And so, the day has arrived for me to leave on the 3 week visit to the US for the IVLP. Even though I had almost 6 months heads-up for the program, it always boils down to the last day of frenetic activity. Had to wrap up correcting answer sheets for my class exam and finish a round of client calls.
Departure: My flight to DC via London was at an ungodly 4am. I so much prefer to have midnight flights as it beautifully ties in with my sleep pattern. But 4am? That’s pits. It messes with you body clock. Groggy eyed, I boarded the British Airways flight heading to London on a long 10 hour flight. Thanks to a faulty headphone, the entertainment system wasn’t tempting me. Caught up on a light sleep and then got some good writing done.
Transit: Had an hour & half layover at Heathrow airport. But its very easy to under-estimate the time it takes to transit to the next flight. The security check was excruciatingly long. Then had to head to Terminal 5 which meant having a long walk and then take the airport-train. All this adds up a good hour. Good thing I didn’t decide to spend time on window shopping. The WiFi at Heathrow was a blessing and just had time to check mails and send out a couple of updates.
London to DC: It was a pleasant surprise to notice that my vehicle of transport was going to be the Airbus A380-800, the World’s largest Passenget aircraft. Its my first ever time on this double-decker and it was true that even though its twice as large as any other aircraft, its engines are 50% quieter. Watched two movies. The Monumental Men (How can I miss a WW2 movie?), and The Hercules. Helped me take care of the 8 hour flight.
Landed: Upon landing, took a cab from Dulles Interntional airport to my hotel in central DC. It was only 5pm but noticed dusk was setting in quick. Ah, the daylight saving time. Checked in at the hotel and was greeted by Stan, the smiling and charming guy who will be our host companion for the entire trip. Was supposed to catch up with the other IVLP invitees and head into town. But old enough and wise enough to give top priority to sleep. Golden tip for enjoying any travel to a new place. Slept right through dinner but so felt good to sleep horizontally.
Can’t wait to meet the rest of the IVLP invitees in the morning. And oh yes, breakfast. Already starving.
When I got invited for the IVLP program, I was very happy but clearly I didn’t realize how prestigious this program is until I stumbled upon this Wikipedia page. Amazed to see the kind of World leaders who have participated in the program. Like BBC News Magazine said, this is a powerful ‘Leadership spotting’ program.
Ofcourse, this page only lists the political leaders but the program also encompasses from different domains as well. The International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) is a professional exchange program funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The mission of IVLP is to offer current and emerging international leaders the opportunity to experience the richness and diversity of American political, economic, social and cultural life. This is done through carefully designed exchange programs that reflect participants’ professional interests and the public diplomacy objectives of the United States government.
I leave for the US tonight and look forward to three weeks of learning and meeting leaders from different departments. The program takes us to five cities, Washington DC, Harrisburg, Pittsburg, San Franscisco and New York City. If you are in any of the five cities, I look forward to catching up with you. I can be reached on my email Kiruba@Kiruba.com.
Every morning, as I take my pet dog for a walk around my neighborhood, I notice a special person. A lady with a puny figure in a saree that looks like she had hastily wrapped around. The white walking stick in her hand expels any doubt that she is completely blind. Most of her front teeth were missing which makes her look like she is in her mid sixties even though she is only 47 years young.
What really caught my attention was that I find her confidently walking in the neighborhood, taking the correct turns and even stopping at the right plant to smell the flowers. One day, the curiosity got the better of me and I approached her to ask who she was. And her story of resilience absolutely blew me away!
Her name is Yasodha and she had been blind ever since she was 3 years old. Having born in a very poor family, she and her sisters made ends meet by delivering milk to homes in the mornings. Slowly, she started to work as a domestic help in a few households and continues to do so for over 25 years.
Both her husband and she would travel everyday from their home in Bharaniputhur, on the outskirts of Chennai to Virugambakkam , their place of work. This 13 kilometer journey requires them to travel through a share-auto, a bus and then by foot.
Five years ago, on a fateful day in December of 2009, a Water Lorry hit her husband and her as they were crossing the road. While both of them were seriously hurt, her husband did not survive the accident. Yasodha, made a slow painful recovery. “It was in the accident that I lost all my front teeth”, she hastily adds. All these years, it was her husband who was her escort wherever they travelled. They never had any kids and now with losing her husband, she really had no one to assist her.
It took Yasodha 8 months to overcome the sorrow of her husband’s loss. Her relatives too deserted her and she decided to take things up on her own. She rejoined work and now she undertakes the 13 kilometer journey completely on her own. She wakes up at the crack of dawn, tends to the chickens she raises , finishes her chores at home and is ready to leave for work. She walks from her home to the bus-stand and boards the bus to Virugambakkam. She takes assistance from her co-passengers to let her know when the right bus-stop comes for her to get down and for crossing busy roads. She says that people’s generosity is amazing.
I spoke with the couple in whose house Yadoda works as a domestic help. Both Mr.Ravishankar and Hemalatha are retired officials. Yasoda has been working at their house for 25 years now. They said that she knows their house better than even they do. Her attention to detail and her cleanliness is amazing. Her honesty is unquestionable and not even 10 paise has gone missing. Both Mrs &Mr.Ravishankar deserve credit for standing by Yasodha at time of her darkest grief. I was privy to a beautiful human relationship.
On the other hand, its sad to see that she is being denied the monetary compensation for her husband’s death. She is supposed to get Rs.6 lakhs from the Government but a combination of red tapism and corruption is seeing her run from pillar to post with no sign of her getting the money. Sad to see people take advantage of her disability and innocence. Here’s hoping she gets her due.
This story of Yasodha will be part of a book I’m putting together titled ‘UnKick the Bucket‘. Its a compilation of people who have had near-death experiences and have made the most of their second chance to live.