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Nov 22, 2010

People To People Delegation To India, Day 5

11/20/2010 Jaipur-Day 5
November 20,th 2010 dawned bright and cheerful in Jaipur for the Disaster Mental Health team. We were asked to assemble early so that we could beat the crowd waiting for the special ride up to the Amber Fort. And very special it was!! We paired up in two’s to perch majestically on the back of a stately elephant, whose face was decorated with beautiful pastel chalk. As the elderly mahout guided the elephant, we enjoyed the spectacular views of the walled fort snaking its way amidst green landscape as we watched the sunrise behind the ramparts. The gyrating movement was unnerving in the beginning, but we were sad that it ended so soon, just as we were getting comfortable with the rocking sensations.

The Amber Fort was built by Raja Man Singh, Raja Jai Singh, and Sawai Jai Singh over a period of two centuries. The Fort is built to contain a very beautiful hall of public audience called the diwan-e-aam, where the royal king entertained his public and is decorated with symmetrical archways carved in the hindu tradition of architecture. The entrance into the diwan-e-aaram garden has delicately etched alcoves painted in fresco style, with vegetable dyes that have withstood the test of time for centuries. The gardens within are very nicely laid out in the mughal style, and one can visualize the luxurious lifestyle of the royal family from the meticulously planned air conditioning system of channels carrying cooling khus scented water, that suggests advanced ecological planning. The sheesh mahal is a breathtaking hall of mirrors that was designed to reflect light from canopies and niches inlaid with beautiful patterns of mirrors.

The team was reluctant to leave the numerous traders practicing hard-selling tactics of haggling and enticing with their many regional artifacts like semi-precious jewelry and patchwork quilts. Dr. West-Olatunji demonstrated a leader’s enterprise by nestling between two snake charmers, donning a traditional turban, and holding the “been” in front of her, in an effort to coax the Kind Cobras to dance to her tune!! We all admired her courage from a distance and didn’t venture closer than to take pictures of her lit up face. She was having a ball!!

The next stop was a visit to the University of Rajasthan, to meet members of the Dept of Psychology. We were very pleasantly greeted at the gate by the prominent members of the department, headed by Prof. Brij Lata Kotia. We were led through a hallway, to the welcoming committee of students adorned in bright traditional clothes, who decorated our foreheads with a vermillion ‘tikka’, sweetened our mouths with sugar candy, and garlanded us with divinely smelling marigolds and roses. We were seated and introductions exchanged between the delegation members and the hosting faculty and staff. The faculty introduced themselves individually telling us of their specific achievements and interests in academic pursuits. The department of psychology at the University of Rajasthan has very accomplished faculty, specializing in varied branches of psychology, which include clinical psychology, organization, health, social, counseling psychology, positive psychology, adolescent issues, addictions, executive stress, and marital discord. Professor Tejindar Kaur shared a specific disaster management issue that the state of Rajasthan had contended with recently, in Oct 2009. There had been an explosion at the Indian Oil Corporation Depot on the outskirts of Jaipur, in which 12 people lost their lives and 200 were injured. The report recounted that the fire blazed for 12 days, and the local authorities had no control over the situation and that no clear strategy for disaster management of the kind was in place.

Finally the army and the disaster management team that was called up from Mumbai managed the situation. The research showed that there were both direct and indirect effects of the disaster on the local population in terms of emotional, psychological and behavioral presentations. The overwhelming emotion was that of a loss of control, which led to undermining confidence in people and resulting stress. Since there was no clear plan in plan for such management, the disaster left long term effects of unfocused anger, frustration, somatic disorders, insomnia, anxiety and depression. The most effective coping mechanism, however, seem to come from the resilience of individuals in spiritual grounding, and a very strong sense of social and family support systems.

Our team shared interactive experiences of disaster management and Dr. West-Olatunji spoke about the role of technology making it easier for people in most parts of the world to vicariously experience such disasters, and the global social empathy that follows such exposure. The hosts were curious to know how what interventions were in place in the US, and Dr. West-Olatunji shared her experiences of being in New Orleans, following Hurricane Katrina, and the kits that counseling aide workers took with them to reach and serve the affected population, the humanistic and empathic listening, and the brief solution-focused therapy that is practiced, along with the use of expressive arts. She also spoke of the need to create research for emotional and spiritual intelligence to deliver culture-centered counseling, and to ensure sustainability of such deliverance through a multicultural worldview, facilitated by such rich experiences as this trip has been to India.

We concluded the visit with an excellent tea shared with the faculty, with the local snacks of samosas and jalebis and dhoklas. The staff and students were very informal and enthusiastic in their exchanges with us and we thoroughly enjoyed the visit to the University of Rajasthan, Dept of Psychology.

It had been a long, but very fruitful day so far, and was concluded with a visit to the City Palace in Jaipur, where we learned about the local maharajahs and were treated to the museum where we saw the attire that the royalty wore. We finished the day with a round of shopping and came back very satisfied with our multicolored purchases of paintings in silk, bright bangles made of lacquer, hand-block printed materials and colorful tie-and-dye scarves. We all trooped up to our rooms at the hotel fit for royalty, the Rajputana Sheraton, pleasantly tired and ready to hit the bed so as to be ready for the trip to Agra the next day, to join the section of the world of ‘those who have seen the Taj!!’

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