Letters from India No 26

´Letters from India´ is a fortnightly brief written by Finnish exchange activists participating in the Lokayan – Kepa co-operation programme. The ´Letters´ are circulated primarily among the staff of the organisations and members of the groups responsible for the joint activities, i.e. Lokayan´s Global Responsibility Forum – Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam and Kepa´s India Group.
Anastasia Laitila

Letters from India, vol 26
December 14th, 2002
Shivalik, New Delhi

Now I’ve almost become a regular customer in Delhi Press Club, where I hang around with Suresh Nautiyal and his friends. So many people want to talk to you because you’re a foreigner, and often it’s nice but I was fairly upset when I again realized that no matter what I do or am in reality, in the South I will first and foremost be a possible donor agency simply because I come from a prosperous part of the world. But I am trying very hard to understand the debates and the discourse and not to be socially illiterate. Sometimes it is very difficult, partly because of the language but also because I am still a guest and thus shouldn’t have to worry about technicalities. But I feel that some of it is because of my gender, like in Finland also.

Some weeks ago I went to see the Delhi opening of a film called “My Mother India”. The director was of Indian-Australian origin, and the film a documentary of both her mother and family as well as of the chaos in India during 1984 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated. She said she wanted to let Australians know what it feels like to be a foreigner, and I think she wanted to stress that nationality is a part of your identity but the piece of paper, your passport, is not the most important thing. However she was trying to make a political personal story where as her mother was tying her life quite well into the changes in the community around her, thus stating it is not just she but her life as part of the society. It fits well into the things I had been thinking and the discussions that take place; how being Indian or being Finnish is much more than being a citizen of a country. This can however also be a language problem, since the word for citizen in my language (kansalainen) has a slightly different connotation (than citizen). Or at least I think so.

During the movie I was thinking about the genocide in Gujarat and other places, it makes me sick. How can it be that the world cares so much about the worries of the United States but not about what happens every day in “democracies”.

I’m a bit afraid I will not be able to speak any language properly when I return, I’m picking up Indian accent… but my vocabulary in Hindi is still around 30 words, so I can pick up only pieces from discussions, like I understand when somebody’s talking about people and so on. But it always feels great to be able to understand even just a little.

Many of the meetings I have attended have been in Hindi, but nevertheless I felt it’s somehow politically important that I attend, as to show support or something. One meeting that must have been very interesting but also very tiring was on 29th November, Uttarakhand and ecological democracy. I spoke briefly about climate change in the Central Himalayas and how the Himalayas are a global heritage all of us should cherish – us in the North by trying to halt climate change and cut our emissions and the hill people by trying to preserve a lifestyle that is non-pollutive and sustainable. But I don’t know whether it was any input since I couldn’t follow the debate. Sometimes I think India is the land for practicing patience, where even the simplest things are very difficult.

I also went to a school to talk about climate change with some of the students. It was a very nice experience, although I still somehow feel I am the student (despite I have given lectures in Finnish schools). The students were aged 16-18, participating actively and very much politically aware of things like US and EU policies against Third World countries and corruption of the UN system. This became a problem for me as well, since they were asking questions like, ‘how to make industrialized countries to change their policies?’ ‘How to make the rich and the politicians change?’ that I cannot possibly answer. That’s why I nowadays try to stress that I am not here to even try to give answers to such big issues, merely to ask questions and hope that the people I am speaking with will be a part of trying to find the answers. It was very educating for me, but of course I have to bear in mind that this was an English-speaking private school.

One day Rakeshji was telling me about how when he was young, he and Vijay’s brother used to go to the railway station to have tea and talk about everything. It reminded me very much of how me and my dear friend used to spend sunny spring afternoons (maybe cutting class or not, I don’t remember) in a parking lot of one shop and discuss. Both are inspiring places in a way; you see a lot of people and life is passing and going on around you when you sit still, with all these things going on inside your head.

Instead of parking lots or railway stations I sit in the balcony now and watch the people. Yesterday I was feeding the cows – six white cows I saw coming down the road, so fetched all my carrots and extra rotis and threw them down. Good meal, I hope, with wheat and vegetables. I feel so bad for the animals here, the chickens and hens are not better off than in the animal factories in Finland. And the pigs and cows roaming around the city have their freedom, yes, but at the price of starving or eating plastic every day. So what actually is respecting the cow?