Day Fifteen: Transitions—time and space…Kant where are you when we need you!?

 

I spent time at the Bhopal Memorial Hospital yesterday. Oh man. I got to shadow a physician who is specialized in cancer. He was also training a junior physician, so I got to a see a lot – doctor-trainee, trainee-patient, and doctor-patient.

Cancer is a helluva thing – some patients will die and others, are showing signs of recovery. I left with this gem of a mantra, “He is going to die – we all die”. The blunt honesty hit me like a ton of brick but then the reality set in, he is right, and he’s a doctor, and he sees this every day.  For the past year I volunteered at hospice palliative care but I am still not immune to the shock upon hearing the words that “he/she will die and there is nothing, medically, we can do to save them.”

I was instantly reminded of this scene from Hadrian’s Memoirs:

My dear Mark, Today I went to see my physician, Hermogenes, who has just returned to the villa from a rather long journey in Asia … I took off my cloak and tunic and lay down on a couch. I spare you details which would be as disagreeable to you as to me … the description of the body of a man who is growing old, and is about to die of a dropsical heart … It is difficult to remain an emperor in presence of a physician, and difficult even to keep one’s essential quality as a man … This morning it occurred to me that my body, my faithful companion and friend, truer and better known to me than my own soul, may be, after all, a sly beast who will end by devouring his master … ”

Right before I left for the hospital, I was asked to edit a document. The document was for a seventeen year old boy who has a hole in his heart—his parents were both victims of the gas leak and are now survivors who are chronically ill, which their son has inherited. This is common here in Bhopal…heart breaking.

Today, all day staff meeting….I  am planning on visiting a mosque this evening. If I do, you’ll read about it tomorrow.

 

Day Nine: Sandalwood, Kurta, and a Rickshaw = Atiba’s in Heaven!

I finally found sandalwood after a few days search!!! (Yes, Lex, I will be bring some for Ava, she’ll smell charming).

I had a meeting with the director of the clinic yesterday and another meeting with him today. There is also the staff meeting happening this evening (I think I mentioned in the beginning that there is a weekly staff meeting).

It is now 5:48 am, the sky is opening and the animals are making their varied sounds, accounting for their existence.

The site tour yesterday was quite an experience. I learned a lot about the abandoned plant, and myself. I learned that the rusting/decaying structures that are left can be a metaphor for the conditions directly surrounding the abandoned plant and the lives that co-exists symbiotically. There was a brief moment of a scare, but all is good…one must be cautious at all times because everyone else is not as solicitous/alert/and or vigilante, so you must pick up the slack when others fail to pay heed to what’s directly in front of them!

I will hand out a questionnaire today and hopefully have all the data by Friday, which means, my weekend will be spent collecting, sorting, analysing, and making sense of it all. Though, I plan on making a visit to Sanchi (Google it, hella cool!).

I am receiving such fond e-mails from loved one (family and friends) and it is a joy to wake up t such kind and loving words—funny at times, which is always good! Thanks Lex, Linda, Lucia, Marty, Uncle Kendell, Steggy, and Aunt Betty.

Dharma Love.

Day Eight: Do you have any Indian Sandalwood Oil? I cannot find sandalwood anywhere, ugh!!!

Today’s agenda: (1) visit the permit office to tour Union Carbide; (2) first round of interviews with staff/administration and doctors; (3) visit the Old Market.

Thought for the day:

“Hurry to your own directing mind, to the mind of the Whole, and to the mind of this particular man. To your own mind, to make its understanding just; to the mind of the Whole, to recall what you are part of; to this man’s mind, to see whether there is ignorance or design—and at the same time to reflect that his is a kindred mind.”

What a day…what a day I had! Woof! One thing is needful when coming to India—patience. We arrived at 10:25 am and was informed that we had to wait until 11 am, we didn’t leave the office until 3 pm…permit in hand. We are not allowed to take photos or videos during the tour tomorrow, which is fine with me. Taking photos at times can hinder having a true experience with an object, I’ll will bring my note pad and pen, as I always do, and take copious notes. I made it to Old Market where I purchased bags of varied fruits, no veggies—I will buy veggies on my next trip…Friday evening…I will also buy spices and fruits. I have been contemplating what to bring home as gifts to my family and friends and I’ve figured it out—spices and teas! After all, I am in the deep East, the land of ‘exotic’ spices and teas!

In an attempt to relax after a mildly frustrating morning/afternoon, I am writing this blog and having Tulsi tea, which is delicious!

Because of the long wait at the permit office, our scheduled interviews were postponed until Wednesday. Tomorrow morning, I will start interviews at 8:30 am, then we will head to the Union Carbide site for a one-hour guided tour at 11 am. We will then walk around the colonies and converse with individuals directly affected by gas leak of 1984 and the subsequent contamination of drinking water in the years that follow, including presently.

The clinic is self-sustained and follows a strict no ‘outside chemicals’ model, in order to keep in good faith—since the patients are victims of a chemical gas leak. Everything that is used here is manufactured on site, which goes along with the holistic approach embedded within the clinics configuration. The medicine is made here, plants are grown in the garden, cultivated, and turned into organic remedies and treatment. The water is filtered and treated on site allowing foreigners (like yours truly) to consume with ease and at their own leisure. There are cooks on site too, providing vegetarian meals three times per day.

I will end today’s post with this…I had my first encounter with a victim of the Bhopal Gas Disaster, and it was an intense one, definitely divine in its occurrence. I will not describe it here because sometimes details are rudimentary.

Museum Visit: Remember Bhopal Museum

Here is one photo. I will upload more later (the internet is slow tonight).

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Every photo gives the option of listening to the victim’s testimony in Hindi or English, hence the receiver.

Here is a link: http://rememberbhopal.net/the-traveling-exhibition/

Day Seven: Snakes on a Plane – or no, I mean, snakes in the garden

Before coming to India I binged on a Nat Geo docu-series on Netflix called Wild India, woof, hoping to get accustomed to the sights, sounds, and creatures that roam these parts; however, no matter how much one mentally prepares for something like this it is always a shock when you find out that you share a space with creatures like tigers and snakes—after all, they are God’s creatures too and need love though they are terrifying things to many of us.

(Side note: I came across an article this morning which makes mention of an alligator crossing the streets of New York City!? Holy Moly! I have replaced one jungle with another, haaha).

I just spent an hour walking on one of the many balcony here pondering and meditating…drinking water and watching the trees sway in the wind. Since it is still raining, I cannot do my usual exercise routine, instead, I walk around in circles—think Socratic dialogue. From afar it may look cray-cray, but that is how I stay well-balanced in a world that is disconnected and hectic. It is essential to slow down and stay calm and avoid non-reactivity. I was doing a gratitude salutation by channelling the souls that are guiding lights in my life—from teachers, to friends, to family—it is a nice way to stay present and put things into perspective. If you are reading this, you were thought of during my walk/rain salutation. Smiles.

Today’s agenda: Go to New Market …I will go to New Market and then visit Market during the week. I will then take a cab to the area right outside the Union Carbide plant. We are hoping to get a permit that will grant us access to the plant itself which stands as a museum of death and a constant reminder of 1984—how can one move on when you are greeted by the very thing that ruined life as you know it?  Over dinner last night, the researchers and I planned a movie night for Monday (7/27)…we will be screening the Nat Geo documentary on the Bhopal disaster that was aired on Indian TV Wednesday night (7/21).

I have scheduled back-to-back interviews for Monday and Tuesday with staff, administration, doctors and health practitioners—it will be demanding, edifying, and rewarding (I’m using a translator which changes the speed and flow of an interview). The following week, which will be my last week here, I will have the same schedule but with patients/victims of 1984 (directly and indirectly affected).

Update: I was disappointed by New Market, ugh. We need permission before entering the UCB site so tomorrow morning we will go to the office and seek a permit.

The attached photo was taken from the cab on my way to the market—and I am entitling it “the family that rides together, stays together.” #i’mlovingit!

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The team cooked dinner together and now we are in the library working. It’s 10 pm on Sunday night and we are working away—reading and writing. We are all working on different things but collectively, on the same topic. I came across a dissertation that speaks on memory-making which will be of divine help. I started reading it and will complete it within the next two days.

Back to work…

Day Six: What is Ethnography? Is it like, ethnic geography or somethin’?

 

Being an ethnographer you are required to be in situations deviant from the (your) norm.  You find yourself in places studying people and things that are foreign, some may even use the contaminated and politically charged word ‘exotic’—personally, I like the word exotic, it’s you know, well, exotic! As my friend Brad mentioned, travellers (ethnographers) often find themselves in spaces that are both “frightening and refreshing” and no ethnography is effective unless both criteria are met. Being here, on my own, but not alone (clinic staff, researchers, patients etc.), I am forced out of my comfort zone. I have done things that, last week, I would have rolled my eyes at the mere thought and I have eaten things that I would have said “I’ll pass”…with this, I have also met curious people and it is only six days! I am one who learns something from almost everyone I come across and I view life as a lecture hall where one is constantly learning and re-learning. Being anonymous in a foreign place comes with a freedom only experienced in action and in doing—existentialism at its finest, right Sartre? I am reminded of how adaptable, resilient, open-minded, and strong-willed I can be and these are all characters shared by the people of Bhopal. The last time I was this self-reliant was when I studied abroad in Ireland for a period of months. I was reflecting this morning on the ten year gap between my twenty-first birthday in Ireland and now being thirty-one in India…the ways in which I have changed and the ways that I am the same (but as the old saying goes, “one can never step into the same river twice”…am I really the same? Food for thought). Self-reflexivity is essential for any ethnographer if he or she hopes to be ethical in the practice of deontology.

There is something so sacred about the mornings here. Besides the sound of the prayer horns and the singing/humming of prayers, the air is different, there is a calmness, an air of a new day, of new possibilities…of excitement, or it may just be me, though, I highly doubt it is just me, rather, it is us—the City and me, together, we are jiving. It is 5:20 am, and it just started to rain…the rain is now competing with the dying sound of prayers over the distant speakers. Emerson says, “Whenever a mind is simple, and receives a divine wisdom, old things pass away, means, teachers, texts, temples fall; it lives now, and absorbs past and future into the present hour.” Today, I commence my first kurta! Like I said, I am immersing myself fully—as the old saying goes, “I’m going native” (Neni, if you are reading this, I hope you’re laughing-out-loud).

Today, I will also read through MA thesis of a few students from the Social Science College in Bhopal. They have done extensive research on a range of topics, for example: Comparative Study of Bio-socio Impact between Non-exposed and Exposed Children of Survivors of Bhopal gas Catastrophe and Socio-Economic Status of Women Domestic Servants among the Survivors of The Bhopal Gas Disaster. For some reason, sitting in a library surrounded by books, maps, and written artefacts is the equivalent of going to Church—it is my sacred space, I am at ease and at home in this space. In boyhood, I spent many evenings glossing through books, maps, and encyclopaedias gazing at faraway places and reading up on foreign customs and cultures, it’s no surprise that I end up studying philosophy, religion, and anthropology.

I made a visit to the Bhopal Remembrance Museum with Pri. It was further than we anticipated but worth the trip. The cab driver was blasting Backstreet Boys and that made my day, obviously. BSB uniting the East and West shows me that 90s pop is alive and well, queue the rampage music! Maybe at the next political summit BSB can do a twenty-minute set of their best chart topping hits, music is a healer and who doesn’t want world peace, or at least, broadmindedness.

Day Five: Buddha is Peeing Bullets—aka, it’s raining…after all, ‘tis monsoon season

I went to one of the local malls that is a fifteen minute ride in a tuk tuk, man, what an experience! ‘twas a scene movies are made off. The organized chaos of traffic and driving in these parts leaves me gasping for air—it is both fear and excitement…it is electric. I was accompanied by three others—two from Europe and one from the UK. The two Europeans are testing the water to locate areas off contaminated drinking water, they will then coherently inform the health services and government agencies. The British fellow, Pri, is documenting stories and creating a counter-narrative—think Foucault, basically, the method of story-telling—which is congenial (so we will be working together for the next few days). At our team meeting this morning, we were all given a chance to share our interest in Bhopal and also share our area(s) of proficiency. This will help us navigate a way to build on each other’s work and work together on future projects—this is heaven to me because there is nothing I adore more than like minds living and working together, kibbutz much!?

Before I left JFK, I was exchanging e-mails with a few friends, one of which, Brad, said this to me: “I’ve found that new adventures are both frightening and refreshing and often bring out the best in us.” He could not have said it any better! That has been my experience the past few days. I have always been an independent free-spirit-gypsy-loving type of person, you know, the Nietzschean idea of amor fati:

 “What is it, fundamentally, that allows us to recognize who has turned out well?

That a well-constituted person pleases our senses, that he is carved from wood that is hard, delicate, and at the same time smells good.

He has a taste only for what is good for him; his pleasure, his delight cease where the measure of what is good for him is transgressed.

He guesses what remedies avail against what is harmful; he exploits bad accidents to his advantage; what does not kill him makes him stronger.

Instinctively, he collects from everything he sees, hears, lives through, his sum: he is a principle of selection, he discards much.

He is always in his own company, whether he associates with books, human beings, or landscapes: he honours by choosing, by admitting, by trusting.

He reacts slowly to all kinds of stimuli, with that slowness which long caution and deliberate pride have bred in him: he examines the stimulus that approaches him, he is far from meeting it halfway.

He believes neither in “misfortune” nor in “guilt”: he comes to terms with himself, with others; he knows how to forget – he is strong enough; hence everything must turn out for his best.”

“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely to bear what is necessary, but to love it.”

This trip, as I mentioned during my grant interview with ICI, is not only professional/academic, but one of personal advancement. There is no separation between the man and his work/career—it’s a holistic endeavour. In support of Brad’s e-mail, and Nietzsche’s amor fati, here is Helen Keller to shed some vision and light: “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired and success achieved.” Anyone who participated in competitive sports—either in high school, college, or professional—and was highly successful at their event will understand this quote, I sure do—ask Gail Devers or Allyson Felix, or any other Olympian. As I transcribe my notes, the evening prayers are vibrating through the air…and it is a reminder that I am here, in the East, doing what I love. Bhopal is one of the most traditional of Indian cities and the residue of age-old traditions are everywhere. After my visit to the mall this evening, it is apparent how distinct this area is in comparison to other parts, even a fifteen minute ride away.

I acquired some goodies—a canvas tote bag and a tee-shirt that support the victims campaign to clean up Bhopal. It is a nice way to raise awareness and spread the word (walking advertisement…the best kind). I am creating a repo with the librarian/archivist.  She has been here for seven years and her grasp on the history of the disaster exceeds many! I will be engaging her in many conversations over the next two weeks. I scheduled a sit-down Tavis Smiley meets Charlie Rose-esque interview with her…bound to be riveting. J.

It is time for dinner—I may return a vegetarian…well, a seafood-vegetarian, haaha.

Day Four: Henry David Thoreau Would Be Proud!

I am having a cup of Indian green tea on the veranda, reading the Stoic philosophy of antiquity, listening to the rain fall and the dogs bark in the distance. It is a beautiful thing to wake up and have nature greet you…the fresh smell of morning air and the wetness of the ground—something this New Yorker appreciates.

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…I am currently sitting in the library going through the archives—today, I will focus on books primarily with photos of the disaster. There are many books documenting the health complications associated with the gas leak and its aftermath, physically, environmentally, and socially. I am interested in the ways in which the disaster lives in the everyday lives of the people of Bhopal thirty years later. I am interested in what it means to mourn a disaster that has taken the lives of many and continue to take many more lives, today. Is mourning something of the past marked at the moment of impact or can it be something that is continuous? Is mourning only “celebrated” once a year on the anniversary of the disaster or is it practiced daily? When there are disfigured bodies and faces as constant reminders of the past, is it ever possible to stop mourning? How does then then move on? Is Bhopal is a constant state of mourning? What does this mourning do to one’s psyche?

I came across a book sympathetically—I should really use the term empathetic here—written by a Japanese photographer, Ippei Momma, who stands in alliance with the victims of Bhopal and the fight against Union Carbide for justice and compensation. He came to Bhopal on the 100th day of the tragic accident on December 3rd, 1984. His photographs are all in black&white and like each photo taken from that epoch, they are haunting. The book is entitled Bhopal: The Silent Voice. This book/photographs  is part of a Japanese collective that share empathy with the people of Bhopal because they too, endured such environmental pollution and poisoning by corporate companies.

I will not post photos of the patients’ that are visiting during clinic hours—as Natalie Portman’s character says to Clive Owen’s character in the in the film Closer (2002), “It’s a lie. It’s a bunch of sad strangers photographed beautifully, and… all the glittering assholes who appreciate art say it’s beautiful ’cause that’s what they wanna see. But the people in the photos are sad, and alone… But the pictures make the world seem beautiful, so… the exhibition is reassuring which makes it a lie, and everyone loves a big fat lie.” I am not interested in creating a visual spectacle. What I hope to accomplish is to raise awareness and invite each one of you to attempt to lead an accountable life—to yourself, your family, your friends, and the extended global community (the Socratic principle). Since there is a language barrier between the patients and me, I will interview the doctors, administrative staff, the librarian/archivist, and the clinic volunteers first, then I will have a translator aid in the patient interviews the following week. My method of study/practice is what institutional anthropology labels “participant observation”—basically, it means immersing yourself fully into the culture one is now part of.

The structure of the compound—or I should say, the architecture—promotes health and wellness. There is a rehabilitation/retreat essence to it. It is surrounded by trees and vegetation and one often feels like one is waking up and going to sleep in the rain forest. The sounds of birds, bees, insects and small animals is my soundtrack before bed and in the morning. Now, I understand why Thoreau went to Walden Pond—he needed to heal and maintain his sanity from an absurd world.

 On my first day here I was invited to a picnic on Saturday (tomorrow), if it falls through, I will take a rickshaw to the Bhopal Museum…I am sure it will be quite an experience, stay tuned.

PS: Yesterday evening at dinner, I met our cook’ and her outgoing son, Jimmy, the bravery and utter indifference of children is something that adults should aspire to.

PPS: My first mosquito bite, fingers crossed it is nothing serious…but one cannot expect to research in these parts and not get bitten, correct? I caught it in between my palms, it is now resting in peace in mosquito heaven.

PPPS: In the manner of the letter exchange Marcus Cornelius Fronto and Marcus Aurelius, I will say that I slept poorly last night. I was awake until 5 in the morning, eating cereal, reading and listening to the sound of prayer from across the way. In this jet-lagged induced insomnia, I completed reading a book and started another—so when life gives you lemons, you squeeze them, add some sugar and water, and make lemonade.

 

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