Going way back to yesterday morning, our first visit was to a beautiful Hindu temple in Chennai, where worshipers were continually coming and going throughout the day. Like other South India cities, Chennai's residents tend to be more traditional and conservative, and that was apparent in their frequent visits to Hindu temples. This particular temple offered some beautiful shrines, and we were able to walk through and admire everything that there was to offer. Later on, our extremely knowledgeable translators gave us a run through of the basic tenets of Hinduism, which was helpful.
Later on, we visited a cool firm called Centroid, which develops innovative product designs for various different industries. Those familiar with the company IDEO and its talents would love Centroid - The director showed us designs of various different products that the firm created, as well as their unique innovation process. We then saw one of Centroid's recent products - a portable urban latrine - which really demonstrated how ingenious this firm was.
Next, we checked out an organization that would also be part of the next day's adventures, the Market Literacy Center (MLC). This NGO, which operates with the vision and guidance of UIUC professor Madhu Viswanathan, helps to empower those of subsistence means to become successful entrepreneurs. Leaders of the center initially described some of the assistance they provide, and later we had the opportunity to interview several women entrepreneurs who benefit from the MLC. It was incredible to hear of the social and economic impact that the firm provides budding subsistence entrepreneurs of Chennai. Following with MLC, we checked out a bazaar in Chennai, feasted on Chinese-Indian food and got a good night's sleep before the next day's events.
The following morning, we departed our hotel at 7 a.m. for a visit to a small village in rural Tamil Nadu state. The village, located about 2.5 hours south of Chennai, was in an area unlike any that I'd ever seen before. While it took a while to travel outside of the suburbs of Chennai, we eventually came to rolling green fields of rice and sugar cane, and small roadside settlements of thatched-roof homes and grocery stands. Eventually, we came upon a group of women planting rice in a watery field, where they'd been seeding a field for several hours. The work was extremely hard, and it was clear that life in rural India involved great challenges. That would be confirmed at our next visit, which was at the MLC's rural outpost in the hinterland of Tamil Nadu.
At the MLC's center, we had the opportunity to speak with area farmers, who discussed how securing loans to expand farms was difficult. They also described how some area farmers had sold their land and moved to nearby cities to pursue other work. The farmer who we spoke with, however, was committed to growing his farm, which he felt was a possibility thanks to the MLC's efforts. For me, the experience was a great way to learn about the economic and societal impacts on a very rural resident of a developing nation.
We also had an opportunity to speak to elected officials and other administrators of the village, which we unfortunately could not visit due to unforeseen circumstances. The officials told us of challenges they faced in supplying drinking water, providing adequate health care and ensuring that electricity was available for residents. Nonetheless, the town offers a small clinic, a water purification system and other amenities that I was frankly not expecting to see. Given the number of young people who move to the cities, I'm interested to learn what may become of villages like this one in the future. On the way back to Chennai, we again drove through the lush fields and saw plenty of cattle, goats and other animals grazing as the day ended.
In the evening, we dined at a traditional South Indian restaurant where Idli (a steamed rice patty) and other breads were served along with various chutney sauces. While the food was great, the real difference came in the style of dining - All of the food came on a banana leaf, and we ate with our hands (notably our right hand). The food was outstanding, and it's amazing how rich Indian food can be. After our sumptuous dinner, we returned to our hotel to bid farewell to our local translators and rested after a long day of travel.
Tomorrow will find us doing a bit more exploring of Chennai before we fly back to New Delhi and, after that, to Chicago. Stay tuned for more on this last chapter of our trip!