Archive for March 15th, 2009


Fulbright Conference – Kolkata, Varanasi, and Kathmandu

Mar 15, 2009 in Uncategorized

Ghats of VaranasiTwo weeks ago I left Madurai for Kolkata (used to be Calcutta) for a Fulbright conference focused on expanding cultural exchange programs and academics in South Asia. It was a great opportunity to share the work I have been doing at Aravind with a ten minute presentation. Half of the time I talked about the stem cell research, and the other half I showed a clip from the video documentary that brought me to Aravind, “Infinite Vision. The other presentation that I gave was as part of a panel discussion about the essence of the Fulbright program, mutual understanding. In that panel I had a chance to show pictures of the outreach and community involvement that I have done in my time at Madurai. It is amazing how much has happened in such a short time!

The conference was fascinating, with people from vastly different fields discussing their topics. In one case there was a Fulbrighter who gave their presentation on the study of ancient Zoroastrianism manuscripts which was followed by one of my friends who presented on the marketing of deodorant spray to the increasingly independent population of Indian women. I can say there have been few experiences that have matched the enlightening time I had at that conference.

I was also proud to be chosen as one of three conference attendees to discuss my work with members of the Kolkata press. I’m not sure if any of what I talked about ended up in the newspapers, but I will post any articles that I find on this blog.

After the conference we had a day of sightseeing around Kolkata, which included the beautiful Victoria Monument, Indian Museum, Mother Teresa’s Charity, Tagore’s House (winner of 1914 Nobel Prize in Literature), and the planetarium. Kolkata is unique in that they have a lack of auto rickshaws, being largely outnumbered by taxis, unlike Madurai. Also, they have some proper rickshaws, where the drivers pulls you in a cart. I had to try it once!

The next stop after Kolkata was Varanasi (also known at Benares), which is considered by Hindus as the most holy city on earth, as well as the first city. It is the most famous place to dip into the Ganges River to have all of your sins washed away. It was quite a sight as we went in the early morning and saw the sunrise over the Ganges. Other than the Ghats, or steps leading to the waterfront, there was not much else to see there, but at least I was with other Fulbright friends who came along.

After traveling more than two days straight by bus, I reached Kathmandu. There are currently political tensions which made travel fairly difficult, especially when the bus we were on had to bribe students to allow us past more than a dozen road blockades they had formed. It was an experience, but the ultimate goal of seeing Mt. Everest was finally accomplished with a one hour mountain flight. It was a beautiful view, and at last I can say that I have seen the top of the world!