Glendora Press January 1970
Forever, You Were Victim Of the System
By DWAYNE HUNN
Kiki and Melody soon left the area, and I survived on a rice and dahl lunch that my cook left at the nurse’s chawl, where the girls had lived, and by eating out for dinner. The girls, plus Marilyn, Dave, and Jerry tried to nurture a UCD project from scratch.
For months they battled the red tape until they had purchased a piece of land in a slum area. They then rounded up plans, got a contractor, and found a shell-like material that would be cheap, easy and quick for construction.
Finally after about five months of having reached many peaks of frustration, disgust, and disappointment, they were ready to implement their plan.
They started clearing the land they were to build the peoples recreation-education-PCV living-center on and on the very first day the Indians, who were starting to understand the meaning of their project, pitched in. After two or three days, the group returned to the PCV hostel with faces that read exhaustion, disgust and frustration. It was not physical exertion that beat them, but the system.
The landlord from whom the land was purchased was not the rightful owner. The technicality which killed the program centered around something about the rightful owner refusing to sell the land unless it could be counted as his required 10 percent public deed. Hazy politics killed a good project and embittered the volunteers involved.
Jerry and Dave were part of our PC b-ball team which started playing about a month and a half after our arrival. We had played a series of games in training at Columbia and looked pretty good.
Our first night of Indian b-ball didn’t reflect the same. Nagpadda Neighbor House, considered one of the four or five best in the state, was our opener. They were all little guys and they, some in bare beet, ran us off their dirt floor with a score around 100-60.
It was pretty embarrassing for us big, bad Americans to walk home through the crowd hat night. I could make plenty of excuses, but our Indian rivals would just demand equal time or a rematch—neither of which I, or probably my wind, could supply, so I’ll just give a few excuses.
Al-34, Bill-30, Kevin-40, Jerry-27, Dave-33, Dwayne-24; yes, in time we all had numbers, but those were not on our uniforms. Those were the number of pounds which were not on our frames anymore.
Under such redesigning, the old two-footed chassis did not feel much like running, in any gear. Running their light, little frames was all those brown guys knew. What they were telling us was we’ll teach you the game our way, in our climate, on our dirt floors, with our greasy foods to fuel on.
When Bill and Kevin moved into the YMCA they were natural attractions because they were Americans. After a few months they were attractions because they were also the best coaches around and the neatest white guys that neighborhood ever knew. Girls and guys from 12-20 knew Bill and Kevin for all the teams they coached, and what they did through coaching was more than just teach b-ball.
The Indians knew some of the fundamentals of b-ball, like run and shoot. It took someone with a different outlook to stress the importance of teamwork and steady hard practices. Lingering caste ideas were quickly drilled out in Bill and Kevin’s system of play.
B-ball was a tremendous public relations asset for the corps. The Peace Corps may be well known here and in some educated circles throughout the world, hut in cosmopolitan Bombay it was little known.
Well, there are many Indians who can’t afford the luxury of picking up hitch-hikers and who know nothing about Kennedy other than his face and that they liked him. However, many of those know that the Peace Corps is a good basketball team filled with Americans.
It’s the team with a couple “DARa Singhs,” in other words big, tough guys named after India’s best wrestler; it’s the team with Zubair, the only four-foot, pre-teen, seventh man in India’s big leagues, and our leader.
Ball was fun, and as sports usually do it made us a pretty tight unit on or off the court. But it sure made you tired, especially when it was a night game far from home and one had the bus, train, and the walk to cope with before one reached the rack.
Those were the nights, with a post-game celebration of orange soda, a bus, a train, and a walk that I heaped especially large praises on the luxury of sleep as I had known it.
Passing bodies sleeping on the streets, in open spaces between buildings, on maidans, on curbs, on train benches; used to make me super-sleepy. I even thought, on occasion, like I’d just like to lie down with the masses. I never did though, and the thought made me appreciate my bed, even with the ticks, mosquitoes, and occasional passing mouse that visited.
Since I had not mastered Marathi over the monsoon I spent more time at the orphanage, looked far social education programs that I could just plug into the chawls, and found a new work sire. Before I left the center, though, I’d learn more about getting things to grow.
Because I was white and could play the role of someone fairly important, or was too tired to show how unimportant I was, I had swung, without knowing how great a quantity it was, six liters of milk for the girls and myself, during our third month in India. There was, for the average Indian, a waiting period of over a year to receive even one liter of milk.
It was too much and, though I continued to drink much of it, we gave some of our allotment to our cook and to another friend. If it was that easy, I figured it could be done on a grander scale. So by running through the red tape maze as an American in a hurry, and it still took a long time, I set up a milk feeding program for about 60 pre-nursery school children.
To ensure that the milk powder, contributed by Uncle Sam through Catholic Relief, was not pilfered to the black market or others, the kids had to be fed while in school or brought to the school by an older person with a cup and drink the milk on issuance. It was a good program and once it was set up I only checked infrequently since the women handled it beautifully.
An old mali, Hindi for gardener, was the real driving force behind one of my last projects in the chawls. I had suggested to Dr. Sabnis that, even in the city, people could, since most were recently immigrated farers, start kitchen gardens with hardly any capital needed. I even suggested that I might be able to supply some seeds. He was skeptical. I was too.
From what I had seen of the sand of the maidan and the debri sewn ground between the chawls, I didn’t think much could grow. The mali, when I approached him on the possibility of starting a garden on the ground between the center and the nursery, only said, “seeds are not available, shah.” That was all, aside from a not too well hidden fear of having to do all the ground work, he listed as a drawback.
A week before the monsoon hit he and I were raking, digging, and clearing, and I got more lessons in the “clean hands mania” of caste riddled India. My two young friends and Marathai tutors, Radashom and Dilip, when I explained the principle and strength behind such an undertaking, agreed.
But when I called on them to pitch in with the work, they did so for only a few minutes before they feigned a reason to leave. During hours of labors stretching over a few days the mali and I had no more than ten minutes of help, though we had many who would stop, observe, pass on, laugh, or move to play games on the maidan in front of us.
We finished two days before the rains came. I was still skeptical that anything would issue forth from the sterile land. The mali merely said, “Barsat girta hai, seeds laga hai,” which meant “rains fall, seeds will come up.” Two days after those rains kept tumbling, those green shoots kept coming.
It was a joy to have green things grow outside the window when all around was the sand color, the gray masonite color, the sprinkles of garbage color.
We had to make an addition to the garden right after our first crop. Due to unanticipated crop depletion (by the hungy and poor), we added a barbed wire fence. The produce went to the nursery school kids, and, I hope, that old mali got his share.