Monday, June 25, 2012

Leaving Switzerland

We set off from Switzerland on Saturday to fly to San Diego (the first stop on our whistlestop tour of 4 countries this summer).  Our lovely friend Sue had given us some money to treat ourselves at the airport.  We bought a connector to attach the iPad and an SD card but then also had some left and were persuaded to try a new drink:  white wine with vodka, guava, orange and peach.  It was presented really nicely and we were tempted - so we bought a bottle to drink when we got to San Diego to celebrate the next stage of our lives.

Packing Up and Shipping Out

Last week was a pretty tough one for me.  My family and I (and 4 packers) packed up our life here in Switzerland into 160 boxes and these were loaded into a 20 foot container which is now sailing down the Rhine to Rotterdam and in 10 days time it will be loaded onto a container ship and will set sail for Nhava Sheva, in Mumbai.  It will be sometime in early August before we see our belongings again and until that time we will each be living out of one suitcase.  Sometimes it's good to reduce right down to the essentials - it helps you to appreciate what is important.

Moving from Switzerland, the country that for many years has been top of the quality of life index ratings, to Mumbai where the population of the city is 3 times the size of the country where I'm currently living and over a million people in the city live in slums, is likely to be a challenge - I think of it in terms of night and day.  I'm buoyed up by the support I've got from my new school, by the excitement of returning to the cutting edge of education and of educational technology, by the feeling that I'm valued and that I can make a contribution.  Actually I'm more excited by the possibilities of this move than by any move I've ever made before (and I've lived in 7 countries).
Today as I was packing I was feeling quite depressed.  I wrote a post on Facebook about how I felt seeing my entire life being packed in to boxes.  This is the reply I got:
Your whole life doesn't fit into boxes, it never could. Your life is all over this great world in the hearts and minds of your precious family and all the kids you've taught and all the people you've worked with. Bits and pieces fit into the boxes but your life...never.

Mother India

Farewell to India by Trey Ratcliffe Share AlikeShare AlikeNoncommercialon Flickr

Last week I was sent the Cutlure Shock India book by ASB.  I started readin it on the plane as I was going to the ISTE Conference.  This is what I'm reading that really excites me about moving to India:
India was never just a country; it has always been a dream, an idea, an elusive vision that attracted travelers from all over the world for thousands of years .... the images that the word India conjoures up are diverse and often contradictory, suggesting that one must e the real India, and it's only a matter of finding out which one.  If only it were that simple!  To understand India at all you must be able to hold onto completely contradictory images and realize that both represent the true India.

If you lay a map of India over a map of Europe it covers the area from Denmark to Libya and from Spain to Russia.  As different as each of these European countries are, so are the different parts of India.  The billion plus people of India belong to at least 4 different racial groups, speak 325 different languages and practise more than 7 religions.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Not Quite Avatar

During the week I spent at ASB in February I was lucky enough to attend the TEDx and listen to this talk about the role of avatars in Indian culture.  I'm keen to learn more about this incredible country and so I was really interested in Devdutt Pattanaik's talk.  In the West we have come to see avatars as people with a secret (online) identity, or else a hero who achieves the impossible, a saviour in the war between good and evil.  The question he posed is who decides who is good and bad?  He explained that the word evil has no synonym in Indian languages - everything is divine, even your worst enemy exists to bring out the divinity within you.  

Devdutt told some of the lost stories of several Indian avatars such as the fish avatar and the man-lion avatar where the boundaries between good and evil are not clearly defined - sometimes an act of violence is actually seen as an act of liberation in these myths - it's hard to say what is good and what is bad.  The story that had the most impact on me was when Krishna led the war against the "bad guys" and yet when the good guys went to heaven they found that all the villains were in heaven too.  The heroes were upset but God said to them, "Haven't you forgiven them yet? They are dead and still you cling on, give up your anger, move on, let go."

Devdutt explained that if we in the West believe that life is a journey with a clearly defined destination then we are looking for a hero to take us there - all too often we want a simple story that can be divided into a conflict between good and bad:  the haves and the have nots, the left wing and the right wing in politics and so on.  However there are other ideas in this world.  Other cultures don't think of life as journey with a defined destination - they believe life can be a series of moments - and that perfection may well not be achieved.  You may have to fight villains, but the bad guy may also be you.  He urged us to be patient, not to be so quick to judge.  He asked, "Are you sure you are the hero?  By transforming cultures, are we trampling on others?" He questioned if we think of culture as a single bank note with a single language on it, or if are we more open minded - as in the case of India - with 17 languages on each bank note?

To me, this giving up of our world view as the "right" one, of the good -v- the bad, is the heart of intercultural understanding and respect.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A tale of two cities

It has been more than a decade since India's wealthiest state, Maharashtra, sought to purge a colonial legacy by rebranding its flagship city as Mumbai.  The receding of colonial empires and the fall of Soviet communism sprinkled new names across the world map.  If the outside world still wonders what to call it, it is because the city itself has no answer.  It's hard to find Bombay on the lips of a bureaucrat or the address of a parcel.  It is equally hard to catch a taxi driver or investment banker uttering Mumbai.  Bombay and Mumbai have become indicators of the city's kaleidoscopic diversity:  Mumbai is what you write, Bombay is what you say;  air tickets say Mumbai, but luggage tags read BOM.

Bombay is the city of seekers.  It has long attracted outsiders - merchants and migrants, Christians and Muslims, Indians from all over.  Bombay is open-armed and rootless.  Mumbai, by contrast, is the city of the rooted, of working-class Maharashtrians and of the political establishment they elect.  Mumbai is the commercial and financial capital of India.  The Bombay Stock Exchange is the oldest in Asia and the second largest in the world.  Mumbai is home to 40% of India's wealthiest business people, and real estate is more expensive than Manhattan.  The world's first billion dollar home was built in Mumbai.  On the other hand Dharavi is Asia's largest slum - home to over a million people.  Over half of the people of Mumbai live in slums, in one-room tenements.

Bollywood began in Mumbai in 1899, about a decade before Hollywood.  Bollywood makes 1,000 films a year, double that of Hollywood.

(text taken from Love Mumbai by Fiona Caulfield)