At the shores of Ganga

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A fresh wind blew from the hardly recognizable mountains when I was half-way above the Ganga. Reaching Rishikesh by midnight, the last cab driver had dropped me at the steep stairs to the Lakshman Jhula suspension bridge. On the other side, I found myself meandering through small streets on the desperate search for the booked hostel. The next morning proved that the village was home to even more tourists than cows: countless road stalls sold yoga mats to foreigners in wildly coloured buggy pants, large loudspeakers treated the pilgrims on the ghats with meditative music. Wise white-haired men sitting on little tables in the water performed prayers and pilgrims took dips in the holy water of the goddess, thus washing away the sins of their past. Since I was not completely sure about its immaculacy, I limited myself to a little refreshment and went for a cup in a nearby restaurant instead. Only after I found out that I had drunk holy tea: when I saw them washing the dishes a bit further downstream.
Roaming around in the village, I met Marisol, a yoga student and world traveller from Chile, and Björn, in Germany a yoga teacher, who was following a strict fruit diet imposed by his Ayurveda Guru. A somewhat strange ascetic, he was serving his guru already for several years as guinea pig for the test of new Ayurveda practices, involving applications of ghee into his eyes and vomiting in front of some larger conference audiences, as he phlegmatically explained.
One early morning, at the ghats, I was approached by Anil, a young mendicant, asking me to buy a costly ghee for his prayers. A longer conversation along the lines “why don’t you work? why do you expect society to pay for your personal faith?” – “finding work is not easy” – “life is not easy. life is a struggle” left both of us a bit perplexed, obviously living in very different worlds.
The bus ride back to Delhi, passing the crowded pilgrim city Haridwar, became a rather rough experience: sitting on the driver’s lap for about eleven hours for these hardly 220km since someone had cut a tree blocking the main road for several hours. One specific picture was stuck in my mind though: on the way to the bus stop, I had walked through the poor areas in the outskirts of Rishikesh. There were children playing in front of their tent housings, and they had kites high above in the sky.

Food matters

Telling by the time and efforts my colleagues spend on our daily lunch order, food is a very important topic for Indians. Alongside with breathing and sex, eating is the only activity which makes one exchange substances with the surrounding. No wonder that religions, claiming to frame our behaviour within the world, insist on specific purity provisions for these intimate contacts.
Those codes infiltrated the deeper layers of the psyche to an extent impervious to rational discourse: I remember when in a Hindu temple back in Jaipur, I observed people greeting a long-haired old man, a guru, by touching his feet. By my pure sight he abruptly shied away, not to be touched by the supposedly meat-eating foreigner.
When coming back from a concert at Purana Quila (“old fortress”) last week, we saw many rickshaws transporting tied-up goats: during the Muslim festival Eid al-Adha (“Sacrifice Feast”), worldwide 100 million goats are slaughtered each year in memento of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac. This year, just in time, a public petition had enforced the interdiction to spill the blood into the river Yamuna passing Delhi where the idols of god Ganesha have been immersed a few days before (Ganesha Chaturthi).
I noticed that as a light side note on the otherwise tolerant and peaceful coexistence of religions. But fronts get harsh when it comes to beef: in Delhi, as in most states of India, the consumption of beef is banned by law. In his readable book on the Indian mindset, “The Indians”, Kakar writes: “The eating of beef and thus the killing of cows by Muslims has historically been the most important source of Hindu bitterness. … The Muslim eating of beef and the Hindu abomination creates perhaps the most effective barrier … between the two communities.”
Last night, in Uttar Pradesh, 45km from Delhi, a mob gathered in front of a Muslim’s home who was suspected to have slaughtered a cow: the 50 year old man got killed, his son severely injured.
As my boss Nitin puts it: “Politicians talk about missions to Mars and their vision for the country, but elections are decided on cows.”

The Volkswagen Scam

Next morning in office, back to “normal Delhi life”, my colleagues greeted me with a Faustian smile and the latest news: “the Volkswagen Scam”. Volkswagen had a special software built into the diesel engines of 11 million vehicles to pass the US emission tests. Under normal conditions these emission controllers were switched off for enhanced performance, exceeding then by forty times the emission of nitrogen oxide pollutants permitted by law. My little scam stories from Jaipur faded away in view of this outrageous and shameless fraud.
I don’t know about the reception in the german media, but by the time of this blog (20/10-15) the repercussion has presumably already dwindled. Here are some background facts why we should be seriously concerned:

  • The car industry is by far the most important and largest industry sector in Germany, in terms of revenues (about 400 bn€/yr.) as well as in terms of employees (about 1 million), making up for more than half of Germany’s export surplus and more than 40% of expenditures in german R&D.
  • Volkswagen, with 10 million cars produced and a revenue of 202bn€ in 2014, is the largest car manufacturer globally.
  • Interest links between industry and politics are strong: since years, to the increasing irritation of the public, chancellor Merkel is stalling the European legislation for more restrictive emission standards in private transport “to prevent damage to the high-end segment of german limousines” while greenwashing the sector with a few costly electric vehicles and “the German Energiewende”. We highlighted this already in an open letter to Dirk Niebel – Mr. Niebel expectedly never answered, but rather shifted from development aid to work as lobbyist for arms shortly after.
  • The revealed fraud is a scandal, proving the cynic recklessness of some business over social and environmental norms. I hope that those responsible will be brought to civil justice.