Tuesday, January 2, 2007

The Indian Ageing Congress - 2006

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In retrospect, I enjoyed every aspect of the Indian Ageing Congress in Buvaneshwar the week before Christmas.

The journey to and from, a trip of some 700 km each way, which took approximately 24 hours spread over two days, 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 proved to be a particularly welcome 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 jiving felicitously. I always came away from our conversations more informed.

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. Temples dotted the hilltops in the middle distance.

It struck me 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 and hoes can be seen striding home single file at the end of the day.

Livestock includes bullocks and goats and chickens and domesticated pigs. Pigs also run wild, as do the dogs and cats. India’s milk supply is provided, not by cows, which are sacred, but by bullocks, whose milk is considerably creamier than that of cows.
Cows are everywhere. To my western eyes, it still amazes me, in the midst of the most chaotic traffic scene, to see cows lying about or ambling across the road, utterly unconcerned as the cars, and trucks, and buses, and auto rickshaws, and motorbikes, and scooters, and bicycles, and carts, and people swirl around them. It is a scene that has to be seen to be believed.

The conference on Ageing 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 to me. It was easy to make the connection with assistive technologies, a subject about which I’d learned much 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 a 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 and most definitely a master of none, so I came away from the conference like a thief in the night, having gained much and given little in return. I suspect that this 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.
I spent Christmas Day with the good folks from Sri Venkateswara University. As you see from the picture, they helped me celebrate in traditional style and I'm very grateful to them for making me feel so at home.