A Passage Through India

From Delhi to the Himalayas to Resume Our Eco-Construction

snoozing on the subwayA familiar sea of humans, cows, and three-wheeled auto-rickshaws… with some new features: People of all stripes gathering around giant outdoor projection screens to cheer every turn of the Indian athletes in the Commonwealth Games… Brand new Delhi Metro terminals, still not-quite-finished and already falling apart, teeming with hurried passengers, mostly unfazed as twelve more press themselves into the already-packed subway car… iPhone ringtones fill the air as police, no doubt instructed to put a new face on Delhi’s streets for the Games, remove beggars from their usual spots… Young women in uniform holding rifles very nearly their height peoplewatch like ghosts in the swarms of shoppers… A slice of New Delhi in 2010.

Tomorrow, the long, dusty road to Himachal Pradesh, a crumbling wagon trail of a thoroughfare with (very) slowly elongating patches of smooth black tarmac, always under construction (inconvenience regretted). It’s there that i’ll begin to feel strangely at home again, as the concrete monstrosities (“biggest and longest mall north of Delhi,” boasts one sign) gradually give way to what remains of the rustic beauty of the villages.

The purpose of the journey? A tiny effort to preserve a speck of that beauty in the face of all this “development,” and a humble aspiration to inspire and train interested villagers and visiting global citizens to do the same. Our budding sustainability project in the Himalayan foothills will take a big little step in the coming weeks: the stone foundations of our new baby, the Dharmalaya Institute, spent the last four months settling and curing in the monsoon rains, and soon we’ll start raising her lovely mud walls.

Foundations ready and waitingIt’s a dream i’ve nurtured for nearly 20 years, so it’s a slo-mo rapture to see it taking shape… but it’s a fairly sober high: i’ve spent years enough in India to know that things often fall apart faster than they come together, so the prospect of constructing anything here is guaranteed to be, to some extent, an exercise in futility, vanity, and existential humor. With the road to the building site vanishing seasonally, with the world-class red tape of a singularly quirky bureaucracy, with intermittently absent laborers, with a formidable cultural divide that in some ways seems to grow only wider (and richer) with time and familiarity, and with a shortage of funds to meet expanding expenses, how on earth will we get the roof on this thing before the beginning of the next monsoon torrents…?

And, more importantly, if we succeed in finishing the building (and i have an utterly irrational faith that somehow we will), will it actually make a difference? For us, the international team of volunteers who get to take this great ride, it will no doubt be far more than worth it; we have so much to learn here. But for our friends the noble villagers whose green ambitions we endeavor to support, and for the tenacious-yet-fragile environment that sustains them, will this be helpful? That question, more than the overwhelm of myriad mysterious logistics, is floating in the background of everything today.

Of course we believe it can make at least a small contribution toward sustainability and economic advancement in the region or we wouldn’t be doing this. H.H. the Dalai Lama advised us as we were just getting the Earthville vision on road back in the ’90s (and i’m paraphrasing here), “It’s important to understand that one can only accomplish so much in one short lifetime, but even if you can make a deep and lasting change in the life of one person, that is enough; your life has meaning. And if you can reach ten or even a hundred people, that’s wonderful. And if you’re very lucky, maybe a thousand…”

Well, seeing the suffering and environmental devastation around us, we can’t help but hope for higher numbers, but we’ll start out with baby steps, and let’s see what happens…

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8 Responses to “A Passage Through India”

  1. Wishing you all the best for success in this important project.

  2. Inspiring! Thank you! 🙂

  3. best of luck

  4. Good luck and kindly bring your programme to Delhi itself if you can manage. The need for such kind of eco initiatives is very dire here.

  5. Shivananda Sista October 17, 2010 at 10:51 am Reply

    A very touching piece and an inspiring organisation. Karma yoga is usually the most neglected so it is refreshing to see it is at the centre of your work. Need a yoga asana instructor? 😀

  6. Dr. V.K. Narayan October 19, 2010 at 12:02 pm Reply

    My compliments on your work and also on your writing. As a person of Indian origin, I felt your story struck a chord. Visiting my homeland, I am often struck by the scenes you describe. One feels that you take fair measure of both the beauty and the shortcomings of our India, and you approach her pecadilloes in a caring, respectful and gently humourous manner that does not offend our national pride–and this is no small feat I assure you. With such unassuming deportment and a dash of elbow grease, I’ve no doubt your project will succeed in time. I shall follow your blog with interest and I shall make a contribution to support your work, as I hope other Indians of means will do. All the best. 

  7. Thank you for what you’re doing. Your project is very inspiring! With so much heart, dedication and humbleness in it. May it unfold smoothly.

  8. Keep the faith, Mark! Good work…

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