Friday, July 1, 2011

A Flood of Books

The monsoon reached Delhi last Sunday with a drenching three hour downpour. The dry earth soaked it up as fast it came down and two days later it rained again. On Wednesday Priti from the Dihika School phoned to tell us two feet of water was in her basement and our Publications Department's books were getting soaked. Grabbing all hands available--cook, cleaner, guard, maintenance and our driver--Sangeeta and I hurried over to the school to assess the damage. What a mess!

The front gate was blocked by a huge, knee-deep puddle in front of the house. Wading through, we came out of the water at her front steps and immediately
knew we had a big problem because wet boxes were being brought up from the basement. I rolled up my pants and went down where I found boxes literally floating in water slightly above my knees. The level had been even higher but it was beginning to recede. The photos accompanying this post are from the next day by which time the water had gone down to a depth of about six inches.

We hired extra labor and immediately directed our efforts toward bringing all dry boxes up to ground level. We then separated boxes completely soaked from those that were only partially so and returned the next day with a truck and to move all the dry boxes to Guru Kripa (Swamiji's house).

I mentioned in a previous letter how we had moved the books to the Dihika basement from the Ananda Center to make space for our temple renovation. It seemed like a good spot because there was lots of space, it was well ventilated and not far away. That it might flood had never occurred to us, and the reason it did is very reflective of what's happening in Gurgaon and other places in India under heavy development pressure.

The Dihika School flooded because it sits next to a natural drainage channel (a nullah) that was filled over the last year with excavated construction soil from neighborhood projects. A large community clubhouse was recently built on the other side of the nullah and some of the soil ccould have come from there. What had historically been a watercourse is now a raised flat space blocking upstream water and leaving it nowhere to go when it rains. One of my first thoughts was to hire a JCB (backhoe) to dig a channel through the fill to prevent future lakes but I was told this can't be done because the locals who control the property won't allow anyone to touch it.

Priti lives on the edge of a housing development created by DLF (Delhi Land and Finance), possibly the largest development company in India. The neighboring plot's ownership is disputed but probably belongs to the historic village that existed here before DLF came on the scene. The village panchayat (governing council) won't allow anything be done on their parcel, is at odds with DLF, and probably cares little about their problems. Who knows if tthey allowed the land to be filled intentionally to increase its value?

This story can be retold throughout Gurgaon and India. Whenever it rains, lakes form on the roadways because planning and infastructure can't keep pace with developmwent, natural channels are filled to
create building lots, there is little effective regulation and what government oversight does exist is easily corrupted as land values skyrocket. Gurgaon's plight is a regional joke but no one seems to know what to do about it because things are changing so fast and so much money is at stake. I suspect, after enough damage is done, pressure will be brought to bear on the various parties to force a solution but it will take time. In the meanwhile, it will be interesting to see what happens as this year's monsoon progresses.

Although our Publications Department suffered a serious blow, it's been wonderful to see people rally to help. Have you noticed how adversity often brings out a noble spirit? We estimate at least half our inventory is gone, amounting to a financial blow of many, many thousands of dollars, maybe even tens of thousands by the time we get an accurate count. We'll see which book titles were most affected and then find out the cost of reprinting those we most need.

In some strange way, I feel there is a hidden blessing in this. I know it sounds strange to say that but I suspect good things will come from this if it taken in the right spirit. Who knows what fresh energy will flow? It'll be a challenge I'm sure but our local Sangha will help us and Publications will soon be strong on its feet getting Master's teaching out to devotees in India again. We'll be telling those of you who live in India more about how you can help in the weeks ahead.

Tomorrow and in the coming days, we'll also decide what to do with the wet books and how we can help Priti clean up her school. She too has suffered a loss and is left with a huge challenge because this is the last week of summer break and classes begin again on Monday. As the saying goes, "When it rains, it pours."

We'll post news on our local website to keep you abreast of developments.

For photos, go to: