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Population Vs. luxury… QUALITY OR QUANTITY?

“On the technical side there is no limit to population,” said a scholar after talking about solving world hunger. “We just need more efficient systems, and for the rich to eat less.” This may be true, BUT the greater question (in my opinion) is: Do we want more people living “simply” in a crowded place, or less people living lives of luxury?

“The population of the poor isn’t the problem,” so the idealists (like I used to be) say… “We actually need less white people.”

Given the ecological footprint of the one billion in rich industrialised countries compared to the six billion in non-industrial countries, this statement speaks some truth. But I’m not so sure that decreasing the population of white people will solve our ecological predicament.

I realise the basic solution is suggested to be the connection between income, education and birthrates. The more money people have, the more educated people get, the less children women want… and this will (somehow magically) stop the population at around 10 billion… but will it?

Just because a majority of white people have chosen to have less children as they get richer, largely because we have fallen for consumerist ideals and the economic slave system that supports this, does not mean that people in other cultures are going to respond to wealth in the same way. I’m not an anthropologist but it seems rather presumptuous to think we can understand people of other cultures, and predict how these people will react to education and money.

In the last two hundred years we have allowed one billion people to be become almost seven billion, and almost six of those billion have not been educated or had money. What will they do when they are educated or have money? In China as they get more money, they build more, buy more cars and have more children, not less of them.

“Human rights are meaningless without ecological rights,” said another one of the speakers. This seems to be getting closer to the real issue. Surely there are limits??? EVENTUALLY, when the planet has 5 billion, or 50 billion, there’s going to have to be some sort of population controls implemented – so why not be proactive and do it NOW, before there are even more ridiculous numbers of us?

How? I don’t know… I guess through some kind of recognition of collective responsibility and gaining momentum in a collective desire to make the world the place we want it to be. Should that involve some legalities that compromise individualistic human rights? In my opinion, yes. I think the future of life-on-earth as a whole is more important than us as individual humans having a right to choose the number of children we are going to have.

What do you think?

What’s more important: quality of life, or quantity of lives?

Greed: the JOY of having more than you need… Taoism and more about that frickin elephant.

I used to think we could all be less greedy – that if we wanted less “stuff” we would be happier, and some of that wealth would be shared with the poor. Apparently this simple shift has the power to end world hunger – the rich do with less, so the poor can have more. More recently I have realised that when I contemplate greed I have been wondering if it is actually a human problem that we have the ability to change? Or is greed simple a part of all life’s struggle to survive?

In a universe that (at least at present) is constantly expanding, getting more and more complex, and consuming more and more space, could greed be a universal constant? Is greed embedded in our DNA?

Check out this greedy monkey!


Maybe greed is so deep in our nature, it’s not something that can be fought? Maybe we humans are just greedy monkeys, so we just have to accept ourselves and allow greed to be?

If we accept greed, and hence accept that humans will always want more and better, should we give up on dealing with this elephant? While reading a book on religions in Nepal, I noted a Taoist teaching: “DO NOT QUIT”. So let us take their advice, and continue.

Also in Nepal, I met some travelers who were happily living a nomadic non-attached way of life.

“Money will come when, and if, I need it,” the cool collected hippy explained. She had been traveling for over 15 years or more, living on nothing yet living in abundance. “When you are traveling cheap you really don’t need much.” At $3 a roof over your head, and $2 for a massive meal, you are talking $1500 a year, so if you spent a few years working to save up $100,000 you could retire for life. We really don’t need much to survive. Especially if, like this hippy’s neighbor, you paraglide from place to place! Now that’s seriously  “following the wind”. And no footprint whatsoever.

“Desire nothing, enjoy everything.I think there is something in this Buddhist-approach to life – I definitely prefer life when I’m not fussing over money.

But how about non-attachment to other things? Do we really want to give up our desires?

Isn’t some attachment is what life is all about? Isn’t it the desire for something we don’t have, what keeps us going?

Be it attachment to people you love, attachment to a job you enjoy, attachment to a computer that carries hours upon hours worth of writing on it, or attachment to life itself, I’m not so sure I want to let that part of life go… There is something to be said for life’s dynamism – for the highs and lows, for the enjoyment that comes from pain and fear that adjoins attachment – it keeps things interesting. A life lived completely without attachment may contain no suffering, but it also (in my opinion) doesn’t contain much joy.

Of this book on religion the Taoist philosophies really resonated with me, mainly because Taoism values the opposites, the ups and downs, the yin and yang, rather than wishing them away. Taoists describe“Ziran” – state of “self-so” which means living in a state of being that ‘allows things and circumstances to unfold’. I really like this idea – connecting to everything, and allowing the most desirable scenarios manifest in reality.

Taoists describe the universe as our body, and the universe our nature; and they recommend we ‘keep in mind both the manifested and the unrevealed sides of the ultimate reality’ – I like these ideas too. We know the many things we know, but we must never forget there is SO SO SOOOO MUCH THAT WE DO NOT, AND CANNOT KNOW.

According to the Taoists, ‘The Way” is found in balance, in knowing what is enough – and they say that learning to say “enough” is achieved through an ‘intuitive observation of oneself and the universe’.

Coming back to my question from yesterday: can Buddha help us deal with the elephant in the room? Can finding inner peace help us do something about the population problem? I guess feeling peaceful inside ourselves can open the channels to creative solutions (like that magic biodegradable bag they put my underwear in), so I wonder, if we combine this with the idea of learning how to say “enough”, can we start to shrink the elephant?


References on Taoism:

Bede Bidlock, Why I Am A Believer: Personal Reflections On Nine World Religions – edited by Arvind Sharma (2007) p.200.

Capitalistic karma: reinterpreting reincarnation

Walking up in the mountains outside Kathmandu I contemplated the connection between the world’s inequalities today, the actions of one’s ancestors, and the idea of karma and reincarnation that I had been reading about in some books on the Eastern Religions.

Be they the ancestors who split from the group to discover new worlds fifty thousand years ago, or be they the innovators of new technologies that won them last century’s battles, the connection is pretty clear… and I wondered, is this what the yogis are talking about when they talk about karma? Are the people of today the reincarnations of ancestors, manifested through the processes of material, genetic and education inheritance? The closer we get to a person, the more the other embodies our ideas. If we, say, write a book and disperse our ideas, are we, on some level, reincarnating ourselves through the people that these ideas influence? Are our children simply more direct reincarnations of ourselves as they gain more of our energy through our genes and through the time we spend with them?

At the end of the day we are all responsible for the consequences of our own actions, be they consequences experienced our own lifetime, or in that of our children and childrens’ childrens’ childrens’ lifetimes. If we do bad to another person, animal, or to our environment, be it in our lifetime or in sometime in the distant future, the universe eventually balances itself out… Is this, in a wider sense, our “karma”? Could the cycle of birth-death-rebirth that the yogis talk about be less about a separate soul reincarnating (for example, that if you kill a bee in this life you will come back as an bee in your next life), and actually be describing the process of evolution (for example, if many people kill many bees, humanity will have to adapt to a world with less flowers and foods)?

When the caste system tells people that they have been born into their caste as a consequence of their actions in a past life I typically respond (in my head) with “what a load of bullocks!” But, when viewed from this understanding of karma and reincarnation, this idea starts to make sense… Could poverty actually be the karmic result of the decisions of one’s ancestors?

When I compare the capitalist system to the caste system I can’t help but appreciate the open opportunities capitalism provides. Sure it’s not a perfect system with the opportunities it provides not exactly equal (for example, children in wealthy families are sure to have more opportunities than less wealthy families) but on the other side I also think that if a person dedicates their life to provide such opportunities for their children, isn’t it fair that this child benefits from their parent’s hard work? Is such their good fortune, their parent or grandparent’s karma?


Or is maybe this just my wishful thinking, in hope of justifying the unjustifiable, I’m not quite sure. Karma and reincarnation aside, as I consider the advantages and disadvantages of capitalism and I wonder: if you take away the ability to transfer wealth to your children, will people still be motivated to innovate and work hard? At least in this system, children in the less wealthy family still get a decent education and decent amount of opportunity. While life may not be as easy as it is for the child born in the wealthy family, the challenges this presents can actually an opportunity for even more growth for that individual, and at least no one is completely left out of the system and being condemned to be an untouchable for all their future generations.

It is starting to seem to me that as we reincarnate ourselves, from generation to generation of cell to plant to animal to self-aware human, our creativity is growing, our sense of morality and ethics is deepening, and our capability to consider the future of the whole planet is expanding. And so I wonder, if we continue collective learn from each other and from the past, what incredible species will the reincarnates of humanity be like in the future?

Picture notes

Photographer: Edwina Hughes.

Taken at my sister’s wedding at Craigiburn in Bowral on the weekend, this photo doesn’t really have anything to do with this blog entry although I guess in a way it represents the passing on of traditions and possibly the beginning of a new generation of Bennetts. And it’s nice to share considering it was such an incredible wedding, very fun, my sister looked GORGEOUS, and my new brother-in-law spunky… Congratulations guys!

Coming to grips with the elephant in the room

I knew I would leave India with a new perspective of life – but the upturning of my worldview has happened in a far different way than I expected. I thought I would arrive home more passionate about social justice, more inspired to make a difference to the lives of “poor” people. Instead I am leaving India with a hardened heart, more humility, and an increased concern for the future of humanity as a whole. Why? Because the population problem, the elephant in the room, is far too big a problem to ignore. And I simply cannot see a solution to this problem.

Before I went to India, as those of you who have read older blog entries would know, I quite idealistically analysed the global inequalities and blamed war and poverty on western greed.

I looked at these graphs of population growth by economy and region, and blamed the population growth on western development.

population by incomeWhy does the population of poor and developing countries suddenly increase in 1940s, and high income countries only increase a little?

population by region

What is going on in Asia???

In my mind, the population had increased so much since WW2 simply because of the design of the global capitalist system. Post-development scholars criticise the global system for being miperialistically geared to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor, with the raw materials bought for nothing and sold for billions and so making the rich richer and the poor poorer. I went a step further. It made sense to me that a larger population in developing countries equates to cheap labour, which means cheaper computers, phones, TVs, clothes, cars, chocolate etc. For a government subject at uni I analysed the power-distribution of the system, observing that it is the rich and powerful capitalists who pull the strings behind governments, the World Trade Organisation, the IMF, and other peak bodies. The rich and powerful capitalists I equated to anyone whose lives are not run by debt – those who have shares in companies, money in the bank, superannuation funds, own property without mortgages, own their own business etc. In particular it was the wealthiest of the wealthy – the people who own the banks themselves.

I thought education was the solution. Not education of the poor people, but education of the rich. I thought that if each of us understood the connection between our shopping habits and the mass workers, the connection between our consumption and our future environment, and that the roots of these to problems lay in the capitalist dream: to accumulate more money, then we would begin to move toward a more socially just and environmentally sustainable system.

I thought that the motivation to change our systems would come from a “new dream” that started with rediscovering the connection with our planet, so that we each come to prioritise the whole ecosystem that we are a part of, over and above our individual selfish desires. I thought that this would come from an understanding of Big History, coming to identify ourselves as part of the process of our Universe expanding and increasing in complexity (or what many, including myself, personify as “God”) .

Now, well, now I realize that the answers to the world’s problems are not that simple. There are far deeper roots to this systematic problem than western greed. It seems to me, in this moment in time, that the global system is NOT a simple cause and effect situation with western greed causing global poverty.

For one, inequality is not just a problem in today’s global system, it has always been a problem. Secondly, inequality’s root problem – greed – is not a western problem but is a human problem, a life problem. Thirdly, poverty has cultural, religious and historical roots that have nothing to do with the global system. The caste system existed in India before the British arrived. The caste system is thousands of years old and while Gandhi may have officially abolished it, culture is stronger than law. In India this caste system keeps poor poor and the rich rich, and this has nothing whatsoever to do with global capitalism.

Capitalists may benefit from the fact that China and India are over-populated, and hence human labour is cheap, but capitalists are not standing over these people telling them to have more babies.

Sure there’s the tiny motivational factor of more children equals more money, but talking to Indians at different income levels it seemed to be the cultural aspects (tradition, the values placed on family, lack of entertainment etc) that are behind the population explosion over and above their desire to make money from them. If women get married at 10 and have babies the rest of their life, for cultural reasons over and above any monetary motivation, how can poverty ever be addressed? It is their own actions which perpetuate their poverty and cause the inequalities of the global system to continue.

Should capitalists stop benefiting from cheap labour? That would only mean these people have less job opportunities… that’s not going to help. What if they pay them a little extra, that is, change to a “fair trade” system? This may help a few lives but when people are willing to work for less, because working for less is better than working for nothing, how can such a “fair” system be sustained? How is it “fair” if some people have jobs paying fair wages, while the rest of the billions have no job at all?

Fair trade or free trade, escaping poverty is a choice that people in the situation will collectively have to make for themselves. And unfortunately eradicating poverty requires doing something about that frickin big elephant staring everyone in the face. What? I have NO IDEA. Could this be why so many yogis and religious leaders advise to withdraw from the world and look for peace inside?

And so my worldview crisis…

As a result of the fear that comes from this lack of solutions, the altruistic side that used to dominate my mind is becoming more self-centered: what future do I want for the future generations that spring from the people I love? My previous almost disdain for wealth, thinking all money was intrinsically connected to a corrupt system, is turning into an appreciation of it. Work hard, work smart, then share and enjoy your earnings with your family and friends… what’s so bad about that?

Let’s face it, animal, plant, or human; black, white or in between; this is ultimately life’s instinctive purpose: to live as long as we can, and create offspring to continue our work when we die. That’s why we choose the partners we choose to mate with. That’s why we fight the wars we fight. That’s why we work so hard to buy a house and establish systems of governance, education and business. SELF-PRESERVATION and PROCREATION.

India has given me a new appreciation for the work my ancestors – for their efforts to create a world so good for us, their children. Maybe their methods weren’t so peaceful, with inquisitions, colonialism and imperialism, but let’s face it: it’s not only our ancestors who have done this and if it wasn’t them, it would have been someone else. Before the British invaded India, it was the Moghuls, and before that it was other nations from Central Asia. The British were far from the first, and it is highly unlikely they will be the last.

My experiences in India have left me thinking that if the wealthy of the world did suddenly decide to spread their wealth, to educate the billions in poverty and create a socially-just system; the peace it would create would probably be short-lived and soon all the densely populated places like India would spread to populate the rest of the world. My favourite city would become just like my least favourite, and so would every other city in the world.

I realise my perspective is becoming incredibly selfish, but I do not want people sleeping and dying on our streets; I do not want people trying to rip me off on street corners; I do not want to be living in a dirty, polluted, noisy, over-populated place. In short, I do not want to see Sydney turn into Mumbai. 

According to if we continue at our present rates, our population will be over 11 billion by 2035!!! And what then, will Australia still be sitting there with it’s 21 million people? I don’t think so. With Australia’s rivers drying up there just ain’t enough water for everyone. Nor infrastructure, or systems for food, housing, anything…

And so I worry, might my passionate pursuits  to make a more socially just world bring the extinction of my own culture, my country’s wealth and the life style, and all the opportunities our ancestors dedicated their lives to deliver?

While our own culture is no where near perfect, with its insatiable desires and materialistic emptiness, western culture has A LOT to offer: freedom; the scientific quest for knowledge; the creativity that comes from competition; the opportunities for individualistic pursuits. It would be a big shame to lose it in place of an overpopulated communistic uncreative mess.

Think about it, if income was distributed evenly, will the 2 billion women of child-bearing age suddenly decide not to have babies? And, if the wealthy were to even out the income, my new lack-of-faith-in-humanity makes it seem realistic to assume that another group of people would rise up and the same cycles of violence would begin just with a new group of rich and powerful. And, even if this didn’t happen, how long would it take before we would run out of resources (seeing as ecological economists say 10 planets would be required for all people of the world to live an American lifestyle)? Does this mean, simply in attempt to better the lives of people with less money today, all of humanity will die out? I’m sorry, but I don’t think this would be good for anyone involved.

Okay, okay, calm down Juliet, calm down. As you can see there is a lot going through my head. Out of fear I’m becoming defensive. I’m guess I’m still culture-shocked, and struggling to comprehend the reality of our global situation. It’s one thing to see population in a graph but it’s a different kettle of fish to see it with your own eyes. When one’s mind connects such a mess to projections of possible futures for earth and humanity it’s really quite a confusing and scary topic.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t:

  • If you consider population control then what about human rights?
  • If you don’t control the population then what do you do about the billions living in poverty?
  • If you bring people out of poverty then you destroy the planet for everyone.

Now I understand why overpopulation has been the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.

My conclusion: “Elephant? What elephant??? I don’t see it either!”

Follow up thoughts six years later… February 2016

I received a comment that drew my attention back to this post and I thought I should revisit the “elephant in the room” in light of some things that I have learned since 2010, and some things that have changed in the world during this time.

I deleted a paragraph that a commenter interpreted as bordering on racism. It’s difficult: one’s views can be taken out of context and considered unchanging, so what if someone looks at that and starts thinking I’m racist? That being said I think everyone is “a little bit racist”, in some ways, and we go overboard trying to be politically correct – sometimes at the cost of honesty, and being able to speak one’s mind.

I value difference – I value different cultures and peoples, and I think it is important to avoid imperialism, and other forces, taking away from our beautiful diversity – unless in the opportunity for self-determination people choose to change and evolve in ways they want to change, integrating parts of other cultures. It is just as dangerous to romanticise a culture and group of people, and want them to stay the same, as it is to attempt to interfere and change them. A people should be able to choose for themselves how their culture evolves.

Australia has and is committing devastating human rights abuses against people seeking help from and refuge in our country, and I do not in any way condone this. Hence my deleting a paragraph that may have been interpreted as supporting Australia’s immigration policies. I don’t. I think the White Australia Policy was shocking, as has been every  In the context of someone in their twenties having a rant it was not racist, but as something that might be attributed to me later in life, not so good.

In my mind at that time, battling with the confronting nature of my own experiences in the chaotic suburbs of Mumbai in contrast to the affluent bubble of Sydney, I saw some of the need for a strict immigration policy. My current opinion is that it is important to have a smart and humane immigration policy – one that sees the value in each person’s life, and works creatively to find space for them in the many parts of our country that are crying out for higher populations. And one that is linked ot foreign aid and international relations policies, helping to remedy past and current wrongs of Western civilisation that are at root of many wars and problems in the countries people have fled.

There are three messages that I want to add on to this blog entry:

  1. With regard to insights into India’s population – I learned a great deal on this from Vandana Shiva on her visit to Sydney in 2014. It had continued to puzzle me why India’s population increased so dramatically when it did. Dr Shiva attributes this to colonialism and the removing of peasants from land, which created uncertainty and instability, which led to people having more children.
  2. Furthermore Dr Shiva taught me that the caste system was not in the same negative form that one might interpret it today – Dr Shiva believes this has been reinterpreted by the West in a negative light, where it used to be more about division of roles and labour than hierarchy. It was a structure for society that worked, made sense.
  3. Possibilities for stabilising global population, lifting everyone out of poverty and living in harmony with our planet do exist, and all three must go together. We, especially those with the money and positions to do so, need to invest and support investment by our governments into çradle-to-cradle design and renewable energy technologies that offer ways in which humanity can live without destroying the planet. We also need to build support for various structural changes and restrictions e.g. on how much corporations can pollute, who pays for pollution and wastes, etc. If we can learn to live in ways that do not destroy the earth, then perhaps a large human population isn’t such a problem.

I’d like to add a final note about the changing nature of opinions. My views are constantly changing, and I hope that anything read on this blog can be understood in context that it was written by a person growing up, learning, and wanting to discuss different views and perspectives – all which I see as constantly changing through such a dialogical process.

I see the world in a very different way to what I did six years ago, particularly at this point in time where I’d found India so confronting. I leave this blog entry up here as I believe the process of changing our views, of thinking through the hard questions, of having a rant about contending ideas, is a valuable part of conversations necessary for addressing such problems and moving toward more ecological and peaceful futures.

So please do not judge me by the post above, but please use it as food for thought, for better understanding your own positions, which are too also likely to be developing and changing through time as the context for your ideas and expanding sphere of learning and influence also changes. Thank you!

Picture credits:

The Elephant in the Room – my own attempt at photoshopping a photo of an elephant from Taronga Zoo into my Opa’s sunroom.

Population graphs – wiki-commons

Good links found here –

Chapter 2 – One Country, Many Worlds

There seems to be a great reverence for Gandhi throughout India. His face features on every rupee note, and his philosophy and practice of non violence gained a mention in almost every Indian speaker’s presentation at the conference. “Truth is God”, said Gandhi, dedicating his life to it. “You will not have peace, unless you love the truth,” said one of the speakers.

While I was relieved my presentation was over, I did take away a number of fantastic messages from the conference. My favourite was from an academic from Nigeria who made the point that “peace begins with mothers” – when a child is brought up in a peaceful environment, they will not divert from peaceful values. “When you have peace in the home, you will have peace in the country, and peace in the world.”

“The world is getting smaller, our horizons must get larger.” “A peace army requires peace weapons, not weapons of war. What are peace weapons? Love, service, fate, prayer from all the religions, and truth.” “We need to do more than respect diversity – we need to celebrate it.” “The corporatisation of religion is the problem, not the religion itself. The problem starts when one’s identity is consumed by it. The dogmatic authoritative beliefs are not innate – they are placed there.” “Violence is not an action – it is a response, a reaction.” “Our aim should not be to gain victory, but to come to mutual understanding.” (Just to name a few of my favourite quotes of the day. I will have to wait till the papers are released to attribute them to the scholars appropriately).

Having filled up on yet another large buffet lunch of Indian cuisine and sweet desserts, my new friend Sunny (nickname for Mrinal) introduced me to his girlfriend Varsha who was about to go shopping with his mum. Let’s face it shopping in a new city with local girls is an offer no girl in their right mind would miss. So I decided to play hooky from the last couple of hours of ceremonial peace conference, and jump in Varsha’s car.

“No seatbelt,” Varsha reminded me as I searched for something to tie me to the car before we hit my least favourite streets in our world.

Cities always transforms the second you are seeing it through the eyes of a local. What was scary and horrifying is normalized and shrugged off. The air-conditioned car seemed to block out the sound of the honks, leaving my senses free to peer out and observe, relaxed and (relatively) safe. My friend played dodgem cars with ease, chatting to me while she honked her horn yet still retaining her lady-like manner.

As I watch the streets I noticed that alongside cows, it’s the dogs that live the good life. They own and roam the streets, seemingly more intelligent and free than half the population. Cows have it even better. And I see why: it’s all in the eyes. No body in their right mind messes with the cow.

At a shop, a pretty and very petite Indian sales girl who looks younger than my 13 year old sister communicates and commands attention of someone much older. Curiosity gets the better of me – I have to know, so I ask. She is 22, and married. “That’s what happens when they don’t get enough nutrition as a child,” my friend explains. She was tiny – in every way. There she is, without enough food, and here I am, with every meal: breakfast, lunch and dinner, a smorgasbord at my finger tips. I look down at my own growing belly. In three days I’ve put on weight already – I can see it. As if I needed to do that after the last few months of ankle sprains and chocolate binges while writing and editing and sitting on my ass. Each day at the conference I eat a big lunch thinking I won’t eat dinner, and then friends insist I come with them for more food and drink. Each bite is enjoyable yet brings me one step closer to the well-known proudly rounded Indian body shape – well at least it’s the body shape of the wealthy anyway.

They may be a conservative crowd – I have been warned that showing one’s shoulders or legs being a big no no – but when it comes to big bulging stomachs that’s the one thing you let loose from your dress. Midriffs show like Britney in the nineties but while Britney’s abs (back then) were quite a pleasant site for the eyes, I’m not sure I can say the same about the women I see on the streets. There is something to be said for not caring, for being proud of what you have got, and not being obsessed with one’s weight. It may be healthier for the mind, but I highly doubt it is healthy for the body. And it is definitely not for me.

After an afternoon of shopping, my new friends invite me to a small Indian wedding that is a couple of hours from the city. I readily agree – everyone knows to never turn down an invitation to an Indian wedding. This one is small, only around one to two hundred people. My friends, on the other hand, estimate theirs will be huge. By huge I mean around 2000 people!!! His father is well known. There will be many international guests. And I will be invited… wahooo! But it won’t be till later this year, or next… that and invitations to Turkey and Nigeria are setting me up for another interesting trip.

As we drove to the wedding, I looked out at the huts and clothes and people sleeping at the side of a massive highway. “Why has the population gone from 200 million to 1 or 2 billion since the British arrived?” I asked my friend.

“Many reasons,” he said, “lack of education for one.”

“That’s the reason they always give. But what did the British do to change their education? Surely it should have been rising just as fast before the British?”

“India used to be a rich country. Actually it is still a rich country, only it is inhabited by far more poor people than rich,” he started to explain. “Poverty has never been so bad. The worse the poverty, the worse the education, and the more children. People have children because they think it will bring them more money. And then children don’t go to school because they have to work for their parents. Not to mention lack of entertainment – the more poor you are, the more you rely on sex and of course they don’t use contraception so… Also the religion and old caste system doesn’t help. Girls in lower castes get married as young as 8 years old, and start having babies at 12. And then there’s the face that medicines are brought to the villages, so people live longer. Oh and there’s the prostitution cycles – children are basically bred for the sex trade.”

The whole situation is heartbreaking. The population is incomprehensible. Officially sitting around one billion, with others making estimates it’s now around two. And here I am looking at it through the closed glass window of my friend’s air-conditioned car, driven by a chauffeur who has his own wife and children but who I am sure is more than grateful for his job and the generosity my friend gives him.

There are two worlds here: rich and poor. The poor work for the rich and the rich, I suppose, work for the richer. The gap is incomprehensible, and seemingly unfixable. You are born where you are born, and you deal with it. It’s your karma. Apparently. If you are in the lowest class, getting paid pittence to do any job you can, it’s your own fault. You did it to yourself – last lifetime or the one before. Maybe you killed a mosquito. Now you will pay for it. Bullocks yes. But it does make it easier to accept one’s blessed or cursed fate. When did the caste system start? Did it arrive when the Persians invaded? Or was it already in place before that? Questions for me to research when I get home and have more internet time.

As I sit in the car watching, my heart breaks again and again. It is so so sad and so so hard to accept. The most painful wound is the stabbing guilt in my stomach adjoined to the constant feeling of relief and gratefulness that I am sitting on this side of the window.

“What’s that smell?” I ask, as we stop for my friend to buy cigarettes.

“It comes from the sea,” she explains. “The evaporation of the sanitary deposits that are made far too close to the city. During monsoon, the smell gets worse.” Note to self: avoid monsoon at all costs.

The wedding was great – full of incredible costumes and strange and wonderful traditions.


We were tired and seeing as weddings ceremonies go on forever, we called it a night and drove home.

Bright and early the next morning, Sonny picked me up and with my camera in hand I saw the more touristy side to the city.


Now that’s a lot of mangoes!


Coconut water was good. Not as good as Brazil (to be brutally honest), but still very good.

DSC_0107Apparantly a speeding fine equates to a 100 rupee bribe, that is, $2. Damn it, wish we had corrupt cops in Australia.


Cadbury is one of those companies that everyone claims as their own. I thought it was Aussie chocolate, Sonny thought it was Indian, but Google tells me it’s British. Go figure.


This building is being built by the richest guy in the world, or one of the top three richest people in the world (I think my friends said.) Pretty impressive but imagine the great view of the slums – all those people your wealth could help…




Gateway of India – “Erected to commemorate the landing in India of their imperial majesties King George V and Queen Mary on the second of December MCMXI” – it’s beautiful but not such a nice memory for Indians, right? I wonder why it still draws so many tourists?


Feeding corn to the birds. Obviously.


You all know I’m a big Shanatarm fan… so Leopolds was a must!


Sorry about the blur of my new backpacker friends met while sipping beer and chowing down chicken but the lighting in this shot shows Leopolds more than my other shots.


This boy had only one leg. He doesn’t look it in this photo but he was very happy to have his photo taken. And he wasn’t begging. God bless.


Sonny allowed this man, who spoke very good English and had come from the country to the city to find a job but failed, to polish his shoes. The man asked for only 10 rupees, and while chatting to him Sonny learned that if he had a special shoe-box this man could stand in a busier location by the train station and get far more customers.

“How much would a shoe box cost?” he asked.

“150 rupees,” the man answered. When Sonny handed him a hundred rupees he was gob-smacked and tried to hand it back. Sonny insisted and eventually the man gratefully and graciously accepted.

“That’s a better way to give,” Sonny explained. “Help people on an individual level, and help them have jobs not beg.” True, true, true.


Alina and Joel, our new friends from Leopolds, stayed with us for the rest of the day. After markets and KFC, a glass of Rose in his apartment and a frantic shopping spree we dropped in to a last-minute invitation to a bollywood party. Free booze and more delicious buffet food – served around midnight by a stunning pool that due to my flash you can’t see is behind us. What a day!

I want to say a very special thank you to Mrinal whose unmatchable hospitality and generosity caused me to love a city I first hated. And thank you to Varsha and your family too. Thank you so much.

India’s default detox

Next Thursday I am going to India and I have a feeling I will be making up for the failure of my February detox.

My sister tells me coffee in India sucks, so that’s a start. I wonder if they have chocolate? … Suppose I’ll need a little mayhem after presenting my paper at a Peace and Education conference in Mumbai, but I’ll for sure make up for that at a 7-days Ayurvedayoga retreat. Following yoga, hot baths, massages and healthy foods, I’ll be doing it rough and tough with 10-days on trains and little towns in Rajasthan, and my trip ends with 2-weeks of trekking in Nepal…

Well that’s the plan – how much I stick to it I don’t know, I’ve never been so organised before boarding the plane. It feels strange. The last week felt like painful wild goose chase, but now that I have the flights booked, accommodation (at least for the first few nights) confirmed, and rough schedule planned, I’m starting to relax. I just can’t wait to be on the plane…

Whatever happens I’m sure it will be five weeks of mind-expanding, spiritually enlightening, and physically challenging stuff, however the universe throws it to me.

If I manage to get a 3G sim card my plan is to TWEET my adventures – it’s about time I get into the whole twitter thing…

And so long as internet cafes are scattered here and there I’ll share the journey on this blog too – with photos and stories.

Either way stay tuned, follow me on twitter if you use it, and if there isn’t much on here for a month then keep your fingers crossed that I am still alive.


This photo doesn’t make much sense considering it is of tai chi, and in Sydney, but seeing that my blog doesn’t work without pictures, I had to choose something… this was from a Sydney newspaper a couple of years ago when I was learning tai chi. Tai chi makes you feel very centered but is one of those things that slips away from life unnoticed. I would like to learn more but I guess my trip would best be to China if I were to do that… next time.