Friday, March 9, 2012

Divas 190: I'm living on a breeze.

Christie Todd Whitman said, "Anyone who thinks that they are too small to make a difference has never tried to fall asleep with a mosquito in the room." Well, I tried to fall asleep with a mosquito (or maybe multiple mosquitoes) in my room last night, so I guess now I know I'm not too small to make a difference.

I had an omelette and three cups of tea (haha) as Uncle and Didi headed out to work.

I spent the next few hours lounging about my room. This house has such pleasant vibes. I actually only fully realized that the word "vibes" stands for "vibrations" after coming here and discussing meditation with the Gaikwads. It's no wonder my room feels so nice, though -- Arya Wangsa, a famous Thai monk, often comes to stay here with the Gaikwads, and lives in my room when he does. Brushing my teeth, I wandered onto my balcony with a view of Dharavi, one of the largest slums in the world.

Washed and dressed, I plopped down in the living room to read Uncle's book while Auntie flipped through the paper. The book, Initiatives in Development Administration: Extracts from My Administrative Diary, details Gaikwad Uncle's most memorable experiences in his journey through the ranks of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). He recommended that I start from the chapter on his work in Pune -- this section focuses especially on solid waste management, a topic of great interest to me since my work with the Tribal Solid Waste Management Team at the US Environmental Agency. There is also a blurb about Uncle's experience with Pratham, an NGO working on primary education which I visited during my last trip to Mumbai several years ago.

I just finished the chapter, and am feeling lighter. It seems like Uncle fixes every problem he encounters, in the blink of an eye. Of course nothing is so simple, but the optimism, hope, and real concern with which he approaches challenges is something new to me. I am used to Indians having a somewhat (very) negative view of the country's scope for progress and development, but for Gaikwad Uncle, this is not nearly the case.

In fact, this pervasive negative view is the mindset that Shivanjali Didi's work with the ICICI Fellows seeks to combat. The program targets youth with the potential to become future leaders of India, and reinstates their optimistic impulse and their faith in the country, erasing their disenchantment. I love being surrounded by all this positivity!

Didi came home for lunch, and the three of us enjoyed a nice meal before I took some rest.

In the afternoon, a driver took me to Mantralay, Gaikwad Uncle's office, for a meeting to brainstorm a bilateral cooperation between Singapore and the state of Maharashtra. Maharastra is seeking guidance, expertise, and investments from Singapore on a number of proposed new initiatives to improve the city. There were seven Singaporean representatives from various sectors in attendance, as well as the Maharastrian Secretary for Urban Development, for Transport, for Environment, etc. This two-hour meeting was very interesting and educational (I have eight pages of notes to prove it), and I think we must have hit on every topic I read about in the Urbanization issue of Scientific American a few months ago. "Our" side's visions were grand -- ranging from rainwater harvesting to a monorail with something in every sector imaginable in between -- and provided a great introduction to the state for me. I was surprised that I could follow most everything going on, and was able to remain alert and engaged throughout (despite the former droopy state I had been in during the ride over). The energy and ambition in the room were infectious.

After the meeting, I hung around the office as Gaikwad Uncle wrapped up his day's work.

And what an office it is!

During the car ride home, Uncle imparted still more wisdom about meditation as I listened in amazement and anticipation for my upcoming introduction to Vipassana. I hopped on the treadmill as soon as we reached, looking out the window at Mumbai while chatting with various kinfolk.

After dinner, Shivanjali Didi and I settled in for some television, which we ignored to instead discuss movies (i.e. Ranbir Kapoor). We had a fun talk and I got some great recommendations from her.

It's time to coat myself in mosquito repellent and call it a day! And a great one, at that.

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