Tag Archives: india

National Book Award for Nonfiction Goes to Katherine Boo


Katherine Boo in East Lansing August 2012

Winner, Katherine Boo, the first-time author of Behind the Beautiful Forevers has written a captivating book.  It is a book about real people in the slums of Mumbai, India.  It reads like a novel and it is reveals the life paths of many individuals in a setting unfamiliar to most of us.

I highly recommend the book!

I had the good fortune to visit India earlier in 2012. The complexity of the challenges of the country became clear to me from my visit.  Then, coming back and reading this book amplifies my understanding of the complexity and humanity of the country.

Polymic reports, “Boo, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter currently writing for the New Yorker, takes readers of The Beautiful Forevers inside a Mumbai slum for a story of a boy and the harsh and illuminating after effects of crime — or perceived crime. More broadly, it explores themes of inequality and the perseverance of families striving for something better. In her acceptance, Boo praised Shadid, who she described as also believing in the ideal that stories can be used to give voice to those without it.”

This website will take you to three NPR stories on Katherine Boo and the book Behind the Beautiful Forevers. http://www.northcountrypublicradio.org/news/nprnews.php?id[146346989]=Katherine%20Boo

The following four blog posts are ones I have posted related to India.






Reflecting upon my journey in India and . . .

I returned form two weeks in India at the beginning of March.  The memories, seeds of learning and images of people and places are very much alive for me.  The journey proceeds as I continue to think deeply about the bounty of stimulating experiences India presented to me,

I traveled with the Great Lakes Leadership Academy.  I am a coach for GLLA. Being a coach for Michigan leaders is humbling and being able to experience India with them – under powerful planning of GLLA – leaves me of flowing with appreciation.  This richly provocative and inspirational journey allowed us (me) the experience of meeting and getting to know many people – professors, a tribal leader, business leaders, leaders and workers in non-profits, educators and innovators.  All of these people were obviously dedicated to making a difference.  This people are energetic as they contributing to the common good.  They are part of the positive, forward looking energy of an India emerging out of the depths of poverty.

The journey forward for the people of  India will be a long one.  India’s past journey to independence was several decades long.  That was a non violent peoples revolution.  The citizens and leaders of today are also involved in a dramatic times of possibilities for India.  Economic, social, and cultural change – locally and globally – is underway.  The future could be brighter for the people and the country of India.  I hope it is!

My own journey is to open myself to understanding and knowing more. I see understanding a knowing is processes that don’t end.  I see thoughtful reflection and intentional learning regarding India: its people, its heritage , its possibility to be a good place to focus my attention.  India is changing.  This kind of change isn’t easy or smooth. I appreciate the complexity of change.

In the process of learning more about India I have read a new and powerful book.  Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death. And Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (2012) is story of the real people living in the disparate slums by the airport in Mumbai.  This is nonfiction that truly reads like fiction. It is remarkable!

Less than two,months ago I was on a bus inside the Mumbai and I caught a quick glimpse of the slums outside (adjacent to) the airport wall.  The sight left me with a desire to know more these slums.  And to know more about this country and it’s complexity. Katerine Boo’s new book has been a way to learn.  It was a great read and I recommend it.

I still want to know more about India. My own journey of understanding and knowing continues.


Picture from http://m.theatlanticcities.com/arts-and-lifestyle/2012/02/secret-life-indias-slums/1336/

Port-Au-Prince: A City Of Millions, With No Sewer System

My last post focused in part on the fact that sanitation and toilets in India are not commonplace.

Then today I heard this piece on NPR about the city of Port-Au-Prince in Haiti and the serious situation that city has with sanitation.

If issues of sanitation in developing countries are something you want to help with here is a project taking place in East Lansing, Michigan to raise money.


Please join the Third Annual MSU SAID Fundraising Gala. This year, they are supporting the construction of sanitation infrastructure in rural areas surrounding Coimbatore, India.


In rural India, sanitation facilities are only available to approximately 25% of the population (WHO/UNICEF). As a result, many people use open areas to meet their sanitation needs. This leaves the area’s clean water supply open to a multitude of risks which endangers public health, agriculture production, and the community’s overall safety.  Many pathogenic microorganisms exist in human excreta, which can lead to the spread of disease, such as typhoid, cholera, and diarrhea. About 4 billion cases of diarrhea per year cause 1.8 million deaths, over 90% of them among children under five (UNICEF). In addition, increasing urbanization makes it more difficult for women to find discrete areas to meet their sanitation needs, and they are forced to venture farther away from their home which jeopardizes their personal safety. Furthermore, the septic tank byproducts can be used as fertilizer to improve local agriculture, and reduce input costs for the farmer. This development project addresses the most pointed needs of a community in a holistic, sustainable way. Because toilets are significant investments, frequently costing the equivalent of a year’s wage, our help is needed to support their efforts.

MSU SAID is working to raise $12,240 to support the construction of 40 twin pit toilets in the Coimbatore region of India. This design is efficient, affordable, and low-maintenance.

This evening will include Indian inspired food, entertainment, speakers, henna, and a silent auction. All proceeds from the Gala go directly to Shanti Ashram’s sanitation initiative, benefiting the construction of twin pit toilets in rural Coimbatore.

Contact msusaid@gmail.com with questions. Prices are $10 for students and $25 for non-students. Tickets should be purchased prior to the event.

More details about the gala and project can be found at:


And tickets can be purchased online at:

Karen and I can’t be there for the event but we did donate to the cause.

India ~ What the Citizens Have and Don’t Have

India is growing fast and the economy is on the rise.  Yet, not all of its people are moving upward.  Many, many people are still poor and the living conditions are often still thoseof a developing nation..

There are contradictions. Cellphones are easier to come by than a home with a toilet. According to the census, 36.4 percent of the households surveyed had toilets at home.  And, almost 60 percent have a mobile phone. Yes, there are contradictions.

Many go without toilets. Many wait in line at public water sources. Sanitation and water are not common.  We saw and experienced this first hand during our visit a few weeks ago.  And it is a way of life.  It doesn’t slow down the vital focus on building a brighter future.


The work ahead: to bring water, sewers and sanitation to the all Indian citizen is still out of reach. Yet, progress is being made in many ways and in time, this issue will be resolved.

The fact that TVs and cellphones are common is in large part because they don’t require the infrastructure investments that are involved with water and sanitation.  India is a large country and the challenges of infrastructure are real.  And India will be and is making progress in the area of water availability and sanitation.

Listen to four minute NPR story on this issue.

What seem impossible is not always really so. ~ Gandhi

Feeding a child is not charity!

“Feeding a child is not charity,” says Shridhar Venkat.  Shridhar Venkat is the director of the Akshaya Patra Foundation, which runs one of the largest school lunch programs in the world in India.

When I was India earlier this year I was able to see a lunch program for public school kids.  The day I was there each child was getting one hard boiled egg.


This was the meal for the day for over 1800 elementary and secondary students at the school we visted.  One egg each.


And these were the cooks that cooked the lunch.


And these are some of the students that will each benefit from this school lunch program.

NPR recently had a nine minute piece of school lun ches in India I fournd interesting.  You may want to listen to it.

Feeding children here in America and anywhere in the world is not charity.  It is a responsibility.  Martin Luther King Jr. went even further in his acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.  He said: ” I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”  He was correct!!!!!!

When we think of others we shall cease to think only of ourselves. ~ Gandhi

Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency


As I reflecting upon being in India I am reading and thinking about Gandhi and his contributions to India and to the world.

Gandhi talks about the importance of connectedness between and among people.   He says, “Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency.  Man is a social being.  Without interrelation with society he cannot realize its oneness with the universe or suppress his egotism.”

As I think about these words I am drawn to consider the challenges we all face when people want to have their own thinking prevail over others.   In such a world there are winners and losers. This kind of thinking does lead to a oneness with the universe.  This kind of think is wrapped heavily in ego. I think that the complexity of the world requires people to listen, learn and think together.

The complexity of the world can lead adults to respond to problems in ways that are almost devoid of interdependent thinking in spite of the potential good that can come from collaboration.  Kegan and Lahey explain, “When we experience the world as ‘too complex’ we are not just experiencing the complexity of the world.  We are experiencing a mismatch between the world’s complexity and our own at this moment.  There are only two logical ways to mend this mismatch – reduce the world’s complexity or increase our own.”  Kegan and Lahey conclude that, despite the challenge of developing interdependent thinking skills, adults can develop their thinking.  In the interest of more effectively addressing the many challenges adults face, it is clearly worth increasing our own complexity by becoming thinkers who are good at thinking with others.

The promise of people thinking interdependently through contentious problem situations is that such efforts can ultimately achieve significant positive outcomes for society and/or for the individual. When we engage in interdependent thinking, we can all influence and be part of positive change.  We all will not get our way or be the ‘argument winner’.  But if we invest in the concept of thinking together with an open mind, a willingness to understand how others think and feel, and a desire to reflect and rethink throughout the process of coming to an actionable decision – we can accomplish much together. 

     Words of Gandhi by Richard Atenborough, Newmarket Press, 2000, page 75

Kegan, Robert, and Lahey, Lisa L. Immunity to Change. Boston, Massachusetts:Harvard Business Press, 2009 page 12 – 14

India and the Aakash ~ A Transformative Time in Indian Education

I have just returned from two weeks in India.

We had the good fortune to spend time in many sectors of modern India.  We visited a k – 12 school and talked with a the principal and the state commissioner of education.  They spoke of the fact that they would be providing every tenth grader with a laptop computer in the very near future at a cost of $35 per tablet.  That computer is the Aakash tablet.

As you can see from pictures I took of the school it is not a physical presence like that of American schools, yet by moving toward connecting students to the power of the world wide web they will have access to new and abundant learning opportunities.

In our visits with young Indian business and manufacturing leaders they explained that major efforts and capital are in place to make WiFi access available throughout the whole country of India over the next five years.  This will make it so the tablets will be able to access the internet outside of schools.

India’s current population is 1.2 billion people.  As the project unfolds to distribute Aakash tablets to students the opportunities for learning have just dramatically increase for students and citizen of India.


When you take a step forward, you are bound to disturb something. ~ Indira Gandhi