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Pune is pronounced Poona


Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high 
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments 
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way 
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee 
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
-Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore was the first Asian winner of the Noble Prize for Literature, was a leader during India’s struggle for independence and became known to me at the Gandhi Memorial Museum in Madurai. My Indian and perhaps some of my other friends are no doubt thinking, “Wow, Aaron is so naturally intelligent, so curious and educated, so dangerously handsome that I am shocked he has never heard of Rabindranath Tagore!” Yes, my abovementioned friends, you are so shocked that you are thinking with exclamation points.


Well, it occurs to me that Asia and Asians are not really, how you say, prominently featured in the education most Americans receive. Don’t get me wrong, we learned the important things about Asia, such as how the Huns brutally invaded the Europeans and brought with them the concept of war. We also learned that the Chinese invented gunpowder to make fireworks to go along with their multi-person dancing dragon costumes with heads that shakes, much to my enjoyment, all crazy like. I laugh thinking about it now. When not busy ruling the army or whatever, General Tso liked his chicken bread and then fried in a sweet, savory sauce. Indians have a style of sitting that is cross-legged (but this might refer to Native Americans).

I can honestly say that I do not remember learning much if anything about India in my first 12 years of education (I exclude kindergarten because I was busy with, well, other things), and since most American I’ve met have nary said much more about Asia than the bit above about the dancing dragon, I can assume most Americans are in the same boat. If the Asians or Asian-descendents reading what I write here feel hurt or upset, be thankful you are not African because we did not learn a damn thing about Africa. And the people wonder why Americans generally are uninterested in world events. Perhaps this makes divisive messages (e.g., bring it on, they hate our freedom, etc.) stick better.

I realize I’ve distracted from the quote above, which is definitely worth spending some time with.

The Gandhi Memorial Museum was more than I expected. Set in a large and somewhat run-down colonial building, there were two main exhibits, one about India’s independence and the other about Gandhi specifically. The exhibit about India’s independence contained 30 4’x 5’ panels with pictures, drawings and hand-written narrations beginning in 1757 with the introduction of British East India Company to India and ending on August 15, 1947. There were many great people involved in this struggle. I spent much time reading each panel, and by the time I was done, I was very moved by the exhibit. Looking back, I should have taken a break before jumping into the Gandhi exhibit, as I was not nearly as careful or thorough with the Gandhi exhibit as I should have been, yet it affected me.

Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as [Gandhi] ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth. -Albert Einstein

By the end of the Gandhi exhibit, I wanted to hug every picture I saw of Gandhi.

His letters and images from his many non-violent acts decorated the six or so hallways and rooms of the museum dedicated to Gandhi. One room was painted black and had only one glass display case at its far side. Inside the display case was the loin cloth that Gandhi wore when he was shot and killed. On it was his faded blood. As the Lonely Planet said, this museum does not pull its punches. In reading about his acts and his letters, you realize this was a very special man.

Of course my urge to hug Gandhi pictures was complicated by the fact that his image is on all the currency here in India, “Look at that greedy American. He loves money so much that he goes around hugging it.” Actually, I’ve been told he is on the money to remind the spender of the money of Gandhi’s teachings. Many of you already know this, but I’ll write it for the other, more stupid people reading this, the wheel at the center of the Indian flag represents the charkha (the wheel used for home spinning cotton) that Ghandi promoted to help empower, economically and otherwise, the poor people of India.

My last full day in Madurai was spent buying Khadi fabric (homespun fabric), and I had some shirts and a pair of shorts made from it.

To Pune


On Wednesday morning, I boarded the Mumbai Express train in Madurai, leaving behind me Prasad and his family’s kindness, and thirty-one hours later I arrived in Pune. I don’t want to talk about what happened on the train…just kidding. Most of what happened on the train was me sleeping. The rocking of the train helped me sleep 16 of the 31 hours. In fact, I would sleep even when I didn’t want to sleep: upon waking, I would pump my fist skyward and say, “Damn the magic sleepy spells of this train!”

I rode in the Tier II AC sleeper car, which means I got my own little compartment and bed. There are at least two downsides to riding in the AC cars. One, it costs 4 times more money than the non-AC sleepers ($40 versus $10). Two, you are isolated from the outside because the windows are not very clear compared to the lack of glassless windows in the regular sleepers. As a result, I spent at least 3 hours standing between the train cars looking out of the doors of the train at the beautiful amarillo Indian countryside.

The coffee guys got to know me and would pop their heads in my compartment each time they passed, “Coffee?” and I would buy their delicious coffee that cost me 5 rupees.



Pooja picked me up from the train station, and we took an auto-rickshaw to Souravh’s house, where I have stayed for the last 5 days. Souravh and his family have been most hospitable to me, and I have been eating delicious home-cooked Indian food for breakfast and lunch. In the evening we usually meet up with all the folks from Auroville and a few other of their friends. A post detailing the food I am eating is on its way, but until then…Pav Bhaji.

Pune is a nice city of about 4 million people (doesn’t seem like that many) and is known for its multitude of universities and its role in the technology boom. Unlike Madurai, Pune is currently in its rainy season, and all around is green. There are many public parks but many more slums.


On Sunday morning, I woke up and accompanied Souravh’s dad on his daily 4-mile walk through a national park located on one of Pune’s many undeveloped (for the time being) hilltops. Then, I got dressed in a Kurta that I had purchased at Fabindia and went to a dolls wedding at the school where Souravh works: I helped decorate for the wedding the day before and was the groom’s father. This is the school where Pooja and Souravh built an activity room for the school children, the Kaleidoscope.

The retired bus that was to be delivered is currently in bureaucratic limbo, but Pooja, Souravh and I are currently working on designing and building a playground for the school (mostly out of old tires). Jimmy Jolly, a good man from the States who recently passed away, designed and built many tire playgrounds, and he’s worth a Google or two. We plan to finish the playground in a little less than a week, at which point I will leave Pune to TBD but probably Mumbai (only three hours away).

Tonight I am going to visit the office where Ankur and Raj Laxmi. They work with one of the first architects in India to use green designs, and he started doing so 15 years ago. Afterwards, we are going to Ankur’s for some pure veg dinner.


Reader Comments (3)

Wow!! To all of it. Can't wait to see the photos of the playground.
I concur with your assessment of our Asia education.
Love ya,Leah
great talking to you even if for a minute.

July 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLeah

I am glad that your having an amazing time! I can't wait for food description posts. I think that the magic sleepy trains are the best, so unlike airplanes. Love you,


July 18, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterkmh110

dear arun, i barely recognize you in the picture - you look so indian. :) i am thoroughly enjoying reading your posts and it makes me miss pav bhaji greatly. was so lovely to hear from you. hugs! --mina.

July 19, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermina.

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