Saturday, July 31, 2010

Dinesh in India: A Photo Essay

If a picture says a thousand words, then here are a few thousands of them:

Di visiting Shangri-la, our home in Madurai

A mall in Madurai, a great development from 15 years ago

Looking for the food court to have some fried chicken

Di outside the Madurai Collectorate where he has his daily meetings

Posing on the grounds of the Collectorate

On the street outside, at the intersection, before a replica of the Ashoka Pillar

The entire experience each day is a cultural lesson for the kid - no traffic lanes, lack of traffic rules, cows sharing the roads with pedestrians and vehicles, the deafening blare of vehicular horns, people hanging off the footboard of public buses, messy government offices, people waiting outside to meet the bureaucrats, crowded elevators, sidewalk vendors, roadside eateries, political and movie posters on the walls of private properties, huge billboards and hoardings for politicians, statues of political leaders at every junction, the decorative 'kolam' or 'rangoli' (designs drawn with a multi-coloured rock or rice powder) outside each home at the front entrance, vegetable vendors hawking their wares on the streets and yelling loudly at each house's gate - each and everything is a sensory experience that is totally alien and new to him. He seems to be enjoying the experience every single day, and we're happy he's having a blast, getting to know his hometown!!!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Homeland Escapades

It's almost been a good two weeks since the kid left for his voluntary work in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in India. It has been quite interesting to observe his behaviour there and his reactions to the homeland. Though India is the land of his birth, we brought him to the US when he was one year old, and he has called North America his home ever since. But for two brief visits and short stays, he has never actually lived for extended periods of time in India. So it was with a lot of trepidation and anxiety that we saw him off a couple of weeks ago, but needless to say, the kid has done us proud by adjusting extremely well and taking to India like a duck to water!

Not a word of complaint so far about the heat, dust, mosquitoes or daily power shutdowns there. That in itself is HUGE, in my opinion! No word yet that he misses the burgers, hotdogs, pizza, pasta, tacos and sushi here! He has impressed all the government officials he has dealt with, and seems to have picked up the details of disaster management quite quickly for his age. He visits the Collectorate on a daily basis and sits in with senior officials, including the District Collector, in their meetings, taking copious notes and interacting with them quite knowledgeably. He has been extremely courteous and polite in his behaviour, as reported to us by his chaperones and mentor. In fact, I was quite impressed by the fact that when he meets senior people, he puts both his hands together and says "Vannakkam", the Tamil form of greeting others, which never fails to impress them, needless to say! And when he meets the elders in the family, he promptly bends down and touches their feet, thus touching their hearts!

He has taken the adjustment to extreme levels, eating the oily bajjis (deep-fried, savoury banana fritters) that he's being given in the government offices in India. I was petrified on hearing that and immediately started imagining scenarios of food poisoning and hospitalization and saline drips, and when I asked him why he ate them, he replied very calmly that he thought it would be culturally impolite to refuse what was being offered, and ate whatever he was given because he didn't want to offend the concerned people! I could only mumble something lamely about not wanting his stomach to get upset, and to use the diarrhoea medication, if need be. The whole experience has been an overwhelming cultural rush for the kid, but he has managed to take everything in stride and to remain positive and upbeat about all his escapades in the homeland!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Creative Tweets 3

It's been a while since I posted any of my tweets. With the kid preparing for his overseas jaunt, it was virtually impossible for me to focus on and produce creative spurts of any kind. Anyways, here are a few from not so long ago:

The shrieking, wailing howling wind

Screaming through the darkness of the trees
Makes me sink deeper in my bed
Willing my mind to silence.

The sun peeks from behind white clouds
A fluorescent ball in a sheet of white grey

Transforming my Vancouver day
Into a neon-lit night!

Nimble as a Navi, agile, fleet-footed,
I traverse endless expanses,
The podiatrist's voice droning on
Of fallen arches and orthotic inserts!

Sitting on a bench along the Fraser River
I gaze into its murky depths
Willing my very own Nessie to rise
Sleek, amber-eyed, and iridiscent!

The toddler I ran after
Coaxing and cajoling to eat a few bites
Now a teenage pantry-raiding, fridge-marauding eating machine

Financial security, social mobility
Carefree life sans worries
Bourgeois hopes for a better tomorrow
Deferred dreams or wishful thinking?!?

More of my tweets later!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mission Statement

With Mr. C. John David, State Project Officer, UNDP

Here is the mission statement that the kid wrote in regard to his trip to India:

Volunteering In The UNDP: My Mission

by Dinesh V. Kanna

My primary goal in volunteering in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) this summer is to learn about the disaster management process in Tamilnadu and to participate in some of the children-based disaster management activities there.

My parents have inculcated in me the need to serve humanity and be a good global citizen , and my curriculum at school in the International Baccalaureate Program has driven home to me the fact there are so many other issues beyond the academic world that one has to take stock of. In this regard, I would like to make a start by volunteering my time and services in the UNDP, thus putting a part of my summer vacation to good use, and what better a place to start in than the country of my birth and my home province of Tamilnadu!

I am very grateful to the officials at UNDP for granting me this unique opportunity, and I would like to assure them that I will do my very best and contribute to the maximum in all their worthy projects.

Thank you!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rite Of Passage

Greeting Mr. C. Kamaraj, IAS, Madurai District Collector

Dinesh making a point to the District Collector

When I started this blog last summer, the kid categorically told me that I was not allowed to brag about him on my blog. Though there have been many occasions and reasons to do so, I have managed to keep him off the radar, that is, until now. I am now inclined to turn a deaf ear to his request, or command rather, mainly to talk about an inevitable rite of passage that every young person goes through, and thus incidentally brag a little about my son. Every rite of passage that he has gone through has thrilled me no end, but the latest is one where my 14 year-old has travelled halfway across the globe, by himself, for an ennobling cause that I as a parent can be proud of. I am reminded of the medieval Moroccan scholar Ibn Battuta who ventured far from his home to undertake the haj at the age of 21 and went on to travel extensively through the lands of every Muslim ruler of his time. And I have a very strong understanding of how his mother must have felt when she had to let her precious son go on adventures unknown in the 14th century!

Well, my son is volunteering his time and services in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in India. At the tender age of 14, he has bravely crossed the seas to participate in the Disaster Relief Management projects of the UNDP. What an honour, privilege, and unique opportunity to be able to spend his summer vacation in such a worthy cause! The husband and I are extremely proud of his abilities and accomplishments, and we hope this will be a "life" experience for him that enriches his mind and ennobles his soul. If his compassion for humanity increases even a little, and his empathy for those suffering deepens by even just a little bit after this trip, then we have no other expectations to beat those! If the values we have tried to teach him as a child have taken root and result in fruition, we have nothing more to ask for as parents.

Letting him go on his own was the most difficult thing we have ever done as parents. After he had gone for his security check, we came out of the airport and sat in the car, parked under the trees next to the fence from across the runway. We sat for an hour and a half, waiting for the British Airways 747 jet to taxi down the runway and take off. And when it did, it was difficult to digest the fact that there was our baby inside the plane, careening down the runway and taking off to a destination (albeit our homeland) thousands of miles away, far away from us, and all by himself. I simply bawled my heart out and then I realized what a true rite of passage indeed it was for him!

Well, his journey was safe and he has gotten down to brass tacks already. He is being mentored by Mr. John David, State Project Officer of the UNDP, and is being chaperoned by two UNDP workers, Mr. Ravi and Ms. Vanitha. He is documenting every single day of his trip - his meeting with senior government officials, United Nations officers, workers, and the like. He has already met Mr. Sundaradevan, IAS, Commissioner of Revenue Administration, and Mr. Karthik, IAS, Officer on Special Duty/ Relief and Recovery, both of whom are high-ranking officials of the Indian Administrative Service and were gracious enough to talk to the "Student Intern" from Canada and encourage him in his ventures in India. He has also met Dr. Ramanan, Director, Area Cyclone Warning Centre, Indian Meteorological Department, who answered all of Dinesh's questions and explained to him about the whole process of weather forecasting and cyclone warnings. On Day 2, in Madurai, Dinesh has met the City Health Officer and the City Fire Officer, who have interacted with him and told him about their work in disaster management. He is now getting ready to meet the Madurai District Collector and the District Health Officer. What an unbelievable opportunity for a child his age!

My son has gone well-prepared, having done a lot of research about disaster management. He is set to make a speech on the role of children in disaster management, do a PowerPoint presentation on the role of the disabled in disaster management, has already done a flow chart on the sequence of functions in disaster mangement, and written out his mission statement, but what excites him the most is the PowerPoint presentation he is going to do before school children (Grades 8 to 12), on the role of children in the disaster preparedness process, with the District Collector presiding over the function. He is very enthusiastic, excited, and upbeat about his month of voluntary work thereafter, raising awareness among children about disasters and involving them in the preparedness process of disaster management.

Now tell me, isn't that an awesome experience for a 14 year old, and don't I have bragging rights as a proud Mom? We are extraordinarily proud of our little boy, and who knows, he left Vancouver as a boy, but after going through this rite of passage, he might very well return to us a man!!!