work with e3 Foundation, Texas

I got to work with a non profit organization called e3 Foundation from Texas. Their project was very interesting. They were making a documentary about religion and what it means to people. It was a series of documentaries which was based in three different countries. They wanted to make one episode about Hindu religion and this episode was based only in Varanasi. I was was responsible to do research, find different people who were interested in talking about what religion and God mean to them, schedule appointment for interview and do interpretation. But they did not want just anyone, they wanted each person to be different from other so that there is diversity in the show.

It didn’t really take me much time to organize it as I already knew many interesting people. I think my interest in people helped me a lot here. There is a public call booth at Assi crossing which is owned by my friend’s uncle. I always found him different from others because whenever we were sitting next to his shop, he would usually come and stay close to us so he could hear what we were talking. Sometimes he also became part of our discussion. Only a few days before e3 contacted me, the show owner, friend’s uncle, had shown me his diary. His diary was full of poetries written by him.

These poetries were basically about his life, his religious practices, the way regular people practice religion, the world and questions about religion and God. It was really impressive. He had told me once that people who are not curious and do not question things are just like animals. Because the God has given us mind and we need to use it. His another writing which impressed was – Are we really worth getting blessings of God? I was really impressed with his writings. And when I was thinking about right people for the show, he immediately clicked in my mind.

And when I asked him if he would like to be interviewed, he was so happy and agreed on getting interviewed. I took e3 to Kashi Labh Mukti Bhawan also where we interviewed the manager about the idea of death in Hinduism. We also filmed a family who had brought their mother to die a Varanasi. We filmed evening and morning rituals as well at Mukti Bhawan. It was again very intense experience translating the manager, because he loves talking and talks too much and the atmosphere at Mukti Bhawan. Anyways, it went very well.

I introduced the director to a boat rower also who is known for his singing skills. He writes his own songs and most of them are religious. He loves singing his songs when he is rowing the boat and his voice is really beautiful. This interview was also very good and interesting. Other than this we interviewed a lady professor of Hindu religion and definitely her interview was very nice. Overall we did 10 interviews with different kind of people and did some regular touristic things like evening ceremony, morning boat, temples, rituals etc. It was nice working on this project because it was mostly about interviewing people and I got to listen a lot which is always a nice experience for me.

Hotel Haifa in Varanasi

Hotel Haifa is located near Assi ghat in Varanasi. They are recommended on several on online travel forum and have really good reputation in the market hence they are usually full. I also used to recommend their hotel but did not know about their strange business policy that they do not allow tourist guides inside their hotel. Actually I an American university ‘s student group was staying at Hotel Haifa and they wanted to meet me. They invited to their hotel and we were talking in the restaurant inside the hotel. Suddenly the owner of the hotel Mr. Ravi Mishra showed up to introduce himself to the group.

After talking with them he asked me how come I was there. I told him that the group had invited me because they wanted to talk with me and he seemed upset hearing this. He told me- Listen, I want to make this clear to you that I do not allow guides and outsiders to enter in my hotel. I was shocked to hear this. He said that he doesn’t allow tourist guides to enter in the hotel and talk with the clients. He asked me not to enter in his hotel again. After talking with me he told the same thing to the group. They were all looking at me with surprised face. They told me sorry for whatever happened.

I was really shocked and felt guilty for whatever happened with me. It was the first time when somebody insulted me. We stopped our meeting and left the hotel. I talked about it with a few people who had already stayed at the Hotel Haifa and one of them told me – The restaurant staff was eager to please, but I felt slightly intimidated by the demeanor of management. They do promote their own tour guides, money changing and travel agent services so that explains what they are doing to you. As an American traveling alone, I liked having one person I could count on and had developed a rapport with leading up to the trip. They want to be the guests’ primary resource or they have touts they want to network with.

I don’t know what to say about this but it is really strange if they do not allow locals or tourist guides to meet with their clients. I think they don’t want their clients to meet with locals so that their clients always hear them and finally they can be cheated easily. I had heard about British prohibiting Dogs and Indians at several places but it all happened in early 1900 and now I see the same thing happening in the 21st century even we are already independent and have our own government. Do you really think that you want to support such hotel by staying there? I am not going to work with anyone whoever stays there.

Kashmir

I returned from a trip to Jammu & Kashmir state a few days ago. Although my trip was not successful because  the police stopped us from entering into Kashmir valley due to the bad weather and violence there but I was not regret as I got to talk with the locals and Indian Army about the biggest social issue of India: Kashmir and tension between Hindus and Muslims. I wanted to go to Amarnath temple which is one of the holiest places on planet for Hindus.  I had been to Kashmir before about ten years ago and that time was the beginning of good times in Kashmir valley.

When I was Srinagar ten years ago, I did not see any violence and people seemed so happy. I had talked with locals that time also and they seemed so welcoming and were happy that tourists had started to come to the valley again and terrorism was getting defeated. The income of Kashmir valley is completely dependent on tourism but whenever there is any tension between India and Pakistan, the tourism collapses completely in Kashmir. We arrived Jammu by train and hired a taxi for Pahalgam which is the base camp for pilgrims going to Amarnath.

We left the hotel around 10 o’clock and were so excited for the trip but police stopped us saying that the weather was bad in Kashmir valley that nobody was allowed to move further. My taxi driver said that sometimes police just stop people for nothing and suggested to us that talk with them. We asked J&K police and they told us to wait and contact them later. I saw an Army check-post near where we were stopped and saw a few pilgrims going inside their office and thought that I should also talk with them.

We went to the army office and explained our situation to them. We were told by our driver to tell that we did not want to go to Amarnath but that we wanted to go to Katra, another pilgrimage about 40 kms from Jammu. We told the army guy that we wanted to go to Katra but the police were stopping us from going there and he said that he would have helped us if we had any connection with the army means any of my relative or someone whom I knew working in the army. I have relatives working for the Indian Army but I did not want to delay the process by calling them and asking them to talk with this army officer so I told him that I did not know anyone working for the army.

The army officer told us that in this case he could not help us. He asked me where I was from and fortunately he was also from a city near Varanasi and after knowing this he became more friendly to me. I asked him if there was any way to go and he told me that it is neither his nor Indian Army style to suggest or accept a bribe but if we really wanted to know how J&K police work then we should offer the police a bribe of Rs. 500 and then the police would let us move. He said that he knew that police do such things but he would not go to the the police and talk for us because the army hates J&K police because they do such things.

I was surprised to hear that such thing was going on in J&K also but I was happy that now at least we had a way to reach our destination.We went to a police and offered him for bribe and he agreed to let us go by taking Rs. 300 per taxi. Unfortunately when we were giving him the money, one other police officer saw us and got really violent and this officer who had agreed to take bribe also changed and got angry on us. Finally we were in the line again. I was just walking here and there and saw one army guy standing alone and thought just to talk with him about his job.

I went to him and we started talking and he told me something that really shocked me. He said that J&K state is not in India anymore, even he did not know where it was. He said that army is there to protect people and that’s all. He told me that we should also just go to the pilgrimage and enjoy our journey. He was seriously angry at J&K police. He said that if the army leaves the state only for one day then the J&K police will sell the whole state and people living outside of J&K state will not be able to enter J&K by the very next day.

He said that J&K police are completely corrupt and they are one of the biggest reasons of terrorism in the state. I had also heard similar things several times before and after seeing that they agreed to let us go only by taking Rs. 300, I believed that army guy. We were asked to go back to Jammu after waiting for ten hours. The police told us to come the next day at 4 am. We went back to the hotel and again came back at 4 am but were stopped again and were asked to get in the line. While we were in the line, I saw a young guy who looked local to me so I thought to talk with him.

I asked him where was he from and he told me from a village near Anantnag which made me excited because I often read and hear about terrorist activities around Anantnag area. I asked him if he was a student and he said that he could go to the school because of the poor condition of his family and had been selling hot water to the pilgrims going to Amarnath. After talking for a while with him I asked him something which surprised him and he felt uncomfortable answering my question. I asked him if he had ever seen any terrorist and after hearing my question, I could easily see by his facial expression that he was uncomfortable.

First he told me that he had never ever seen any terrorist but I knew that he was hiding something so I kept talking to him and told him that I was a general tourist and was just curious about the situation and finally he told me something that really blasted my mind. He said that terrorists often come to his village and stay with the locals. Locals do not want to host them but they can not do anything either. If they inform army about it then they will be killed someday for sure so it is their compulsion to host terrorists and help them in achieving their goals.

He said that when terrorists stay at his place, they sleep with his sister and he can not do anything to stop them. He started to cry saying this and I was also really sad and shocked to hear this true story. How is this possible? He told me another story of his very good friend who once hosted a group of 3 terrorists in his house. The same day army did routine checking and showed up at his house. They knocked on the door, came in and asked for ID of all the family members. Everyone had an ID but these three new guests did not have any ID because they were terrorists.

He told me that one army guy was inside the house doing his business and rest of the army people were outside the home. As the army guy asked for the ID card of one of these terrorists, the other ones started to fire on the army guy and killed him and started to fire on other the army officers standing outside the house. The army also responded and blew up the whole house. All three terrorists along with the family members were killed which became a huge issue and people came on the road and started protesting against the army. I don’t know what could have been the right decision, either to blow up the house or wait and see who was terrorist and who was not.

Once I asked my driver about what Kashmiri people want and I was surprised to hear his answer that Kashmiri people want neither India nor Pakistan and instead they want to be an independent state. I do not know how this thinking came because if they become an independent state then they will have to start from beginning which means poverty and so many other problems for a really long time. I think it is a much more practical choice for Kashmiri people to be with India rather than being an independent state or go with Pakistan because we have more money, we are developing faster than Pakistan and there is more security and opportunities in India.

When I asked my driver about tension between Hindus and Muslims and terrorism in Kashmir Valley, he did not want to agree with this fact that there is any terrorism or tension between Hindus and Muslims at all in Kashmir Valley. He said that the Indian Army and politicians are responsible for all the problems in Kashmir Valley. He said that the Indian Army kills innocent people of Kashmir for nothing which obviously I didn’t believe but he was seriously angry with our army and politicians. I also hate politicians but I don’t believe that the army kills innocent people.

My driver blamed America for all the problems and tension in this whole world. He said that Barack Obama, George Bush and other American politicians should be brought on the road and should be killed by beating with shoes because they want to rule the world and make people fight. I couldn’t talk with many locals but whomever I talked with was very angry with Indian Army, Indian politicians and America. I do not understand where this America stands between our problems. I think it is terrorist organizations, politicians and crazy religious groups that make us fight and create tensions, not America.

I could not make it to Amarnath but my two other friends went to Amarnath only a few days before I left Varanasi and they were able to reach the temple as the weather was nice when they arrived. They also told me shocking stories. My one friend Sonu told me that once they were stuck in a traffic jam near Sringar city and were just standing on the road when they saw three young kids, hardly 10-12 years old, passing by. Sonu called them because he just wanted to talk with them. Sonu asked them what they were doing on the highway and these young kids said something that shocked Sonu and his other friends traveling with him.

Instead of replying they asked Sonu what he was doing there. Their wordings were “Why do you come here? Do you come here to pray to the ice (Shivalingam in Amarnath temple is naturally formed of ice)? It’s not any God, it’s ice only which melts by heat and you should not come here to Kashmir as it is my land, not yours, you fucking Indians”. Sonu got angry and scared both at the same time. I wonder how much poison was there in that kid’s blood. Kashmir is the biggest issue and the biggest reason of tension between Hindus and Muslims in India and I always thought that Muslims wanted to stay with India but such things make me think about the issue again.

Sonu said that locals of Kashmir valley were throwing stones on vehicles of pilgrims going to Amarnath and that his taxi was also attacked. He saw over 200 cars with broken window glasses. People were throwing stones on the vehicles and were asking pilgrims and tourists to go back from Kashmir which sounds really scary. I would not like to go to such place where people welcome me by throwing stones on my vehicle. It is a really bad situation for innocent people of Kashmir because it is they themselves whose lives are most affected.

I don’t know what will be the future like of Kashmir Valley but one thing is very sure that if such condition continues in the future also, people of Kashmir will face serious problems and it will take them a really long time to make the situation better again. After hearing all these true stories and spending four days in J&K state, I really felt sad and questioned myself if I was really somewhere which was part of India. How can an Indian citizen call me an Indian visiting their land? I don’t know what happened that made people think that they are not Indian; but if this is the case, then what we are fighting for?

Are we fighting for a piece of land or we are fighting for the rights of people of Kashmir? So many questions and actually I don’t even know if I have any rights to question about the issues of Kashmir because it seems like the people of Kashmir want something else but I am an Indian and I feel like questioning each and every thing going on in India and my personal feeling is that Kashmir is part of India. I hope some day terrorism will be defeated and people of Kashmir will find wealth and a green life but for the time being my friends and I have decided that we will not go to Kashmir Valley again until this terrorism problem is solved and people welcome the pilgrims and tourists again with the idea of Atithi Devo Bhav. अतिथि देवो भव. Peace.

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.

Josh Massad’s World Through Music

Josh with village kids

Josh with village kids

I am working with a musician named Josh Massad on a project called world through music which is about teaching music and other subjects through music. Josh travels all over the world and teach music to kids. When he works in the US, he teaches African and Indian music to American kids, when he is in Africa, he teaches Indian and American music to African kids and at present when he is in India, he is teaching African, American and Asian music to kids in Varanasi. He had contacted me about a month ago asking if I would like to work with him.

Josh teaching Kanjira

Josh teaching Kanjira

The project seemed interesting to me and I agreed to work with him. He wanted me to organize his performances at schools in Varanasi. I thought it would be good for Josh and his project if he gets to work with different kinds of schools and kids therefore I organized his performances at city schools, village schools, private schools, government schools, play schools and schools run by NGOs so almost 50 performances in 25 days. There are 25 performances at village schools where kids come from really poor families, 10 performances at NGO run training centers for girls, 10 performances at city schools and about 5 at NGO run schools.

Dancing with a kid

Dancing with a kid

I have organized a performance at a school for children of sex workers in Varanasi. Actually children of sex workers can not get admission in any school because they do not have any residential proof and any document talking about their father’s name and there is an NGO in Varanasi which started a school specially for children of sex workers and we will be working there as well. I have organized one performance with kids of my education program. I have organized a performance with day time bondage child laborers. Actually there are a lot of bondage child laborers in Mehdiganj and Lok Samiti runs evening classes for them and we have a performance with those kids also.

Josh teaching map

Josh teaching map

Josh carries a map and a few instruments from different parts of the world. First of all he talks about geography, he teaches about seven continents and countries in it and then show these continents and countries on a map and then he introduces all of his instruments and shows on map where they come from. It was so interesting to see that village kids did not have any knowledge of geography at all. They did not even know in which continent India was there or they could name states of India. I was shocked to see this but I hope Josh’s lessons would help them.

showing an Indonesian instrument

showing an Indonesian instrument

After introducing his instruments, Josh plays these instruments to kids and teach them African songs. He teaches different songs but the one song that he teaches at every school is a welcome song from Africa called Fanga Alafia, Ashe Ashe. Kids love this song. They sing the song together with Josh and enjoy it a lot. Josh teaches them different styles of clapping and sometimes he teaches some basic yoga techniques as well. The project is going well, kids are happy, josh is happy so I am also happy. Few teachers at some schools asked me why Josh is teaching African songs, they don’t think it is going to help kids in any way.

Kids also love to play the instruments

Kids also love to play the instruments

I just don’t expect kids to learn all of those Josh’s instruments and geography in one day but I am sure that Josh’s performances will at least create interest about world geography and music in the kids and if they just look at the map only once at their home, I will feel like the project is accomplished. Josh is planning to make a documentary about his work next year and he wants me to organize things for him. He is planning to start a mobile school in India and again he wants me to organize it. He wants to bring musicians from different places and travel with them and teach music and geography. It sounds really exciting and I am looking forward to it.

Coca-Cola research for book


broken pipe of rainwater harvesting system

broken pipe of rainwater harvesting system

I worked with the American writer Mr. Michael Blanding for two days (14th and 15th of June) in Mehndiganj as his translator and local assistant. He is writing a book on the Coca-Cola issue. This book is called Coke Machine and will be published under Penguin Publications, USA. (update – purchase here) I met him on the 14th at Lok Samiti’s office in Mehndiganj. Michael has already written a few articles about the Coke issue in Columbia but this time’s article is going to focus on Indian, Columbian and Mexican issues. One of his most popular articles is “Coke: The New Nike?”

another broken pipe

another broken pipe

I already knew about the Indian and Columbian issues but I did not know that Mexico was also affected. Michael told me that Mexico is the biggest market of Coke products and now they have a huge problem of obesity and other health-related problems. Obesity was not a problem in Mexico a few years ago but since Coke’s sale has increased in Mexico, obesity has also increased with it. He told me that Coke and Pepsi both are going to introduce Nariyal Paani (Coconut water) in India, which sounded crazy. What is the need to do it? I am sure that they will never ever be able to provide the natural drink, after all it will be mixed with chemicals.

jammed pipe

jammed pipe

We interviewed about ten people, visited Coke’s rain water-harvesting sites�at different places and saw Coke’s waste-water discharge system. I was hoping to see something better this time but the situation is still the same. We went to Coke’s two rain water harvesting sites, one of them was on the roof-top of the Agriculture Research Center, Kallipur village and another one was at the roof-top of the Mijramurad Police station. We saw that none of the water harvesting sites were in working condition and most of the pipes were either broken or jammed.

rainwater harvesting at the roof top of Mijramurad police station

rainwater harvesting at the roof top of Mijramurad police station

We talked to people working at the Agriculture Research Center and all�of them said that Coke had started the site about two years ago just to show off. It stopped working within the next few months and no one from Coke ever came to repair it. Even though they informed the Coke officials about it but they did not entertain villagers. People said that now the roof-top over-flows and their rain-water harvesting site doesn’t work at all. We saw the well also which was supposed to hold all the rain water and then recharge the ground water, and we found it was completely dry. People said that they never saw any water in the well because the pipes connected with the wells are jammed.

We went to see other rain water harvesting sites at the roof top of the Mirjamurad police station and the situation was the same there as well. Most of those pipes were either broken or jammed. We talked to a journalist who lived near the police station and few police officers and all of them had the same opinion as the Agriculture Research Institute employees. They also said that the site was started about two years ago and then it stopped working within the next two-three months and no one from Coke ever came to see it.

We talked to people living near the plant, and all of them said that they were suffering with water problems and all of them blamed Coke for this problem. They said that they had never felt any water shortage before Coke had arrived in Mehndiganj. Many people showed us their wells which were completely dry and they showed us their hand pumps which do not work any more. Farmers told us that they buy the water to irrigate the land because their bore wells do not work any more. There are a few rich people who have submersible pumps to get water and they sell the water to poor farmers.

We visited two of the ponds dug by the village committee. They showed us how their ponds are different from Coke’s ponds or rain water harvesting sites. They told us that they have chosen the land that has lime in the soil which filters the water very well. The village committee has connected nearby villages to the pond through pipes and this way all the rainwater will run towards the pond and will recharge the groundwater. It did not seem to me that Coke had done anything like this with their ponds. It seemed that the village committee is doing a great job.

Nandlal Master, President of Lok Samiti, said that Coke had conducted a groundwater testing through an agency called TERI (TATA Environmental Research Institute) and they have also advised that Coke leave Mehndiganj. I also think that Coke should leave Mehndiganj as soon as possible because I have been visiting Mehndiganj for the past three years and I see situation getting worse and worse every time I go there. I am so excited for Michael’s book to be published. I hope that he will also support the struggle of Mehndiganj’s people.

HIV, AIDS education pamphlet distribution

An student from University of Montana, USA had contacted me to volunteer for my organization and for housing at my guest house. I also wanted to start something for sex workers in Benares. I asked him if he would like to help me organizing some kind of program for sex workers. He seemed so much interested in my work. Although we could not do anything for sex workers because of his busy schedule in Benares and some of my unexpected work that I had to accomplish but we still distributed pamphlets during Maha Murkh Sammelan (Biggest fool Conference).

This festival is very very Benares thing and I think it happens only in Benares. It is celebrated every year on 1st of April. This year they had more than 3000 people during that conference. But since Winslow and I were the only people to distribute pamphlets, we thought to target maximum of 200-250 people. We went there, sat on the steps of Rajendra Prasad Ghat and started distributing pamphlets. We had targeted 15 to 45 year old people, but our priority was 15-30 year old. People were not interested in taking pamphlets from my hand but they seemed so interested in Winslow.

Winslow finished his pamphlets first and then I gave him most of my pamphlets also and we distributed almost 150 pamphlets. First of all we distributed pamphlets amongst the people who had come to the festival, and later we just wandered along the river and distributed some more pamphlets to young people. On the 2nd of April, Nandlal Master had organized a program which was inauguration of a water cooler, computer room and sewing machines which were donated by some organizations to Nandlal Master’s organization- Lok Samiti. Water cooler was given by Union Bank of India and other stuffs were given by some organization from south India.

Nandlal had tole me that 600-700 people would come to the program so we had planned to distribute some pamphlets there also. We reached there but unfortunately there were not much young people. They were either under 10 year old kids or over 45-50 year old people. So we better decided to not distribute the pamphlets. But Nandlal has asked me to organize some HIV, AIDS education program for his Kishori centers. Kishori center is a school run by Lok Samiti and ASHA for the girls who are over 13 year of age. There are about 10 Kishori centers and each center has about 50-75 girls.

Winslow’s friend, who had lived in Benares for a year about two years ago, knew the principal of Delhi Public School and had asked Winslow to meet him. Winslow told me about it and I also asked him to ask the school if they would let us organize a HIV, AIDS education workshop at their school. Delhi Public School is a English medium school and is fanciest school of Benares or maybe India’s. I have always wanted to work with English medium schools because their kids seems to be on biggest risk of contracting STDs. They have co-education system but there is no sex education in India.

Its a good opportunity for me to get involved with English medium schools and I am looking forward to it. It seems like Sanjeevani Booti will be busy this summer but there is a huge problem for funding and I don’t know how to solve it.

Why do people travel?

I met six couchsurfing members within the past month. It was surprising for me that four of them did not know why they were traveling. They spent most of their time sleeping and relaxing in their guesthouse room. Two of them were from Germany and the other two were from the US. The German guys stayed in Benares for four days but never went to see Aarti or took a walk along the ghats. They spent only a few minutes watching a funeral and that was the only time they spent along the Ghat, they had not even heard about Aarti or Sarnath.

The US guys were students. One of them was learning Urdu with some institute in Lucknow for the past one month. She was preparing was for her research about tension between Hindus and Muslims. I really wanted to spend more time with her to learn about her research but unfortunately I had to leave for Gwalior the same day I met her. The other one was learning Hindi with Virendra singh and has been living in Varanasi for the past month.

The Urdu student knew about Aarti but she didn’t know anything about Sarnath. The Hindi student knew about Sarnath but he didn’t know anything about Aarti, even he had never been to Godaulia which is downtown Benares. I don’t know what he has been doing for the past month. After watching Aarti he said that it was very impressive, maybe the most impressive part of Benares for him. Natasha, the Urdu student, also liked Aarti a lot. I suggested that she should visit Sarnath and they both decided to go the there next day.

Swami Vivekanand said that if you have free time then it is best to travel, if you want to utilize it. Because this way you learn about different cultures, you talk to people, and it makes the world a better place. I think people travel to learn but these people, whom I met in the last month, seemed like they were traveling just because they had extra time and money or maybe they wanted to tell others that they have traveled. They could have learnt better staying in their own country if they had just spent sometime online. I don’t know why they were traveling.