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Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India – Week 5

George and friendsTime flies when you’re having fun, or when you’re visiting twenty-two small scale industrial facilities, interviewing their owners, drawing conclusions, and proposing solutions for their problems.

About two weeks ago, my partner, Tony Marinov, and I returned to Baroda to conduct our research assignment. Before departing, we designed a nearly fifty-question, thorough questionnaire attempting to analyse all the issues surrounding access to finance and employment within the Makarpura Industrial Cluster. While our un-air-conditioned, barbed-wire enclosed office space was not a luxurious accommodation during our time in the field, this time we were expecting it.

Even though I’ve spent over a month in India so far, I did not feel like I had truly lived here until my time in Baroda. Our first visit to the city was too abbreviated to really gain our bearings. With a more extensive second visit, Tony and I were able to fully immerse ourselves as locals. We made friends with our neighbours, played soccer with the village children every night, ate at the local markets, hell, we even organized for milk to be delivered to the office every morning!

Every day we got a rickshaw to and from association driven by a man named Ravi. While he knew very little English, Ravi immediately became very close to us. He told our interpreter at one point that he did not think of Tony and us as “customers,” but rather as “close friends.” A fifteen minute rickshaw ride everyday would turn into an hour of hanging out with Ravi’s fellow Tuk Tuk drivers, stopping for Chai on the way home, and taking loads of photos. I began to realize just how important photos are to the culture of India. Ravi didn’t have a phone or computer to receive the pictures, so we sent them to his brother just so he could look at them. Our last day in Baroda happened to be Ravi’s birthday, so Tony and I took him out to a hotel for a birthday lunch. He was incredibly appreciative. Even back at EDI, he still calls from time to time just to check in and practice his English.

In terms of the actual work, we could not have asked for a better sample of Industrial Units. While there were a striking amount of similarities between companies, it was their differences that strengthened our research, and supported our proposals. Tomorrow, we give our final report to a panel of professors and EDI staff. After compiling our near 40-page report, coming up with (hopefully) helpful proposals, I could not be prouder of the work we’ve done.

As a group we’ve continued to explore Gujarat and beyond. From our delightful weekend in the lake city of Udaipur, Rajisthan, to the hectic streets and markets of Ahmedabad, I firmly believe that there is no better way to really get to see India than working here. We are not on vacation, but rather forced into daily Indian life, even if that means sometimes stepping out of our comfort zone. Had our group not been open-minded or adventurous, we would never had observed the beautiful ritual of call to prayer in a mosque. We would never have tried some of the best food I’ve tasted. Sure, I might not have spent so much time in the bathroom, but I’ll leave India knowing that I took full advantage of everything this country has to offer.

With just a few days left working at EDI, Chris, Justin, Joe and I are gearing up for our big cross-country trip to Mumbai, Jaipur, Agra and New Delhi. At times I’ve been desperate for western customs, and it sure hasn’t been smooth sailing, but with only two weeks in India left, I’m coming closer to admitting that I might actually miss this place.

George Stern, GEO EDI intern

Reserve Bank of India Reflections: Week 5

As we reflect on five weeks spent in India, a number of emotions are evoked. Many of these emotions we have touched upon in the previous installments, and I fear it would not do to dwell on these. It is, however, coming towards the time when some among us look to the west, and the impending journey back to our respective homelands to be with our kin. Alas, such thoughts should be pushed to the back of one’s mind, a flicker in the darkness, for we have time enough. Time enough to laugh, time enough to love.

group-photo“I can see the Shire. The Brandywine River. Bag End. Gandalf’s fireworks, the lights, the party tree’’. (Tolkien, 1955)

The euphoria of finishing work on Friday was directed, in typical fashion, towards Koregaon park for a night of turpitude. There was however one notable absence, that being your humble narrator, who the gods had seen fit to incapacitate with a fever. Nevertheless, the gallant survivors soldiered on. Uniting with friends both old and new, a great night was had by all, but for one exception. As it turned out, the night proved very much to be a tale of two cities, for a second among us found the euphoria he was searching for ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times’. The following morning started early for those in a fit state to travel. A short number of miles away lay the Symbiosis Institute, a glorious campus set back in the hills, unsullied by the spread of urbanisation. After a number of fascinating conferences and a sumptuous feast, the day was done, and the weary travellers returned home.

The next day, awaken by a burning desire for adventure and a relatively clean bill of health amongst the group, we departed for Lonavala, a hill station nestled between Pune and Mumbai. Having purchased a return train ticket for Rs 30 (or 30 pence to you and me), we seated ourselves in the cramped compartment and trundled down the tracks, the light patter of rain accompanying us for the duration. Upon our arrival, we were met with a daunting 12km to reach the famous Lohgarh Fort, situated precariously on the precipice of a sheer face. En route we passed a number of caves and waterfalls, each presenting an opportunity to breathe in our immense surroundings. After weaving our way up the changing path, we finally reached the bottom of an exposed set of stairs, made treacherous by the deluge that was now falling from the heavens. By the time we reached the higher sections, the stability of the rock beneath us had given way to a torrent of water, threatening at any point to sweep us to swift demise on the jagged rocks below. We pressed on, however, our spirits buoyed by the raucous chanting of our Indian counterparts ‘Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivaji’ they sang, as far as we could understand, paying homage to the once King of Maharashta who had occupied the fort. Upon reaching the summit, we stood victorious. I fear the expression soaked to our skins would not sufficiently describe our condition. For many of us, the suspicion was that we had in fact absorbed water, the monsoon actually permeating into our very souls.

pic2Needless to say, the prospect of the return journey to the station did not fill us with any particular relish, and as such we found a willing driver, who (this being India) allowed us to ride standing up in the back of his pick-up truck down the undulating mountain roads. This proved a source of much hilarity for those who were still making the climb, many finding themselves unable to contain their glee. The chanting continued for the entirety of our journey ‘Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivaji, Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivaji’ following us down the mountainside.

That evening, having returned home, we found ourselves deserving of a hearty meal and decided to venture to the Hard Rock Cafe. Hoping against hope that this would be the night that we would find the dark meat that our stomachs so craved. Our prayers were answered, and each bite of the tender, juicy, succulent burger was all we could have dreamed of. The work week continued as it is inclined to do so, broken up only by a trip to Mumbai to see various offices of the Reserve Bank. We were able to ‘interact’ with several important members of the banking world and learned a lot about the stability of the economy and the process of the destruction of money.

Epilogue: On our inability to encapsulate our surroundings and the ferocity of the monsoon.

For we are but simple men with simple words, and for such things we must look to those who possess the necessary verbal proficiency, lest we pass up the chance to embody our experience through the written word. On this occasion, it is through paraphrasing Coleridge that one might best project our intentions, ‘Where oft the sacred river ran, through caverns measureless to man’. For here the artistry of the words flows as do the rains down the luscious green valleys. And one need look no further for an estimation of scale, for ‘measureless’ embodies all that is India. The majesty of the landscape that greeted us at the summit was matched only by its vastness.

For ‘measureless’ was the queue of well wishers, waiting for an introduction. As were the miles covered by foot and by wheel. ‘Measureless’ was the deluge that did cover our brow, that weighted our garments, and did steel our determination. Is not the power of the monsoon measureless? Does is not giveth and taketh away? A force beyond measure, its fingers reaching across the horizon; arteries breathing life into a barren land.

But in our reverence, prey that we forget not its apathy to the plight of man, for one can hope alone to avoid its wrath. Its appetite for destruction stretches indefinitely, its roots of malice stretch deep. But measureless are the bonds that join us. Sacred and immortalised ‘we few, we happy few, we band of brothers’. (Shakespeare, 1599)

 

 GEO RBI interns

Internship at EDI Leads to Suruchi

edi2Week four began with an early morning train ride to the rural town of Bardoli with our new sister and EDI employee, Mahima Behen.  We would be conducting field research of a proposed blacksmithy cluster with stakeholder interviews and field visits.  Our train arrived in Surat around 10AM where we stopped for some chai before hopping on the bus line that would take us to our destination.   Our ride took us an hour outside the city through sugar cane fields and rice paddies to our accommodation at Suruchi.

edi4We were being put up by Mr. Ramkumar, the creator of the Suruchi.  Suruchi is involved with the production of agriculture tools, vermicompost, organic seedlings, and solar cookers to employ and support local blacksmiths, farmers, and women.  Currently, the organization is waiting for funding from a government scheme that will aid in the creation of a blacksmithy cluster.  Suruchi has many different interventions planned to create a strong network of geographically dispersed artisans and to save a traditional trade being destroyed by the rapid industrialization of India.

We were given a two bedroom, two bathroom cabin, equipped with a small dining room and porch.  The bathroom was modest and electricity and running water were never certainties but our home for the next week was quiet and relaxing.  Our meals were prepared by Masi and were simple and delicious as the ingredients had been harvested from our cabin’s backyard.  It was great to get out of the city to replace the nonstop honking with the sound of birds and wind rushing through the fields.  Life slowed down for us and we were able to experience a unique and beautiful side of India we had yet to see.

Monday we walked through the blacksmith production facility at Suruchi and sat down to talk with the artisans who worked there.  We saw the process from raw materials to finished goods which were sold out of the front of the production facility.  With Mahima Behen as our translator, we got an insight into the blacksmith’s feelings and attitudes towards their trade, its future, and their relationship with Suruchi.  It was a great day and we were excited for our field visits the next two days.

Our evenings were spent relaxing with yoga and meditation and discussing our cultural differences with Mahima Behen over cards.  We shared many laughs and the three of us grew to become good friends.

Our second day was spent visiting rural blacksmiths who work from the front of their homes with very limited technology and resources.  We drove for hours through endless fields of green and crops with small markets and gathering places scattered throughout.  The roads were rough and the journey demonstrated the transportation challenges people who live in these areas face.  We saw several different sized operations on Tuesday and were greeted with food and chai no matter what type of home we stopped at.  Seeing the artisan’s workspaces and speaking to them gave us insight into the realities of the proposed cluster and rural life in India.

The third and final day of field visits we visited the farmers who used the tools produced by the blacksmiths and purchased vermicompost from Suruchi. The hospitality continued; water came first, followed by chai, and maybe some lunch depending on the time of day. We discussed the current shift towards organic farming and what they see in their future.  We were walked through their fields and shown their compost operations and came to understand the harmony that exists between farmers, blacksmiths, and Suruchi.

Thursday we had a debrief meeting with Mr. Ramkumar and began to compile the data we had collected into a report.  That evening we made friends with several of the children whose parents were living and working at Suruchi.  We ran around barefoot and made games out of whatever rocks or sticks we could find and overcame our language barrier with smiles and laughs. 

Our final day we continued to work on our report and relish our last few moments in rural India as our train back to Ahmedabad was leaving early the next morning.  Our trip to Suruchi was what we hoped to get out of this internship experience.  We were given a chance to immerse ourselves into a community, speak with its people, make friends, see how they work and live and how business functions in such an environment.  We read about the challenges of rural blacksmith businesses and farmers before our field journey but we only came to understand them from diving in and interacting with the artisans.  We came to understand the NGO Suruchi and the challenges it shares with NGOs around the world as well as the unique challenges India throws at them.  We saw a different side of India we were not exposed to thus far and we enjoyed every moment of it and learned so much.

It is sad to think our time here is two thirds over as we move into week 5.  We will be spending the remainder of our work period compiling our final report and reflecting on our experience in Bardoli as well as relishing every last moment in Ahmedabad.

Joe Fernandez & Sachin Babbar, GEO EDI interns

Illicit Cheeseburgers, Monsoon Rains and Self Help Groups: Week 4 at RBI

Thirty-four. That is the number of malaria tablets Chris has left, and also how he has been counting down the number of days we have left in Pune.  Since we are only here for 15 more days, Chris has devised a complex formula for calculating how many days remaining, where he takes how many malaria tablets he has and subtracts 19 (he has 19 extra tablets plus another 9 tablets at home as he has to take the malaria tablets for 4 weeks upon arriving home which is 28 days). That should give the days that we have left.

The relentless deluge over Pune this week heralded not only the coming of the long-awaited monsoon rains but also marked for us the passing of our internship’s halfway point. Though the frequent downpours threaten the Americans’ continued education in cricket, we refused to let the grey skies dampen our spirits. As such, Saturday evening saw us head for the delicious food promised by a bastion of traditional Indian cuisine, the German Bakery. Almost unanimous approval resulted, although one of us was devastated to order the Arrabbiata only to be presented with what was, indisputably, Bolognese. However a return seems inevitable, due to the whispered promise of some illicit bacon cheeseburgers, a luxury we have only dreamt of these past three weeks. After consuming outrageous amounts of Banoffee pie, German Sachertorte and Baked Cheesecake for dessert, we journeyed across Pune towards the High Spirits Café, where at least one of us found greater leeway in his Indian relations. A relaxing Sunday closed the weekend, though Liam and Ollie still succeeded in soldiering to next door’s Frozen Monkey for an afternoon gin and tonic.

The highlight of our week was a field trip taken on Tuesday to visit Chaitanya, an NGO dedicated to building the capacity of the rural poor, particularly women and children, by promoting self-reliant and sustainable institutions to enable them to lead the process of development for a better life. This mission is achieved through the promotion of self-help groups (SHGs) which allow for group saving and borrowing in small villages. (Yes I did say self-help group, and yes I did abbreviate it.) Chaitanya facilitates these SHGs and their formation into local Clusters and larger Federations of 200-400 SHGs. Since being founded by Dr Sudha Kothari in 1989, Chaitanya has grown to have a reach of over 116,000 women across the state of Maharashtra! As well as providing these women with opportunities for saving and borrowing, they also provide training in a range of areas including legal, healthcare, financial literacy and improving livelihood. The women who go on these free training courses then return and share their knowledge with other villagers, contributing to the village’s capacity to sustain itself without outside assistance. We were taken to visit one such village where we were invited to the self-help group’s monthly meeting. Through Ashwini, our translator from the RBI (our Marathi is unfortunately lacking) the group was revealed to be a well-organised and professional institution, and our conversations with the villagers showed us the confidence and independence they had found through the SHG and the friendships that had formed in the process.

Chaitanya’s work in that one village, replicated in thousands more throughout Maharashtra, has improved the lives of countless women and their families. The good that has come from one woman’s belief in developing the capacity of others was inspirational for us all and is reminiscent of the words of Nelson Mandela:

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead”.

James Wright, GEO RBI intern

The Harsher Realities

My team (Justin, Bo and I) are producing real life stories about social entrepreneurs, which will hopefully become part of the first year curriculum at EDI to help inspire the students here. It’s now the back end of week 3, and we’re halfway through the internship. After two weeks of reading, learning and discussing with our supervisor, yesterday my team were finally awarded the opportunity to start doing some practical work towards our project with a two day visit to our first social entrepreneur  having been arranged. Unfortunately, this was an opportunity I had to leave to Justin and Bo, as I am currently dealing with the harsher realities of living in a new continent…

Today marks my fourth bed-bound day, after falling horribly ill last Tuesday. Beyond just a regular stomach upset, this left me wrapped up in bed, in a hoodie and blanket with the A/C cranked up to 32 degrees because I had suddenly started feeling very cold (an unusual feeling in India) and soon after I started shivering uncontrollably. Fortunately this passed after a few hours, and I’ve been slowly recovering since, but just not quite back to full health yet. I would love to be able to issue some words of caution or advice for future interns, but unfortunately I hadn’t eaten or drank anything different from any of the other interns here, and no one else fell sick on the same day. I’m clueless as to what caused it. Luck of the draw, I guess, and one of the inherent risks.

But, I don’t want to end this blog post on a pessimistic note, and I would also like to talk about our weekend trip away last week. We’d decided to get out of Gujarat for the weekend and go visit the very scenic city of Udaipur (in Rajasthan), and it certainly was a welcome break. We visited the City Palace, which is a very interesting and not very typical traditional Indian looking centre piece of the city. The next day we took a cable car up to the top of a big hill (or small mountain, I’m not sure which it was) which had spectacular views of the city. We (thankfully!) also had beer for the first time since we left, because alcohol is illegal in the state of Gujarat, although as we’ve heard, it does not actually stop people. However, oddly, despite being legal in Udaipur, you won’t find beer on any menu and the charge is disguised on the bill as an abbreviation or increased tax…. fishy!

In Udaipur we also discovered other foreigners, which in Ahmedabad to call rare would be generous, and it left us staring at them as much we get stared at in Ahmedabad. In Ahmedabad, we’re quite the novelty, people want to talk to us, take photos with and/or of us, poke us or just very politely continuously stare intensely at us. Occasionally the people who approach you will be after some money, through begging or persistent selling; however, I would dare say is not as bad here as it is in the tourist hot spots. Here, in fact, locals have helped us out on a couple of occasions when rickshaws have attempted to overprice us, as I’m told there is currently a movement to fight these kinds of behaviour as a part of the population want to improve India’s international image. It is for the sake of those people that you end up haggling over pennies.

Overall, on weekdays when we’re stuck at our slightly secluded campus, with the repetitive food, seclusion, painfully slow internet, the lack of a way to get a little taste of home as literally everything has been changed for the Indian pallet (not even Snickers or Coke tastes the same, and all the crisps are flavours you’ve never heard of, and even the ‘most authentic’ foreign food restaurant in the area mixes things up. I ordered Bolognese, what I got was indisputably Arrabbiata) and other minor things start to hack away, day by day, at your admiration and patience. But on the weekends however, when you venture out to the city or elsewhere, and you get to eat amazing food at vibrant street food stands, haggle with auto drivers, mingle with the curious locals, see incredible buildings with architecture you’d never find at home, and see sights like cars driving the wrong way, four people on a bike, a complete disregard of queues, sights that the locals simply dismiss as “this is India” when you question them about it. That is when you really grow an affection for this place, which I have. I can comfortably say I love this country and can’t wait to explore it further.

Jewel of the East: Week 3 at RBI

As we near the halfway point in our internship, we have started to become accustomed to the daily routine at the RBI. Friday evening rolled around, the working week was over, and it was time to celebrate the two birthdays in the group. The Wari pilgrimage was making its way through Pune, reducing the city to a standstill; we found ourselves bound to the local vicinity. Forced to travel on our weary legs, we managed to stumble to our oasis: the Frozen Monkey. Sweet relief flowed through our bodies as we supped from the golden nectar filled chalice that is the frozen monkey beer tower.  As the GEO team will be able to testify, a night of revelry was had…

James departed in the early hours of Saturday morning to meet his parents, who had ventured across the plains on holiday. In losing James, we had also lost our silent guardian, our watchful protector. Without the group’s self-appointed tour guide, we were distinctly lacking in cultural knowledge and thus, found ourselves jumping into rickshaws and heading to the local sports shop. After a successful shopping spree, we returned kitted out in our ‘replica’ Indian cricket shirts and armed with bat and ball, we were ready to educate our American counterparts on the beautiful game of cricket.

After a long and lazy Sunday morning we set about exploring what the market streets of Pune had to offer. Pungent aromas tickled our nostrils, the hustle and bustle commerce spilled onto the streets. We wove our way through crowds, industry and enterprise greeting us at every turn. Marvelling at the rapid progression of the genetic modification of animals in India, two herds of cattle waltzed lazily past us, a fifth limb emanating from the nape of their necks. We ventured into a ‘tailors’ with the intention of leaving with a made to measure suit. The reality found us, marred by the language barrier, with no such luck.

As the start of the working week raised its head, we awoke from our restful slumber and were once again greeted by the resident yoga master press ganging unwilling volunteers into bodily contortion. Work progressed at a rapid rate, with minimal distraction and a level of intensity in the office unmatched by even the most motivated of workforces. The only relief we allowed ourselves came on Brent’s birthday when we descended upon BBQ Nation for a feast of heavenly meats: fragrantly spiced prawns, succulent chicken, melt-in-the-mouth cod. It is safe to say that we left thoroughly satisfied.

We now leave you to dwell on the sombre words of one of our own, a reference to our dwindling time here in paradisiacal Pune:

“Weep not for what you have lost but for what you are yet to lose” (Desimone, 2015).

Indian Immersion: Week Two at RBI

Given the previous week’s laid back approach to work, the RBI interns wondered if the whip would be cracked on our exceptionally flexible backs (thanks to the continued 7am yoga). However, it has become apparent that this internship is really about exploring India and the culture rather than spending hours working in the office. At the time of writing (Thursday midday) we have only spent one day in the office this week. (This travesty occurred on Monday.) Since then, we have been exploring Pune with great enthusiasm.

Saturday 4th: Although we woke up with sore heads, our desire to make the most of our weekend quickly put self-inflicted illness aside. We made our way to the Shaniwar Wada: a palace fort which is a central feature of Pune. However, on the suggestion of James Wright and his encyclopaedic knowledge of Pune, we made a quick detour to the Pataleshwar Caves first. In the 8th century, a temple was carved out of the solid rock of the caves. Well worth a visit although our cultural naivety was highlighted when we walked anti-clockwise instead of clockwise around the temple. When we arrived at the fort, we were greeted by an intimidating set of gates – the walls are the only remaining structure of the palace; however, it’s actually a very peaceful way to spend the afternoon.

Sunday 5th: This was a down day with not much to comment on except for the arrival of delegates from SAARC countries from other parts of Asia. The previously uninhabited hostel (which is much more like a hotel) was suddenly filled with government advisors and CEO’s from Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Monday 6th: Back to the daily grind.

Tuesday 7th: We went to visit the Aga Khan Palace, a site of historical significance as Gandhi was imprisoned there for 2 years (1942-44) during India’s struggle for independence. This was a majestic building, contrasting with the conditions in which many people in the surrounding area live. It was Jake’s 26th birthday; however as it was a school night celebrations were put on hold until Friday.

Wednesday 8th: We woke early in order to make a field visit to a women’s self help group (early enough to earn a respite from yoga). Face daubed with red paint and anointed with rice we received a traditional greeting and a very informative talk. This field trip truly put into perspective the difference people coming together can make.

Thursday 9th: To honour the SAARC delegates, there was what only can be described as a feast. Waited on hand and foot, we witnessed a cacophony of different harmonies.  Although not a word of the lyrics was understood, the sentiment was much appreciated. To wrap the evening up we were treated to traditional Nepalese wind dancing.

Friday 10th: This is James Wright’s birthday, and we will also celebrated Jake’s birthday earlier in the week. Consequently, Friday evening will be enjoyable (provided Pune isn’t at a standstill because of the pilgrimage which is passing through).

Women’s Trousers, Waterslides and Work: Week Two at EDI!

tony-blog-2-foodLess than a week in, we were already pretty bored of dhal and rice for dinner every day, so on Friday evening we decided to take a trip out to a nicer restaurant. After successfully crossing a six-lane highway “Frogger”-style, all nine of us piled into what can only be loosely defined as a nine-seater taxi. We told him our destination, 23km away, and off we went. However, after 20 minutes of driving, we didn’t seem like we were any closer, so we decided to just get dropped off opposite a Pizza Hut. While our dreams of a lovely restaurant were gone, the cheap and plentiful pizza was a nice break from the usual curry we got at the EDI campus. Thanks to Rocky, we managed to negotiate a decent price for some rickshaws (tuktuks) to take us back, and we got a true taste of Indian driving (though we’re pretty sure we still got ripped off…)!

EDI-temple-visit2On Saturday we went to a local market, Law Garden, to explore and do some shopping.  Negotiating with the locals was quite fun. That is, until Sachin and I found that the scarves/wall-hangs we got for Rs. 750 each after considerable bargaining… were hugely overpriced – Panos got the same one for Rs. 300!! After settling down for some authentic (& cheap) street food, we made our way back to EDI, this time a little more experienced in the art of tuktuk negotiating. On Sunday, we visited a round of temples and a stepwell. One of them, Aksherdam Temple, seemed extremely holy as they didn’t allow cameras or phones in there, nor did they allow Sachin and I as we were wearing shorts. This meant that we had to buy some women’s trousers, much to the amusement of literally every single person in the temple… though in all honesty, the trousers were pretty cool. So, we queued up, expecting to see some super holy temple, and as soon as we get in, we see a huge waterslide! Then, bumper cars, a roller-coaster…  it was basically a fair! The temple itself was beautiful and it was such a shame that they didn’t allow us to take pictures. We then saw a gorgeous “water show,” which was basically a combination of lasers and projections on fountain streams. The show told us the story of the guru who set up the temple, but of course we understood none of it, so it was down to Rocky to translate for us. On the way back, we finally got our wish and ate at a quite upmarket restaurant…with Sachin and I still donning our women’s trousers, naturally.

Tony-Temple2To say the first week in India was full of confusion would be an understatement. The second week has been a little more clarifying – the group as a whole is now more aware of what is expected of us in terms of work. George and I spent a night in a nearby city, Baroda, visiting the local foundry cluster and interviewing the managers and CEOs, in order to finalise our research topic. It was a very fulfilling experience; I think both of us truly enjoyed the opportunity to connect & interact with the owners. A 1st year student at EDI that we met playing football, Abhisheik, joined us on the trip as he was from Baroda. He showed us around the city, and we ate at his family’s restaurant which served authentic Gujarati food. We took a public bus with no air conditioning back, just so we could experience the Indian way a little better, but if it wasn’t for Abhisheik, we might’ve never made it back to Ahmedabad!

The second week has been fun. I think we’re now a little more settled in, largely thanks to the hospitality of the locals around us.  We’re going north to Udaipur, Rajasthan for the weekend, and then George and I will be spending 10 days in Baroda to do some real research… exciting times!

Ahmedabad, India: An Introduction to a New Place

StatueSpirituality has to be one of the biggest and most influential aspects of life here in Gujarat…that is, besides diarrhea, crazy driving, and early morning peacock squawks. It’s been almost two weeks since we have arrived in Ahmedabad, but my perspectives have already shifted so much. While I have enjoyed every moment in India so far, it is by no means a vacation. We live life according to the ‘3 Cs’: Confusion, Curry, and Camaraderie.

EDIConfusion. A week in to the internship, I still could not give a complete answer to what I was supposed to be working on. My partner, Tony, and I are constantly met by contradicting statements from two supervisors who I can’t confidently say know our names. Even with a ‘two step forward, one step back’ approach, I think we are finally making progress. We are working with the Industrial Forging & Casting Cluster of Baroda, about a two hour drive from EDI’s campus. After interviewing managers of four units within the cluster, Tony and I seek to tackle the issues of Accessing Finance, and Employment within the cluster for our research topic. Despite our recent progress, however, I have come to realize that most things here are completely left to chance. Take this example: Had Tony and I not played soccer every night, we would not have met Abhishek, who would not have told us he lived in Baroda, so he wouldn’t have joined us for our trip, which would’ve left us without an interpreter, rendering us utterly incapable of getting back to EDI’s campus. Thank goodness for soccer! Over the next two weeks, Tony and I will be venturing back to Baroda to conduct more intensive research. This time, without Abhishek. We are up for the challenge!

WorkshopCurry. The occasional western meal has broken up an otherwise 40 consecutive curry dishes. While it sometimes can be a bit repetitive and induce questionable stomach interactions, the food has been delicious. As a vegetarian back home, the state of Gujarat is, for the most part, 100% vegetarian—heaven for me! While hard to distinguish between dinner and breakfast at times, the variety, and spice is wildly different to any western cuisine. Having a nut allergy has required me to be a bit more focused while eating meals, but with one painful exception, I have been safe and successful. EDI provides us with three meals a day, but that has not stopped us from venturing outside of the campus to find local authentic eats at the various sites in the city. With four weeks of curry left, I definitely won’t go hungry, but a slice of pizza wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Joe, Justin, and GeorgeCamaraderie. This is a great group of nine extremely diverse gentlemen. We are comprised of students from USA, UK, Malaysia, Gibraltar, Bulgaria, and Sweden. We had absolutely no issues immediately immersing ourselves in friendship with open minds and positive attitudes. Though we stay within the confines of EDI for the work week, on the weekends we’ve traveled as a group to the Arkshardem and Adalaj Temples, the home of Mahatma Gandhi, a Mall, the Law Garden Market & Park. Tomorrow, we plan to leave Gujarat for the first time, and travel to the state of Rajistan to visit Udaipur. I greatly look forward to this trip, as it will be a nice group sendoff before we spend our respective times in different areas researching different clusters for the next two weeks. Other than our group of nine international students, there are hundreds of local Indian students studying for the post graduate degrees at EDI. Slowly we are familiarizing ourselves to the point where we can not only actually remember the names of the local students, but consider them friends as well.

No one expected this internship to be peaches and cream, but our positivity and adaptability has led us to enjoy every aspect of this adventure so far. If the next four weeks are half as interesting as the first two, then we’re bound to have an amazing time.

Reserve Bank of India: The Start of the Special Relationship

RBI-group-shot-meal2

As we nervously descended on the canteen for our first meal, it suddenly became apparent that this was to be our first meeting with the American half of our entourage. From our very first encounter, it was clear that the special relationship had begun. With a symbiosis on a level that we have never before experienced, our eight hearts beating as one.

This spiritualism was demonstrated when we found ourselves unexpectedly taking part in the Hindu culture, with an early morning knock at our door by the campus’s Zen master. Morning yoga has brought peace and tranquillity into our daily routine and our instructor has showed us that frequent meditation relives stress and will reduce the risk and likelihood of cardiac arrest. Sessions run an hour long, Monday-Saturday, and are filled with unique routines to jumpstart our days. Although we are just beginners and learning the correct poses and proper breathing techniques, we believe that six-weeks of dedication will mold us into life-long yogis.

RBI-group-shot-park5With confidence brimming one evening after a couple of days of acclimatization, we ventured out for our first journey into downtown Pune. With rickshaws our chariots, we raced through the streets. A cacophony of horns accompanied us en-route to our destination Koregaon Park, a cosmopolitan district which provided a multitude of bars at which we sought to quench our near insatiable thirst.

Our time outside of the long slog of the work hours are spent doing a variety of activities. Long, mild evenings are spent playing cards on the roof terrace in the company of a hoard of resident Indian short-nosed fruit bats. Outside of our Yoga workouts, we also play football (occasionally joined, and ultimately shown up by members of the various training programmes run on campus). Recently table tennis tournaments have become incrementally more competitive in a similar vein to Wimbledon, which some of our party follow religiously.

RBI-office3The work aspect of the internship started slowly. After being shown to our office for the next 6 weeks, we took our places to begin preliminary research for our projects. Our education is however not solely limited to bank function. The members of faculty have all been determined to ensure that at every turn we are well looked after, but also gain an understanding of the history and politics of India. A communal screening of Richard Attenborough’s critically acclaimed ‘Ghandi’ gave a harrowing account of India’s fight for independence, as well as providing a sense of perspective, allowing us to see how the country has grown and developed. For many of us, this has evoked a period of reflection which is perhaps best encapsulated in the words of Robert Holden:

‘Each of us is called to do something in the name of love, to make sure that humanity comes to understand itself and is able to choose love over fear’.