Asia 2011 - Khammam

My first morning in India I woke up very late in the house of Pavithrans parents. Pavithran was out organizing events for us, his father was at work, leaving me with his mother. She spoke little english - unsure if it was lack of skills or she was humble, or perhaps she just felt as shy as me in the situation.

How to, ahem, do your thing at a restroom when there is no toilet paper but instead a bucket of water? I decided to not yell for help but use my imagination.

How to eat breakfast local style? I knew from dinner previous night with Pavithran that local custom was to eat with my hands and that it (lucky for me) was tolerated in India to use left hand, so turned down the kind offer for a spoon. But were I supposed to mix rice with all the curries? Or one at a time? In which order? What if a curry was too hot to dip my fingers into? Was the liquid stuff to drink or to mix with the rice or eat afterwards?

I asked for help, and first she just smiled at my alien useless language and then when I persisted, she patiently demonstrated with her hands in my food how to do. The only natural thing to do, really, and I dearly appreciate her help and patiency. But wauw, it was mind-blowing to me! Since early childhood, fingers in food is a forbidden thing: "Don't play with the food!". On top of that, having someone else handle my dish while at the table is something I associate with being very old and needing to be spoon-fed.

In the afternoon we went for a small hike to an old stone fortress in the middle of Khammam - with a great view of the sun setting.

Next day we went to Sarada Institute of Technology & Science where I gave my first talk to about 100 students. I had intended to provide concrete facts on Debian generally and on my pet project, Debian Pure Blends, but then the night before decided to radically shift focus to their situation in the early twenties - as best as I could imagine it. Pavithran had clearly expected a different style talk, but I liked it and believe it was received well by the audience as well.

The teacher responsible for the event, Bhukya Jabber, afterwards asked for hints on running Debian at their computer lab. I suggested to not lock down access but instead make it easy to reinstall, and he explained how he was quite interested in a larger degree of learning-by-doing (which I had also promoted in my talk) but was constrained by curriculum dictated higher up in the educational system.

Late that day Pavithrans father introduced me to CPM Khammam - the local offices and community center of the Communist Party - and to a colleague of his at the place, N. N. Rao. I instantly fell in love with the place and its atmosphere, and now have an open invitation to come back to spend 1-2 months to study and to collaborate with other users of the place (including some kids hosted there) on Free Software.

Next morning we headed back by train to Hyderabad…

I am still amazed how radical it feels sticking my fingers into food. Not the physical feeling (I am not that disconnected from my body) but similar to a discovery I had as a teenager: After 7 years of piano lessons (and numerous other instruments less patiently) I gave up because I felt it was too difficult expressing personality through the instrument. After that I exclusively sang - as I had always done, but only now did I recognize my voice as a serious musical instrument. Similarly I now realized that eating with the fingers is not just yet another eating style like fork+knife or sticks - it is the natural one. Obviously, in hinsight.

This text is part of my Asia 2011 scriblings.