Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Delhi University

My next stop in New Delhi was Delhi University. I asked the folks there if they knew of less expensive accommodations, since the Taj Palace Hotel where the India Economic Summit was held was fabulous but also more than I'd ever paid per night in the U.S.! So, I was able to stay for several nights at less than one tenth the price in the University's International Guest House, which was a great change of pace.

Professor Vinod Sena and Jim Fruchterman
I came to Delhi U. for meetings thanks to Professor Vinod Sena. Prof. Sena is a retired English Literature professor who has been visually impaired all of his life and continues to work avidly for people with visual impairments. The meeting was held at what used to be the Viceroy of India's lodge in New Delhi, and steeped with history. Lord Mountbatten proposed to his wife in that building and was later the Chancellor of the University as the UK's last Viceroy to India.

We had a wide array of key people at the meeting, including the head of IT at the university, another blind professor, top librarians, the heads of NGOs serving the blind and the head of library services for the blind [check titles]. As a university with a strong commitment to serving students with vision impairments (having over XXX such students), the U is very interested in participating with Plus, the demand for English accessible books is especially acute at the University level.

I joined another blind professor, Jagdish Chander ("Jags" to his American friends), for beers later that day, and I learned about life as a blind professional in India. Jags chose to come back to India rather than stay in the U.S. In India, he can afford several domestic helpers to drive and operate his house. His motorcycle driver zoomed over to the guesthouse and picked me up. Pretty exciting. ("Helmets, we don't need no... helmets.")

Jags and I then joined a blind technical/professional couple for dinner: Dinesh and Madhu Kaushal. Dinesh has programmed for Freedom Scientific and now works for the Codefactory in Spain, and Madhu works for IBM. I quite enjoyed our discussions, which ranged from Bookshare to the need for open source screen readers.

Sunrise with birds in bare tree

A couple of days later I had breakfast with my host, Professor Sena, and we talked in depth about the need for copyright changes in India, a cause he had been championing for years. Before breakfast, I got up before dawn and wandered around the campus. The sunrise was deep red, and there was a lot of dust (and/or smog) in the air. This is the dry season in Delhi, and it was actually pretty cold: probably in the 50s while I was walking around.

I was impressed by the number of people out getting exercise by walking around or doing yoga in the park. It's a huge university: more than 100,000 students including their open university extension. And, there was a cow or two on my sojourn!

Cow in front of Geology Department sign at Delhi University

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