Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Professor Marjorie Silver - Trip from Shimla and the Girls' Ashram

On Monday, the students and faculty got into cabs and drove way out into the mountains to the girls’ ashram. It was a beautiful clear day. The ashram is so far away from Shimla, maybe over an hour through winding mountain roads. There are about 40 or so girls at the ashram, of all ages, getting an education. Most of them aren’t orphans, but come from families who are too poor to send them to school, so they come here for school, and to learn a trade. Every year, the students from the India program come out for a visit, to bring gifts, to tour the school, and mostly to interact with the girls. The visit is captured best, not through words, but through the videos I took. Click here to view videos from the girls' ashram. (The first video in this series is a trip that the faculty made to Justice Rajiv Sharma's home. His wife, Trisha Sharma, is the program coordinator in India.) (Editor's Note: Marjorie didn't want the first video posted because some of the shots of the faculty were less than flattering, but we couldn't separate the videos, so you get to see them as they were.)

I drove out with Trisha, our program coordinator, and she was in a playful, fun mood. We were stuck in traffic for long periods of time, but with Nick, our administrator, in the car with her as well, the conversation flowed, and the time passed with little stress.

Tuesday, Jon Van Dyke, who is teaching International Environmental Law, and his wife, Sherry and I, plus two students, took the toy train down to a stop called Kethleeghat. It’s certainly a small train, but by no measure the toy I had always envisioned. (See the linked video of the trip below.) As no first class tickets were available, we were forced into “general seating,” which segregated women and children from the men’s car. (Although apparently women and children were allowed in the men’s car. It was certainly more crowded.) We, too, were rather crowded, but it was an interesting experience---too long by half, however. I was rather surprised that almost none of the women---clearly from different regions---felt in any way obliged to make room for us, nor for that matter, for elderly Indian women who later boarded the train.I used my NYC subway skills to ask the four women sitting in the back banquet that was designated to hold five persons to please move one way or the other to allow me to sit. They did so quite begrudgingly! We became friendlier as I cooed over their babies, especially a one-year-old girl to my left. I pressed pictures of my grandson and daughter on her mother, whom I thought might have shown some interest, but apparently according to Fareeha, who translated some of what was said, she found it rather amusing, if not bizarre, that I would do so.

The most memorable---and anxiety-producing---part of the trip was when we stopped at Tara Devi. (Tara Devi is a beautiful 250-year-old temple between Shimla and Shogi.) The mother and child exited the train, but along with a man who apparently was the baby’s father, remained outside the window chatting with some of the others still inside the train, apparently friends or relatives. All of a sudden, I realized that the father had passed the baby through the open window to the woman inside! I began immediately to get nervous that the train would take off, with the baby separated from her parents. At a certain point, the woman held the baby balanced on the window ledge. And then the train’s horn tooted, and the train began to move! The parents did not instantly grab the baby, rather seeming to play a game of dare, running alongside what was then a rather slow-moving train. Perhaps they knew they could keep apace; perhaps they didn’t. All I know is that when the father finally reached up and grabbed the baby, I could let my heart return to its rightful place in my chest cavity!

The trip took about two hours, at least one more than we needed to get the full experience. Happily our taxi driver was waiting for us when we arrived at Kethleeghat. We stopped at a lovely Hanuman temple complex at Tara Devi, across the valley from Shimla.

The program had a party to say goodbye to some of our participants. I'm attaching a video of some of the fesitivities in the Oberoi Clarkes dining room: click here to view the video.

Tonight, Friday night, the Sharma family joined us as guests for dinner at the Clarke’s Hotel. We all dressed up in the clothes we bought here. We leave for Dharmasala in a day.

Click here to view the videos of the "toy train" from Shimla and the general seating in the women's car of the train.

By Professor Marjorie Silver, Touro Law Summer Abroad Program in India

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