...Today, I couldn't stop thinking about Christmas Vacation, one of my family's favorite holiday movies. There is a particular scene in which Eddie asks Clark if he is surprised by his unannounced arrival for the holidays: Eddie: You surprised to see us, Clark? Clark: Oh, Eddie... If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn't be more surprised than I am now.
Today, I knew how Clark felt as I sat discussing public and foreign policy with leaders of the Communist Party of India before joining them for chai and bread pakora during their campaign rally.
I went into the slums today to receive feedback from my students' families about the upcoming project I alluded to yesterday. However, the Communist Party of India (CPI) beat me to the school. They had set up a tent, a loudspeaker, communist flags, decorations, carpeting, seating, and even a stage. They had opened the barren school...to use as a storage unit. I found it ironic that the first time tables and chairs were put in the local school was while a politician set up for his campaign speech.
While the venue was still being prepared, I went on the roof of a neighboring slum house to get a picture of the political leaders waiting to "go on stage."
Noticing my curiosity and pale skin, the candidate and leaders invited me to sit with them. The two lowest-ranking individuals jumped up to give another volunteer (a Canadian) and me their seats. The candidate was a Sikh. And just like every other Sikh I have met here, he was very cordial and welcoming. But then again, so is every other politician. However, he was certainly not a fan of the Unites States of America.
Having never knowingly met an outspoken communist, I took the opportunity to learn a little bit about the candidate and his philosophies. By now, we had piqued the interest of the locals. A large group gathered around to watch this unusual interaction. After the candidate and his cohorts finished thrashing the USA, capitalism, and capitalists, we had some very interesting talks about his proposed "revolution" of the Indian economic system. I didn't agree with most of it, but I was open-minded, listened intently, and walked away knowing much more than when I sat down. I was especially intrigued by his answers to my questions about China. He and his followers seem to have set China as their model economic system and wanted me to know their predictions that China will soon overtake America as the world's top economic power, based on GDP (just so you know, America's GDP of $14.5 trillion is still 2.3 times larger than China's). I took the "kill them with kindness" approach today and I think it was definitely the best route.
The summit-style meeting came to an abrupt end as the rally geared into action. I was given some communist booklets in Hindi. However, I'm not entirely sure those ever get read. They do, on the other hand, make great souvenirs.
After the outdoor ceremonies, chants, and speeches were complete, we were summoned into the tent to enjoy chai and pakora. Once we had finished our snack, we were kindly asked to leave so that they could tend to their "confidential" business.
Some of the school kids took the opportunity to show us their homes. I will return soon with a tripod so I can get good pictures inside the very dark and tiny rooms. One of girls, who is 16, lives in a single 5x10 ft room with her parents and two brothers. She sleeps with her parents on a twin-size bed which is just a plank of wood. Her brothers sleep under the bed. Yet, when we enter, we are still offered chai, biscuits, and the bed to sit on. Incredible!
Some more photos from the walk: