Roads and more.

The sound of bus horns invades your mind to the extent that hearing yourself think becomes a distant memory. The movement of motorbikes weaving in and out of cars with buses in hot pursuit is constant creating the sense that one is in the midst of a hurricane. It is a miracle that any one survives the journey to and from work, yet surprisingly it works. The motorbikes move to the side of the barreling buses in a fluid motion and the cars as if polite neighbors signal to one another as they pass back and forth from their respective lanes.  

The scenes that play out on the roads of India are unparalleled in ability to shock a newcomer and often leave individuals paralyzed at the side of the road unwilling to enter the fray. As a foreigner entering the country I had been made aware of the fact that the “traffic regulations” may differ from say Paris or New York, but although it may have seemed like madness when I first entered it there was a method to this madness. 

Having worked as a bicycle currier in the past, one learns very quickly that you are at the bottom of the food-chain on the road, and as a result one must become hyper-aware of what is going on around them just to get from point A to B. This is the case in London, in New York, in Paris, and in Pondicherry (the closest city located to where we were staying in India) it seems. This axiom, that carriers across all cultures, forces cyclists from all corners of the world to notice details on the road that are not always clearest to someone that has spent their entire life driving in a car.  

Europeans and Americans are always quick to warn you about two places in particular: New York and Paris. Both are major metropolises known for their diverse cultures, incredible architecture, and, among other things, their low quality of drivers. This is a surprising fact seeing as these are some of the most heavily regulated roads in the world—there are cameras on almost every corner, you have street lights on every other street, and during rush-hour you can always count on the appearance of an overzealous traffic warden. It would seem that all you would need to do is follow the intricate guidelines and there would be an avoidance many traffic fatalities, however this is not the case. The majority of drivers in big cities act and drive in a way that says, “I shall be going first as I am the most deserving.” Whether they are on a scooter, a motorcycle, a car, a bus, or a truck. There is no acknowledgement of the hierarchy that naturally exists on the roads.  

In India however, there seems to be less of an individualistic mentality when it comes to the rules of the road. It is true that a motorcyclist will always find a way to the front of the queue when it comes to a traffic light and will be quick to overtake you on a corner, but for the most part there is a natural tendency to fall into the natural hierarchy of the roads. A bus or a truck, being one of the larger vehicles, will just continue driving oblivious to what or who may lie in its path, and when this happens there is no panic on any of the smaller vehicles parts they just move. They do not claim a right of way. They do not stand their ground under the assumption that this small win will garner them some pride for the day. They just get on with it. They understand that the truck is bigger than them so they have to move.  

This idea of just getting on with it, even with the lack of guidelines, seems to be applicable much more to those on the streets of India than those on the roads of European cities. Europeans, and Americans, have become so caught up in the luxuries and the small details of life that they seem to get hung up on things that really carry little weight. Why does it matter that the barista did not say “your welcome” when you said “thank you”? Why does it matter that that person with the silly black briefcase got served at the bank before you? The truth is it does not. If we could all just shift our mentalities to be a little more like the small vehicles on the roads of India then there might be less crashes and more movement.  

Sustainability From A-Z

By: Beatriz Salgado

Day 4: December 12th, 2017

Today we visited several organizations: Upasana, Pitchandikulam, Yatra Arts Media and lastly Marc’s Café, though the last one wasn’t an organization, it was the highlight of realizing the significance of sustainability and what it means to be sustainable.

I must start with the first visit of the day at Upasana. The design studio founded by Uma, is textile-based company designed for social responsibility, which produces clothes that go beyond vanity.

The organization has several different projects revolved around sustainability and conscious consumption. While Uma talked and as we watched a movie that explained the evolution of cotton and textile, I realized how many of us don’t stop to think about the process of making a piece of clothing. That was what was so impressive at Upasana, giving importance from the very first step in making a garment, from the seed of the cotton that the farmers will pick and later be transformed in clothing. It was touching to understand the importance of textile and farmers in cotton communities within rural India. Upasana strives to change impact of fashion industry into a positive one.


After Upasana, we went to Pitchandikulam. They are a unit under Auroville Foundation dedicated to the preservation and restoration of the indigenous Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest of Tamil Nadu.

The foundation strives for environmental awareness, capacity building in the community, health camp and even health camp for cattle. Additionally, Pitchandikulam engages in medicinal plant awareness. For example, they teach what kinds of remedies such as, herbal tea and food are healthy and prevent illness. The organization has a pop up store with local products, which later on the trip I went to and was dazzled by what I found. There were so many different natural products each with a specific function for healing and benefitting the wellness and health. It was so encouraging to see so many options of remedies made from natural ingredients directly from the evergreen forest of Tamil Nadu. It was a completely new perspective on ways to be sustainable with the environment.


Later, we headed to the Yatra Arts Media, which was one of the organizations that really caught my attention. They focused on producing documentaries on social and health issues to educate school children. They also raise awareness by performing in street theatre and involving the locals.


It was just so fascinating to see such a creative outreach to raise serious issues and provoke behavior change and education through art. The various cultural programs made by the arts foundation was truly inspiring and a new way to engage with communities.

We finally ended the day at Marc’s Café. Little did I know that later on, the cozy yet bustling place would become our little ‘hub” for working and having access to Wi-Fi. Marc’s Café was such a warming and friendly environment, the “Starbucks” of Tamil Nadu. We had such an enriching talk with Marc, the owner. He talked about how the cultural trend for coffee started in India and how he got interested in the Coffee business.

While he explained his interest in wanting to buy beans from the producer and the importance of knowing the whole process of where coffee comes from was when I realized the real meaning of sustainability. I was able to connect all the pieces of the puzzle and notice the immense role sustainability plays on practically every issue. It was then that I realized how sustainability was possible in such an array of topics from fashion, cosmetics, well-being, architecture, music, education, art, environment, culture and even coffee! It was then that I started thinking about two questions. “How do we think sustainably?” “How do we live sustainably?”


The first field note…

16.12.17 Rubini & the Samugam Foundation 

by Dorothea Mursch-Edlmayr

We’ve started our second day in India with our first yoga session on the roof of our Guesthouse Mitra at 7 in the morning, before we took the bus to Pondicherry. On this Saturday we had four NGO visits schedule. The ride to Pondicherry – such a loud, crowded, colorful and culturally different place and the overall heat – was overwhelming. We were confronted with the real Indian experience already. And then we stopped at our first NGO, the Samugam Foundation. I was so fascinated with the city trying to absorb everything I saw, that I didn’t mentally prepare myself for the Samugam Foundation. So I stepped out of the bus and was completely surprised by the children that were waiting for us. They grabbed our hands, talked to us, introduced themselves, hugged us and pointed at different things. It happened so quickly and suddenly every one of us got picked by a child, taken by the hand and accompanied to the house they live and get educated in.


Rubini (r.) and one of her friends

My girl was Rubini. She is 6 years old and wore a beautiful blue dress, my favorite color. She was smiling the whole time and was full of energy and excitement. She showed me the kitchen, the bedroom, the music room, she introduced me to her friends and taught me a clapping-singing game that they all love to play. She seemed happy and like a normal child. Although we didn’t speak the same language we communicated through gestures, pointing at things and facial expressions and hand signs. We spent 20 minutes together before she showed me my seat in the room we were about to hear a presentation from the founder of the Samugam Foundation.

This nonprofit organization gives shelter to the gypsy, street and poor children, providing them with a home, food, education, sanitarian care and overall protection with the mission of giving them a chance to become a part of the society. These children grow up in poverty and misery facing illness and death because of non-existing hygiene standards concerning food and body care, being unaware of their destiny because of a lack of education. This NGO tries to give the children a chance for a better life. I was sitting in this room, watching the videos about gipsy children eating dirty food from the dump, living so close to this polluted area being excluded from society with no possibility for a change. It was hard to take and almost overshadowed the fun playful 20 minutes with Rubini. She was one of them and I felt very helpless. My eyes were wandering around in the presentation room and suddenly I saw a quote by Ghandi on the wall that gave me hope in this moment of brutal reality; “only through education we can change the world”. Inequality and unfairness exist and there is no sense in being upset with the world how it is, we just need to keep this words in mind and help the people through education to change their destiny towards a better one. I went back to the bus with gratitude for my life and hope for Rubini and all the other beautiful children that welcomed us so friendly at our first NGO visit in India.


Read more about the Samugam Foundation on their website: