Bruce Lee, Buddha and Chapatti by Urban Presker
Since I was a young boy, I was always fascinated with the Asian continent. My obsession was fueled by the kung fu movies which I used to watch on pirated VHS tapes. My childhood admiration of Bruce Lee and Ninjas slowly transcended into a more general interest about Asian philosophies, from Taoism to Buddhism and into the actual practice of martial arts. I always dreamed of traveling to Asian continent and my dream came true in 2004, when I backpacked in China in the middle of the bird flu epidemic. It was my first big travel outside of Europe in the country where almost no one speaks English and everything is written down in Chinese characters. It was very intense and there were moments when I would want to hug everyone around and cry out of happiness and moments when I wanted just to sit down and cry and definitely not hug anyone, maybe only to strangle them.
My traveling continued throughout the years, I backpacked through Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and Malaysia and everywhere I went, I meet people who traveled to India. How was it? Is it really so scary, noisy, spicy? From talking to other backpackers I learned that you either love India or hate it and since there was apparently no middle ground, I always wondered in which category I would fall…
Before I found out the answer to that questions, a lot of things happened and in order to fully understand how I ended up in New Delhi, we have to go back to the beginning of the story. I grew up in a small town of Novo mesto in Slovenia, which was one of the republics in former Yugoslavia. I studied political philosophy, a very interesting topic, but as you can imagine, not very useful in today’s world, if you don’t plan to become politician and I am thankful that I did not. During my studies I focused mainly on cultural studies, political film, politics of images and gender studies. My final diploma thesis analyzed the image of women power in action movies of Hollywood in the 80’s and 90’s.
My hometown of Novo mesto
After graduation I worked a number of different jobs; I shoveled dirt on the archeological site, I was video store clerk, I worked in the laboratory for earth analysis, TV station and tax office and wrote articles related to films for different newspapers… At approximately the same time I also discovered Amnesty International Slovenia, where I started working as a volunteer, later became part of the fundraising team and in the end coordinated part of the fundraising for almost a year. This experience opened my eyes to the NGO world and I realized that this is a field where I could actually use my knowledge from university and at the same time keep my hands clear from politics.
Three years ago I started working in the international volunteer organization called Zavod Voluntariat. What could be cooler than that, you not only volunteer, but you volunteer in the international environment, enriching your experience with intercultural dialogue and global education? I learned a lot during these three years, experienced some wonderful and inspiring stories and also shared failures and disappointments together with my colleagues. Having coordinated the projects gave me a different insight; when I was volunteering I never thought about the other side of the project and when I started to work as a coordinator I learned the hard way, that behind most volunteer projects there is a never ending story of project applications, evaluations, final reports, invoice collection, budget preparation and other bureaucratic hardships. After three years I needed a break. I came to the point of burning out and at the same time I needed to reset my “volunteer “mind. I didn’t have time to volunteer during these three years but at the same time I was always working with volunteers, so I wanted to go back in the shoes of a volunteer. I learned about GLEN project in India, where I would be making a film with organization which does vocational training with young children with fewer opportunities. This was my chance!
Great, I thought, I could continue with my work on film, which I neglected while working for Voluntariat and at the same time, I would finally see what all the fuss about India is about. I knew that I love Indian food, so this part will definitely be enjoyable. While in Malaysia I would spend my days sitting down at local Indian “chai” places eating chapatti and naan, dunking them into dhals and licking my fingers. And my image of India was also influenced by the stories of India told by my meditation teacher S.N. Goenka. In 2007 I started practicing Vipassana meditation and sat numerous courses in the center in Italy, where I would hear about the “wonderful, ancient and rich country” where Gautama Buddha sat under the tree and reached nirvana. Great project in a great country, what could be better than that?
So, in which category do I fall? How is my mind doing in the country of extremes? I have to say I am pleasantly surprised. I don’t know whether I was too scared by other travelers or have toughened my skin while traveling in other countries, but India is for now a wonderful experience. I am here for only a week and didn’t leave Delhi, but people are really nice, food is of course excellent, auto drivers are in fact trying to rob us every time we try to get a ride and Delhi is a hot and noisy place to be.
And you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way…