capital by hawking the lord on TV on in huge cathedrals.

We left Varanasi the next morning with our senses quite overwhelmed. The visual spectacle here, tied as it is to solemn practices ranging from prayer and bathing to the cremation of the dead (some bodies, deemed not fit or ready for burning, are wrapped in shawls, rolled out to the center of the river, weighted down with stones, and simply thrust over board into the Ganges), can't help but move you, shift you out of the comfortable assumpitions and rountines you have realated to spirituality and death. But the city is also a shock of poverty and dilapidation where all of the challenges of making the so-called “shining India” a reality for the massages who really seem to live in something close to refugee camps here. The way out, it strikes me, is in the younger generation, and we occasionally meet people of tremendous talent and drive who I believe will push themselves and their country past its poverty and into some stability. One of them is our guide, Ashok's daughter. She's just 17 and showed us around the school her father owns before we left for our flight to Jaipur. What an articulate and energetic and lively young woman she turned out to be. She's bright, charismatic, capable, and ambitious. She wants to study computer programming and engineering and if she's able to to do she'll take off into the shining middle class (they are all over Jaipur, as I will write about below). She's on a fault line. A traditional arranged marriage to a man who keeps her in her home will snuff out her future, but being able to got to university, complete her studies, begin a career and find her own partner in that experience will change everything for her and the family SHE rasises. She's the future, It seems to me those beyond their late 30s who are struck in grinding poverty and a kind of medieval physical existence have very little chance of turning things around themeselves or having the government create massive work projects that will improve their plight substantially.

One last thing about Varanasi. My experience at Sarnath and attending the teaching by the Dali Llama reminded me again of the dramatic differences between Buddhism and Christianity. Simply put, Christianity is about death, sacrifice, sin and punishment while Buddhism is about suffering and desire, doing no harm to others (ahimsa) and using less resources. There is no angst-riddent drama of sin and guilt, no one is driven from paradise for taking carnal knowledge. The whole system is elegant and human-scaled, and belief isn't compelled by belief in miracles but by the effects of the behavior it advocates. The Buddha had no miraculous birth but was simply a man with a normal life who refected it to avoid practices that caused suffering. He wasn't crucified for his beliefs by died of dysenntary at the age of 80 when he at some bad food. There is something attractive about the simple human scale of his life and something compelling about the simplicity of its core assertions (although I've always had a problem, philosophically and practically, with the Budhhist proscription against desire—here is where Buddha's “middle way” is most needed, it seems to me). I've also become attracted here to Jainism, which we hear very little about in the west. I picked up a book about the Jains at the Pilgrimage Bookstore in Varanasi and am going to explore it further.

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