In the 1940s, Mahatma Gandhi approached Manibhai Desai with a quandary that had been troubling the spiritual leader of the nascent nation:
Why is India so poor?
Desai, an expert on sociological issues in India, replied that the answer lied in the persistent poverty experienced by the millions living in rural India. Gandhi therefore implored Desai to bring economic development to rural India. Desai founded the Bharatiya Agro-Industrial Foundation (BAIF) with this purpose in mind in 1967.
After a few days with family in Pune, I arrived at BAIF’s Central Research Station earlier this week and have begun adjusting to the quiet town of Uruli Kanchan. Though just 30 kilometers from the sprawling city of Pune, the town does not have the same international feel as Pune. I wondered, perhaps as India’s founding fathers did, why there is such a cultural and economic disparity between cities and their outlying towns and villages. The answer from my perspective might be found in the journey between the two adjacent areas, which took a full hour (excluding the hour I spent waiting for a scheduled bus that didn’t arrive). India’s infrastructure, particularly its transportation infrastructure, is in disrepair. If commerce is to spread outside of the city limits, if people and ideas are to move efficiently, new roads or transport methods must be established.
As such, I have had to adapt to a desolate town with a populace that speaks a slightly different, more rhythmic Marathi accent. I am staying in the BAIF hostel, sharing my room with a 9-inch green lizard who stares warily at me as he clings to the wall. I have been able to make acquaintances with fellow hostel residents by impressing with my cricket bowling ability (we won’t talk about my batting). The food served in the mess is simple, traditional Maharashtrian, though I fear its repetitive nature may lead to a great deal of monotony in the coming weeks. I have found everyone to be respectful and knowledgeable, but also flummoxed as to how an American learned to speak fluent Marathi.
I have been collecting preliminary survey data with Balu, a veterinary technician at BAIF. Balu has been providing artificial inseminations, vaccinations, medical services, and general management consulting for hundreds of dairy farmers in the surrounding area for the last thirty-eight years. Balu did not pass the fifth grade: yet his knowledge of veterinary medicine, and the demand for his services is astounding. Together we traverse mismanaged dirt roads to visit farming families, who shower Balu with great respect.
For anyone reading this blog in the Pune area, come to Ship tonight at 8:30. Retro-Legendary Act (RLA) is performing classic rock from the 60s through the 90s. My uncle is their lead singer and never disappoints.