Let me introduce myself and provide some background to this article. My name is Bernie Poole and Ive been an Education World columnist for some time. Usually, I write about technology use in education, but Im wearing a different hat these days. Im in the city of Tirupati, India, on a Fulbright Scholarship -- and I suppose you might call me a roving reporter for Education World while Im here.
The week before Christmas, I traveled to the city of Bhubaneshwar, capital of the state of Orissa, to attend the Indian Aging Congress 2006. In retrospect, I enjoyed every aspect of the Congress, in spite of the long train journey, and in spite of a brief, though nonetheless nasty, bout with Delhi Belly on Christmas Day.
The journey to and from, a trip of some 700 km each way, took approximately 24 hours spread over two days and was somewhat arduous. But I was with a companionable group of professors and students from Sri Venkateswara University, who made the time in the trains pass pleasantly enough. Professor Ramamurti, the elderly yet youthful Father of Gerontology in India, proved to be a particularly compatible companion, a mine of information, and a good listener too. We discovered that we have a lot in common, both spiritually and philosophically; his expertise in gerontology and my interest in assistive technologies jived felicitously. I always came away from our conversations more informed.
From the train, I got to see the mile after mile of fertile farmland that runs the length of Andhra Pradesh. Rice paddies dominate, but there are stands of coconut palms, sugar cane plantations, and an abundance of other fruit groves and vegetable crops all tended by a workforce of local villagers who rise early with the sun and toil in the fields till the sun goes down. It struck me that this must be a timeless scene, for there are few, if any, automated machines in the fields. Bullocks are everywhere, pulling carts and drawing ploughs, and men and women with machetes, scythes, and hoes can be seen striding home single file at the end of an invariably long day in the fields.
Cows are sacred in India and are everywhere roaming free. Indeed, the Hindu -- and the vast majority of the Indian people are Hindus -- consider all living creatures sacred, which is why most of the people practice some degree of vegetarianism. To my western eyes, it is still amazing, in the midst of the most chaotic traffic scene, to see cows (and dogs, for that matter) lying about in the road, utterly unconcerned as cars and trucks and buses and auto rickshaws and cycle rickshaws and motorbikes and scooters and bicycles, and carts and people swirl about them. The people seem more concerned with avoiding the defenseless animals than they are with avoiding one another! Its a scene that has to be seen to be believed.
The conference on Aging was an education in itself. I went without expectations, tagging along more for the sake of seeing a slice of India than to learn anything about gerontology. But from the first presentation to the last, I quickly discovered that the topic was highly relevant and of significant interest. It was easy for me to make the connection with assistive technologies, a subject Id learned much about since meeting Yvonne Singer, my friend with cerebral palsy, some two years ago.
My own presentation, which focused on the promise of assistive technologies and Universal Design and its relevance to the field of gerontology, was well received and proved to be the springboard for fruitful engagement with many of the delegates, who were all either academic researchers or medical doctors in the fields of gero-psychology, bio-gerontology, or geriatrics.
Academically, I am a jack-of-all-trades, so I came away from the conference like a thief in the night, having gained much and given little in return. I suspect that will be the story of my Fulbright to India, for I already feel enriched beyond measure by my immersion with this land and its people. The purpose of the Fulbright Commission is to foster peace and understanding between peoples. If, by my presence in India, I can contribute in some small way to this worthy goal, then my brief visit will have been worthwhile.
Author Name: Bernie Poole
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