Bhuj and Gujarat, India: March 21, 2002:
Nearly four hours later the beat-up Indian train pulled into the train yard of Surat, Gujarat. It was dark and nearly 7 p.m. Surat was a main train terminal for further travel east, west, north or south. There were lots more people crammed together at the station. By the time the train stabled it was 7:15 p.m. We were supposed to be at a Rotary meeting especially called on our behalf at 7:30 p.m.
We hadn’t walked far down the station platform when we were met by Prafull Bhatt and his wife. We wedged our entire luggage into their small car, and the five of us then pulled the car around our bodies. We drove off through the Surat traffic to the 7:30 p.m. Rotary meeting.
It had been announced that Dr. Anna Marie Jackson and Dr. James W. Jackson would be special guests on March 15. Our credibility and wisdom were both enhanced, according to the people in Surat, when we didn’t show up. It just would not have been smart to travel toward Ahmadabad when it was expected that the whole region was to erupt in violence.
But a crowd larger than they expected had shown up to see and hear us on March 21. Several different district clubs had their presidents and representatives there. They were very kind to us and showered us with gifts and accolades. To think that we would travel to western India during their time of civil and political unrest to help them with their earthquake problem almost overwhelmed them.
It had been announced that I would speak to them, and they assured me that I was to take all the time I wanted. They included Anna Marie in their presentations and gifts, which made it very comfortable for both of us. Somehow they found out that my birthday was the next day, and it was cute the way they made a big deal of the occasion.
I started my talk by congratulating them on all the wonderful relief work that their clubs had spearheaded following the disasters. I then explained the history and mission of Project C.U.R.E.’s work in 89 countries around the world. I wanted to encourage them and also challenge them, and even though I knew most of them were Hindu, I felt quite free to tell them of the great influence and help that we had received from God both personally and with Project C.U.R.E.
I closed my talk by telling them the story of the little boy and his grandfather walking on the beach at low tide, and the little boy running ahead trying to throw all the stranded starfish back out into the water. “Son, there’s 200 miles of beach and thousands of starfish, and you will never be able to save them all. Besides it really doesn’t make any difference,” the grandfather insisted. Then the little boy picked up another starfish and flung it as hard as he could out into the water and said, “Yes, but it makes a big difference to this one.”
I challenged them to arise to meet their own potential for significance, and I said, “We can make a difference and we can change our world. Let’s do it together.” The group was very responsive and appreciative. We all joined together for a wonderful dinner of Indian rice, curry, and vegetables.
Prafull Bhatt was a past Rotary governor, and his wife was in charge of all the matching grants in their district. They had made arrangements after our dinner to adjourn to their home in Surat for a smaller meeting with area Rotary presidents, directors, and prominent physicians. There we spent another hour and a half discussing how Project C.U.R.E., together with Rotary clubs in India and America, could partner in medical projects.
Friday, March 22
We woke up to the news that quite a high number of additional people had been killed in violent outbreaks over the night. The situation was remaining under control in that it had not erupted into a full-blown civil war. But it was still very dangerous. We would all feel safer when we were finished with our India train ride and on our way to Nepal. We would be riding on the same express train that was burned just a bit further north two weeks earlier. Anna Marie and I talked often about how nice it was going to be to finish in India and land in Kathmandu, Nepal where we would be able to enjoy a few stress-free, safe days to just unwind and peacefully relax a bit.
Much to my surprise Anna Marie and I went down to breakfast Friday morning to find that our host and hostess had arranged for a “Happy Birthday Breakfast Party” for me. They had invited some of the influential people of the community to join with us. I had chocolate cake with “Happy Birthday James Jackson” written on it, and I even got to blow out a birthday candle.
We were rushed to the train station to catch the 8:20 a.m. train back to Bombay. One thing admirable about the Indian train system, they had maintained the old British custom of running their trains precisely on time. At exactly 8:20, we rolled out of the Surat station.
About 20 miles down the track the train stopped at a station where it had been arranged for me to meet another one of India’s Rotarian governors. He was a dentist and extremely interested in working with Project C.U.R.E. We had to talk and listen in rapid succession because our only time was the brief station stop of the train. When the whistle blew I had to grab the rail of the coach and swing into the train in mid-sentence. I got in “goodbye, nice to meet you,” and a quick wave.
As the old blue train pulled its bogies into the Bombay rail station we made another mad dash across the city to the airport. For over a week we had not slowed so much as to catch our breath. Of course, because of the thick pollution in India you could live your entire life and not catch your breath. Inside the airport Anna Marie and I found a small cyber net coffee shop run by some entrepreneurial computer-whiz Indians. For about $5 and two cups of Gold Label tea, we were able to check our e-mail and send messages home and on ahead of us to Dr. Mark Zimmerman in Kathmandu, Nepal. Royal Nepal Airlines flight #202 departed Bombay at 5:20 p.m. destined for Nepal. Now we could relax and be safe. Oh! . . . but were we in for a huge surprise . .
Next Week: Is world chaos the norm?