Coca-Cola Varanasi

I worked with a journalist named Bart Spellers from Holland who was writing an article about the Coke issue in India. He wanted to visit all the disputed Coke sites in India including Mehdiganj, Varanasi and I worked with him in Varanasi as his local assistant and translator. I also look for an opportunity of visiting Mehdiganj and talking with people about their problems created by Coke so I was happy to get this job. I took Bart to Mehdiganj, arranged interviews with Nandlal Master, a few employees, the union leader at the Coke plant, a few women and a few farmers. Bart did not want so many interviews but he wanted to talk with the right kind of people because he did not have much time for Benares.

I was kind of surprised to hear that he did not have much time for his work. He was writing the article on a very controversial subject and I think he should have spent more time in Benares in order to come closer to the fact. Anyways, I think they did good job because they talked with few but the right kind of people. I had an idea but was surprised to talk with the people in Mehndiganj. I was very well aware of the situation but thought it might get better this year but after talking with the people I realized that the situation is still the same as it was four years ago when I went there the first time to work.

All of the people were still angry at Coke and the government. They all said that Coke is responsible for the lack of water in Mehdiganj and the government is doing nothing against Coke. They said that the situation has been getting worse and worse year by year which did not surprise me at all. We had less than average rain last year and I heard that Coke’s market increased within the past year in India which would of course cause more ground water shortage. Nandlal Master said that the committee constituted by the prime minister of India to study the issue has submitted its report to the PMO but has not made it public yet which sounded strange to me.

Why not make the report public since the study has been completed? Nandlal said that he has used a RTI to ask when the report will be given to him and the concerned department replied to him that they have asked the district magistrate to get him the report. It is okay if they are going to provide the report but I still do not understand why they tried to hide it? Why was it not given to the media? After all it is a big issue . So many questions again and the government and Coke both seem suspicious to me. Hopefully someday something will happen, but it is not sure when.

Finally the article is published here:

US visa refused

It was my US visa interview at US embassy, New Delhi and it was refused which I was just not hoping for. I and other people who were supporting my trip were almost sure that I will get the visa. I had four sponsorship letters, my sponsor’s bank account papers, my own documents but the visa consular did not even see them. I arrived at the embassy at 7.45 am as it was my interview at 8. Everything seemed very secured at first. The security was organized by an private security company. I did not know see any Indian police there which I think was a good idea.

I never believe Indian police, private security guards work better than Indian police. I saw so many Sikh people for the interview, maybe more than half of the people for the interview were Sikhs, turban and beard everywhere. I had noticed something really strange on US embassy website which showed their special connection with Punjab. They have five different helpline numbers for four different regions of India. Actually they do not consider Punjab as part of North India, they have a separate number only for Punjab. On their website it is written: North India (except Punjab), very funny.

US embassy is no parking zone thus they do not allow any vehicle to even stop in front of the embassy. Even general public is not allowed to stand near the embassy. They want only and only people who have some business with embassy. First of all my papers were checked by the security staffs outside the embassy and then they allowed to get in the office. In the embassy the first thing happened with me was security check. They scanned each and everything I had, even my documents. After the security check they sent me to big hall where a lot of interviewees were already sitting.

Here one girl came to me and taught me about in which order I should keep my documents. Then she sent me to another officer who saw my documents and gave me a small receipt with my interview number mentioned on it. After this they asked me to wait for my number. My number came after 45 minutes. They were sending interviewees in group of 10 each time. I passed through a passage and arrived in a huge hall. I had to wait for 4-5 minutes here also and then my number came and I went to a counter where an Indian officer was sitting, most probably he was employee of US embassy VFS.

He just checked my documents and asked me a few questions which I had already mentioned while applying for the visa. I think he just wanted to make sure that I was the right person. After this one girl came to me who brought me to another counter and here I saw a foreigner first time. He wanted to take my finger print. There was a scanner where he asked me to put my both thumbs first and after scanning it rest of the fingers. It was first time in my life when my digital finger prints were taken. But I liked this idea better than putting ink on the finger then taking finger prints.

It had happened with me only a few months ago when I applied for my marriage certificate at Benares court. It made my thumb dirty. After taking the finger prints, they asked me wait for my number. I did not know what was going on as it was my first experience of any visa interview. I was just sitting, watching here and there, listening to the people… and finally my number came. I went to the counter and as saw a really professional looking person sitting at other side of glass and of course he was the visa counselor. His first question to me was where I wanted to go.

I told him Seattle and a few other cities and then he asked me why. I told him tourism and business and he smiled and said a little bit of both? He asked me several question within hardly two minutes. He knew a little bit of Hindi also. His last question to me was what was my income and I think here I failed. I told him how much money I made last year and then he wrote something in his computer, took booklet and passport and returned it to me saying that he could not give me the visa. I asked him why and he said that according to US laws I could not qualify for the visa.

I was really socked. I told him that my trip was entirely funded and I was going to stay with my friends therefore did not need much money for the trip but he said that those things doesn’t matter. I asked him what should I do next and he told me to try after a few years when my economical condition improves which indicated clearly that my income was less than what they expect from the visitors. Anyways, I was sad and left the embassy. I was so excited for this trip and I know that I was going get very good business if I would have gotten the visa but…

I do not blame US embassy or their policies for visas. I think everything was very well organized, staffs were super trained and everything looked so nice to me. The visa counselor was nothing but a robot. He did not have any attachment or detachment to me. He did what he was suppose to do and I respect him. And it was not the end of the world for me. I will try next year again when my economical condition will be better and I know it will be better for sure:)

USA visa application

I applied for my US visa a few days ago but it didn’t seem as easy as I had thought. Some things were very nice but I did not like a few things at all. First of all I had to deposit the visa fee and the good thing was that US embassy in India had arranged visa fee deposit with HDFC bank in several cities in India so I just went to the local HDFC bank with my passport and deposited my visa fee which was close of Rs. 6700. They asked me to use the receipt after one day as takes them around 24 hours to upload it on their sever. Anyways, it was very nice that I could deposit the fee in Varanasi.

After depositing the fee, I went on the US embassy website to schedule the appointment for my visa interview and the US embassy website directed me to their VFS website. I filled up the DS-160 form which was kind of a trouble because the connection would fail often and I had to start from the beginning. Even the website said that the applicant should save each and every page before submitting it so that means they also knew about this problem. It took me 2 days and at least 6-7 attempts but somehow I was able to fill up the form and submit it online.

After submitting this form I wanted to schedule the appointment for my visa interview and this was the worst part. I tried several days and several times each day but their website would always say that no date available for interview, please try again after 24 hours. After 4 or 5 days, I wrote to the VFS about this problem and it seemed like they did not read my mail carefully. Their mail seemed like a canned message which they send to many people for similar reasons but this mail did not answer my question.

Finally I made a telephone call to VFS and I was really surprised to hear their answer. They said that their website works only around 8 o’clock morning time so I should try to schedule my appointment around 8 o’clock in the morning time. I went online the next day at 8 o’clock and found that the website was working and I booked my visa interview. It was not something really bad but I was not expecting for anything like this from US government services. I explained this problem to one of my sponsors of my trip and he said that I should write to the US embassy in India about this problem as he was sure that US embassy was not aware about such problem but still whenever I think about this problem, I always think about US government services.

Menstrual cycle

I recently learnt something really interesting- the religious idea behind women having their menstrual cycle. I tried to learn about it because I often hear about women considered as impure during their menstrual cycle and a lot of crazy ideas associated with it. The religious reasons I found behind women considered impure during their menstrual cycle has a very interesting story associated it and I just don’t know if I would ever believe in this reason but I thought to share it with the world through my blog.

Within a past weeks two things happened with me that made me think about it. Actually there was an old Neem tree in my neighborhood that died a few weeks ago and I was seriously sad about it as it was the only tree in my whole neighborhood.  I was talking about it with my friends and one of them told me that there was a girl from my neighborhood whose menstrual cycle was going on and she touched the tree and this touch killed the tree. I asked him how this could be possible and he said that since women are very very impure during their menstrual cycle, if they touch any plant, the plant dies of this touch.

The second incident that happened with me was I was working with a girl and we went to an ashram where there were only women living there. We went there to schedule the appointment for interviews in coming days. They asked us to come on the next day but when we were leaving the ashram, one of the women came and asked the girl with me if it was her menstrual cycle going on that day and incidentally it was her menstrual cycle days those days so she said yes. And right after hearing this this women asked her to not come to the ashram until her menstrual cycle days are over.

She became kind of angry and started telling me that now she would have to take a bath because she talked with this girl and touched her whose menstrual cycle was going on. I did not know what to tell her but her view was really strange for me. Anyways, I talked about it with a very educated woman who has very good knowledge of Hindu religion and she told me a really nice story. She said that once Lord Indra , the king of Gods, had to kill two Bramhins because of some reasons which were a very big sin and because of this sin Indra lost all of his supernatural power and his powers.

He wanted to hide himself and went to a river and hid himself under the water. His guru Brihaspati wanted to see him and could not find him. Finally he reached to the river where Indra was hiding. He met Indra and asked him the reason behind him hiding himself in the river and Indra explained to him the reason. Indra requested his guru Brihaspati to help him in getting rid of this sin and Brihaspati suggested to him that he find people who would share his sin with him. He said that this was the only way for him to get rid of the sin. Indra came out of the river and started looking for people who would agree to share this with him.

He asked so many characters but nobody agreed to help Indra; but finally four characters agreed to help by sharing his sin: mountain, tree, river and women. Since all of these four characters shared the sin, all of them were cursed that they would become impure for a certain number of days every year or every month. She said that sometimes the whole mountain or a certain part of the mountain’s appearance change every year when they turn a little bit red and it is a sign of their menstrual cycle. There are a few trees which release glue or kind of a sticky thing which is sign of their cycle. This glue is used widely in India in pregnant women’s food.

She said that the river’s cycle is for two months every year and this is the time when rivers foam a lot and their current is very high; this is the sign of their cycle. And because of this cycle it is prohibited in Hinduism to take a bath in the rivers for two months every year. Only Ganga, Yamuna and Sarasvati rivers are all time pure rivers so there is no prohibition of taking bath anytime of the year, even when their cycle is going on. And we all know about women’s menstrual cycle. And since this cycle is the result of the sin of killing two Bramhins, they are considered impure and are prohibited from many activities.

In most parts of India, most of the women follow certain rules during their cycles like they do not enter the kitchen, do not touch their elders, they sleep on the ground whereas their husbands sleep on the bed, they do not take a bath for the first three days… Marwaris are more strict about it. They keep their women in a separate room and I have heard that more strict families do not allow women to come out of their room. Nobody enters their room and goes to talk with them. Only food is served in their room. They come out of their room on the fourth day and take a bath.

The pots they use to take their food is purified by lighting up a small fire in the pots or by just moving them around the fire and only then these pots are brought back in the kitchen. Fire is used to purify the pots because fire is considered to be the purest thing and it is believed that fire can purify anything, just anything. The women whom I talked with said women should respect the rules for monthly cycle and should not go out and should not do any hard physical labor. She said that all the companies selling napkin pads say in their advertisement that now women can out and do whatever they want even during their periods which is very bad, and they should not do it.

I asked her what if a woman has a job and can not get a leave of three-four days each month. She thought for a while and said that we have to think about when these rules were made. She said that these rules were made thousands of years ago when there were no napkin pads available in the market and so it was not good for women to work during their periods but since a lot of women work now and obviously can not get a leave every month, they should not stop themselves from working but they should make sure they are not doing anything which is hard physical labor for them like weight lifting, jumping or playing…

She said that even science also says the same thing. She said that women should see their periods as God gifted vacations of three days every month and should enjoy this. But I was wondering how they can enjoy their vacations if they are not even allowed to come out of their rooms or talk with others. She said that if women do not respect the rules, they may be punished with sickness or diseases in the future. I don’t really know much about human body but I love to hear about human body science and always want to learn about it and this story was very interesting for me.

I am really surprised to see such writings present in our sacred texts which were written thousands of years ago. I am seriously in love of those people who wrote these things, just don’t have any idea whether these stories are true or not but one thing is very sure that the writer was super smart. His imagination power would have been just awesome. Hats off to you my dear Hindu sacred text writers!!