"All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware." Martin Buber
At the end of June I'm off again, for three weeks at a university in South Korea and a visit to Kyoto, Japan, then in August we will be in Guatemala looking at one of the world's greatest challenges: how to grow a lot of food sustainably on small farms. Come along!
Thursday, October 25, 2012
India 23: Three Remarkable Indian Women
I’d like to
introduce you to three eminent Indian women I met last week, another run of good
luck.For meeting two of the three I am
grateful to friends in Idaho.
Godbole—High Energy Physics
years while at the State University of New York at Stony Brook my Idaho Falls
friends Catherine and Debu Majumdar befriended Rohini Godbole, like Debu a
science graduate from India.Both were
in high energy physics which later sent the Majumdars to the Idaho National
Laboratory and Godbole back to India.She is today one of her country’s leading scientist and a member of its
Academy of Science.
I was lucky
she had time for dinner at her home because she’s in particularly high demand as
a lecturer after the discovery of the Higgs boson.She sits on the advisory committee which sets
the research agenda of the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland which verified
the particle’s existence.(I told the guy who named it the “God Particle,” Leon Lederman, who has a house in
Driggs, Idaho, but she was unimpressed.)
Interviewers consistently comment on Godbole energy for her
size, which are in inverse proportion to one another.She stands 4’ 8”.High energy describes not only her field of
study but her personality and opinion.At dinner with us are a retired professor of ecology and a videographer
with an interest in Indian agriculture, past and present.When the subject turns to genetically
engineered food it is Godbole who has the strongest opinion.She is still livid that a scientist who
vouched for the safety of GMO seeds for the Academy of Science had taken money
Her success is remarkable in light of a report released in
Washington this week saying that among the sciences, women have been most
discriminated against in physics.
Dinner, prepared by Rohini’s visiting mother, is typical of
Western Maharashtra, where everyone at the table is from and looks plain to a
visitor’s eye.But that rice with bits
of green has been marinated, not cooked, and rocks with flavor.Plain looking balls of something must be eaten
slowly to savor everything that is there.Something that looks like a large, doughy clove of garlic is sweetly
rich with cardemon.
To repeat something I’ve written before, how can there be so
many tastes I’ve never tasted before? And I thought my taste buds were over the
hill.Rohini is serving a special bottle
of French red which ends up mostly inside me.
She lives on the grounds of the Indian Institute of Science,
a campus so large and leafy that for comparisons I can only think of an intact
Spanish Land grant in California, like Orange County’s Irvine Ranch.She
laments how the neighborhood around the campus has become so inhospitable she no
longer rides her bike to buy groceries.But
when would she have found time?She’s recently
back from a month of lecturing in Vietnam and will be off in two days for
The Majumdar’s have been fondly remembered and we are both
eager to see that Debu—now retired and turned to writing—gets his novel
published.We have such a good time that
we’ve promised to have another meal together before I head home. Physics has not
been mentioned.Next time.
Jyoti Tanna—Each One Teach One
Last Sunday I have lunch at the home of Jyoti Tanna thanks to
my friend and neighbor in Boise, Catherine Scott, with whom she has shared a
friendship and been guests in each other’s homes over 25 years.Set in
the middle of Mumbai, Jyodi’s home is modest by American standards but well staffed,
including a chauffeur who will show me the city later.“In India we live like kings,” she says, “but
in America we must live like beggars.”Her husband ran a successful company that makes boilers and highway equipment.
Jyoti is the founder and still responsible for an educational
program called Each One Teach One.She
started out helping five students who were likely to fail in school.Eighteen years later the organization she
built supports 10,000 students at seven schools in Mumbai and two in the
villages.We watch a video she commissioned
a couple years ago I’ve never seen a better one.
I visited an Each One Teach One School in Bangalore last week
and 45 of its l0th Form students will come to Vindhya next week.I tell the kids this is India’s time; that
girls can now do anything they put their mind; to and that by learning a second language--English--they have expanded their brain capacity in a way that single-language speakers have not.
EOTO does not run schools itself, although its dozen patrons
in Bangalore have raised large amounts of money and material such as computers
for two private schools that receive partial government support.Rather it provides out-of-classroom
education, experiences, encouragement and life-coaching that can make the
critical difference.EOTO picks up the
cost of uniforms, books, libraries and transportation and pays for the next
step after l0th Form, which is usually a one or two year course in a
profession, by which time the student is 18.
The genius of EOTO is what its name tells us:students from upper grades tutor students in
lower grades.In similar fashion, those
who have graduated continue to serve as tutors or adopt students financially,
as I promise to do.
“Jyoti is the most remarkable person I’ve known in my life,”
says Catherine Scott and what is remarkable to me is how un-self important she
is, seeing to it that I am okay while in Mumbai (which anyone who lived here
before the politically-correct name change still calls Bombay, which has a
better ring to it but which, as a foreigner, I avoid.)Her driver picks me up at my hotel and spends
four hours taking me to the museum and sites that have captivated visitors from
early days.(See an upcoming post called
Mumbai III) She lends me a camera.She calls twice to see if all is well.It is.
Mankar is a banker and has a good banker’s demeanor,
rectitude, credibility and attention to the facts.Her career led her through commercial real
estate banking and banking in the Middle East and to founding a firm which pioneered “factoring”
in Mumbai—the sale of one company’s accounts receivable to provide ready credit.She does not have an Idaho connection, poor
We meet in her modest office at Swadhaar, a financial
organization providing “reliable, efficient financial services to the
vulnerable urban poor."She started it and ACCIONinvested in it. I’m in Mumbai to video a story about a loan to one of her clients.She too started small six years ago with
pilot projects. She twice thought they
wouldn’t prove out but ACCION’s advice was that it would work if she kept going.
Today Swadhaar has 85,000 loans in the
cities of two states and a staff of 400.
The acuity of her mind and her directness leads me to believe
what she says which is that microfinance cannot lead people out of poverty without
more emphasis on the quality of individual, direct loans, in larger amounts.Poverty, I would add, is alleviated most
immediately by the conditioned, direct payments such as the Bolsa Familia
program in Brazil and Oportunidades in Mexico; by lift--all--boats; economic
development as in China; and through education and training.
She is determined to build Swadhaar’s loan portfolio to 150,000
in fairly short order and launch an individual loan program of a kind not encouraged
now under Indian regulations.She will
also push hard for electronic money transfer for her clients, thereby reducing her
costs and enabling the poor to save, buy health and medical insurance and
participate in the market of the future like everyone else.