Wednesday, July 28, 2010


The lock on my door
Faith in the people around me
My peace of mind
Broken, Stolen

How does honesty bless one mind and not another?
Why, fair honesty, do you leave a brother
Abandoned in the darkness
Of the soul.

When I came back from the University my lock was broken open and people had gone through my things. They stole only money. The lock was broken open with a rock, delicate little thing that it was. At least they didn't take my passport or bank card.

My first reaction was just to leave early. I just didn't want to be here any more. I can my things right quickly enough and be gone on the bus in the morning.

But I stayed to finish my work. Today is my last day, and I'll take the bus tomorrow morning down to Dehradun, stay there for a night and head off to horrible, big, dishonest, polluted Delhi. As you can tell I'm not looking forward to it. I hope I can stay in the Buddhist quarter but the two hotels I would stay at I can't phone properly because the phones don't work well enough.

I long for the apparent honestly of the Malay people, or the Thai. And their competence in organizing systems too, like phone, bus, etc. And their general cleanliness. But I'll stay here for three more months, perhaps my next destination will refresh me.

I am going next to Kota to visit my friend Ram which I hope will be very nice.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Fruit and Thieves

These have been the dominant themes of my life, as of late.

I found some great books at D.B. Pantnagar University. I confess I had kind of low hopes because I have come across some pretty shitty writing in this country from people who supposedly have higher degrees. But I found a book that has extensive details about apple trees and apple growing (pomology) in general. Oddly enough the ideological influence is heavy from the World Bank and cronies. Obviously the book is a relic of their push to have apple production in this area.

The book has lots of great information about orcharding. One of the more remarkable things was the descriptions on how to perform surgery on a tree to repair damage to the bark.

But it is also quite humorous in some ways. On the section on what to do with your orchard after it gets old, and they recommend using trees that last about 30 years, they basically throw up their hands. The text admits quite readily that using the chemical methods recommended the soil will be destroyed and will likely have microorganisms in it that prevent the re-planting of any apple trees. They give the suggestion of importing new soil (!) or fumigating the soil by injecting an extremely toxic chemical not available in India (chloropictin) or methyl bromide, (which is available but not as effective) covering the soil with a big tarp and leaving it. This destroys most microorganisms in the soil, including those that prevent new apple trees from establishing. Of course it does nothing for the pH, compaction, arsenic/mercury content, or organic content. So much for sustainability. They just don’t seem to acknowledge the idea that in in all likelyhood the Himalaya will still be here in 30 years, and people will still need to make a living. It’s a very short term book, just like capitalism and the entire ideology surrounding the World Bank.

When I got back to the orchard yesterday there were people stealing the fruit! The guy who owns the orchard, and I dare say has first dibs on the fruit, asked me to pick the fruit on Friday. Here we were Thursday, the people keeping a lookout had left in the morning and in the afternoon there were already people stealing all the fruit! The frustrating part was when I asked them to leave and got a Hindi speaking person on the phone, so the message was obviously clear, they still wouldn’t go. They just kept on picking. It was a real showdown to get them to clear off, and they took the fruit (asian pears mostly) with them. Then more came a few minutes later! The things people say are absurd. This new group had a person who spoke a bit of English. So he came up to me and insisted “We are not thieves, he is a teacher” pointing to the guy taking the fruit. What’s that supposed to mean, they’re not professional thieves? If you’re stealing fruit then that means you’re a thief, as I understand it. By the end of the day there was no more fruit and there was nothing I could do about it. Friday morning I hunted the grounds and harvested a grand total of 36 small apples. They are just tapping into the peaches now as they become ripe, we’ll see... I was hoping to be alone here for 3 weeks but it seems that’s not on.

In fact what really is sad is that they were stealing the grass as well. The area is overgrazed and infertile because it does not have a chance to get back on it’s feet by growing some plants and having them decompose. The idea that people will steal the very grass at your feet, meant for the worms, is so tragic to me. I’ve noticed people’s persistence is remarkable too. They just don’t seem to throw in the towel when they’re busted.

Previously my experiences with people stealing stuff in India have primarily been children. My harmonica, flashlight, camera, cellphone. But this time it was the whole family coming out for a gathering!

The economics section of the apples book shows predictable labour costs. 30% goes to hiring a guard to prevent people from stealing the apples. I think I’ve already mentioned that people need to hire guards to watch their wheat and irrigation pipes. There are people constantly guarding the mango orchards as well of course. This whole situation is pretty expensive for farmers to have to deal with.

Some kids, skipping school came and wanted some drinking water, which I was ok with giving them but they didn’t want to drink my boiled, warm, water. So I made them some mint tea instead. Then they started asking me to give them food. What? I should clarify that to all outward appearances these were not poor children, sporting as much clean clothes, leather shoes, jewelry and cellphones as the next person.

Some other kids came and stood outside my window demanding some potatoes. Obviously I didn’t have any. I told them to go to the market. In the city I get treated like a walking cashbox, and in the country it seems people treat you like a free marketplace. I suppose that’s better. Mind you, people ask me for money here too.

So now they’re after me potatoes, me water, me grass and me peaches :-). I don’t know if I can hold out much hope for my carrots, radishes, peas, corn and biomass crops that I’ve planted. I just hope I can keep an eye on my passport, and wallet. No wonder all the windows in India have bars on them.

For laughs, here’s the photo of the mother of the child who stole my camera. She swore she didn’t know anything about a camera... This person continues to show up every once in a while and ask for a job at the soap factory, which she was fired from for stealing.


I have recently discovered that one needs to be an Indian Citizen to obtain a cylinder of propane gas for domestic use.

That is absurd. The only way for me to treat water in my house is to boil it. So I either have to lean heavily on the surrounding ecosystem to collect firewood, or use the only other fuel available; propane. The ecosystem is suffering enough from other human activities and firewood is very scarce. The only sensible thing to do is to act as those near national parks are legislated to do; don’t use firewood, but use a different fuel. No kerosene is available nor is any other fuel besides propane.

I understand there are lots of things that only Indian Citizens have the right to do. Many of these are sensible measures the purpose of which is to prevent re-colonization. I applaud these measures. For example, foreigners are not allowed to purchase land in Uttarkhand.

However, telling me that I cannot purchase propane and so must spend hours more every day heating drinking water and cooking food is a humiliation. Not only is it tremendously rude to treat guests of your country in this way, it is completely undignified that I should be forced to degrade the ecosystem in an unnecessary fashion just to drink clean water.

I hereby publicly declare that I have engaged in an act of civil disobedience; I have obtained on the black market a 14 kg tank of propane for the sum of Rs 2800. I am using it to cook rice, chappati, oatmeal and to boil water for drinking.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Deserts at my feet and clouds in my head

Hello all!

My time in Almora helped to solidify my interest in human made deserts. Looking at the history of the human race and our current situation it is obviously a major, if not the single biggest, source of real impoverishment. People destroy their land, and then what do they have? Nothing. No water, no food, no good air. Pakistan, Iraq, Greece, Cyprus, Crete, Sicily, Tunisia, Lebanon, Isreal. All great examples of beautiful lands destroyed by improper use. The same thing is currently happening in many parts of the world.

But there are areas and practices that have stood the test of time. Perhaps the big question for me is what these practices are and how to spread them, how to bring life back to the deserts.

I guess I’m studying this in the context of global warming and oil crisis also. I spent some time in activism, lobbying the government etc. But I suppose I got tired of asking other people to do things. It seem to me that we may have missed the boat on trying to prevent global warming, although not for lack of effort from groups like Greenpeace and Sierra Youth Coalition. International negotiation after negotiation has basically failed. So, in preparation for all the weird things that are predicted from a warming earth part of me has decided that studying ecological systems is the most useful thing I can do right now.

I wonder if central India will be evacuated as it warms. The temperatures in Delhi this summer reached 47 degrees C. Without abundant power how will people stay cool enough to even stay alive? Plants generally shut down at 42 degrees C and at some point begin to sustain heat damage. If this area of the earth experiences a rise of 4 degrees, will life as it is there now even be able to exist?

I’m beginning to question whether I’m really learning a whole lot about solutions in India.

I came to India with the hope of seeing a Satygraha campaign in action. To join one, work on one, and take those methods elsewhere. But from what I’ve seen, in India Gandhi is mostly history. His campaign methods are now a page in history books and are no longer alive and fully in use.

Where are the Satygrahi’s fighting corruption in India? Where are the campaigners standing with the Adivasis? Why did the Maoists even find it necessary to come to India, why do the Adivasis not use nonviolent methods? They don’t believe in them, of course. When organized crime was shooting up Chhatarpur, why did everyone in our ashram stay inside? Even with in “activist circles” I have seen nothing of what I was hoping to see. I have found a tragic absence of action based on the self sacrificing, well organized, disciplined model of Satygraha.

If you want to start a village industry, you have to pay bribe after bribe. Half the time the government offices aren’t even functioning at a basic level. Open at ten, take a two hour lunch and close early. Half the food in the public food distribution goes missing. Stolen by the very people who are supposed to be distributing it. That which remains doesn’t fit into the system properly because the is no recognition that half of it was stolen; how can as shopkeeper sell at the government regulated price when he has only half the food he paid for? Corruption in India is rife and for all the time I spent at Gandhi Ashram, Navdanya supposedly inspired by Gandhian ideals, Kausani Gandhi Ashram and other places I never heard of an effective non-violent compaign organized against it.

It’s not that I mean to really criticize what people are doing here in terms of activism. I just don’t see the reaching for the top, the struggling with the biggest issues around. I don’t see the big stuff being tackled. The things that Satygraha is meant to tackle. The issues that are so big you can hardly see them, the dangerous areas, the really deep-rooted, wide spread social problems. How can I criticize the organizations I’ve visited for their good work? Yet at the same time I’m just not finding a living version of the revolutionary philosophy I came to experience. The quiet work continues, like producing khadi, but it gets crushed under the larger issues that aren’t being addressed. Where’s the campaign, man?

Maybe Cesar Chavez is a better hope. Perhaps I should go to the US and try to become involved in the United Food Worker’s struggle.

Anyways, I’ve left Almora and spent a lovely two days at Kausani Ashram. I read Discourses on the Gita, which Gandhi wrote in 1929 at that same ashram. Then I went to Navdanya for a week to teach some children about testing irrigation water for salinity content. I had a good time hanging out with other foreigners, made some soap and distilled some essential oils. It was nice to look at the whole place again almost two months later. But it’s too expensive and dysfunctional for me to stay there very long.

I am now by myself in a little cabin near Chamba. I’m at an organic orchard overlooking the town, at 1000 m elevation. So far it has been very lovely although I had to set some things up with the cabin. The cabin is not quite fully functional. It’s mostly there but there are some issues. The water tank is filthy and leaks, I re-jigged the plumbing on the kitchen sink, jumped through hoops to get some propane to cook with and boil water with, bought a knife for the kitchen and so on.

I am at cloud level which is really beautiful when the clouds roll in. I have a great view of the town and lots of organic apples to eat. I pay for my own food. It’s nice and cool.

My job for the next three weeks is basically to think about how to bring the orchard back to production level. Right now it has been abandoned for a while. I don’t know much about orchards but the guy who owns the place knows even less it seems :-). So I’ll take a look, and hopefully get some help from the local university. It’s a great chance to learn about orchards on my own. Being an independent consultant is an idea I’ve been playing with, but I didn’t expect to end up in the situation so soon, albeit without pay!

I also plan to read The Pickwick Papers by Dickens and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad :-).

Here’s a view downhill of my cabin.