Geneva Diaries #1

Roger’s Early Letters, The Indus Valley Civilization and an American Story


Dear Roger,

Thank you so much,I am sure its because of my very special french teacher! I hope I am able to keep it up.

I also eagerly look forward to meeting Vincent and learning sushi from him. Thanks for contacting him with my request.

last but not the least, thank you for sending me Wallerstein’s article, many thoughts and much to discuss, all of which came tumbling out with tears as I was chopping onions for dinner( a new successful salad recipe) now being tested on you:

The world in the cusp of great change (as I mentioned during our last chat) or as W puts it the world at the brink of a great crisis…that is all I find I share with him, until I read him again.

The way I see it is not what kind of system works whether it be capitalism (which he prophesies is doomed) or whether its of any relevance if the system which is going to replace this one is better or worse, But that we need to delve into some very core issues which form the foundations of any system we try and hoist upon our people. The two core issues that are imperative to explore are-

1) How do we incentivize our fellow human beings? How do we excite and incentivize so that man is able to achieve his finest and able to perform his best thereby contributing positively not only to himself but also to his family and society as a whole. 

2)How do we gauge, assess performance or achievement? How do we assess productivity –

The current parameters appear to be the issue as they press for More, More, More. A ruthless unbridled drive to generate more, promote more and sell more and as we discussed during our last meeting, even if it means burning crops and pouring gallons of milk down the drain.

 I have heard many arguments about the cost and futility of transporting these surplus goods to hungry mouths across the globe rather than writing out a paycheck. But the factors that are not taken into consideration are the ones that alarm me. The very fact that there is such a grotesque over production must mean that somewhere in the process energy, fertilizers, water for irrigation and waste products have been utilized and generated. Not only is the overproduction and its consequent destruction vulgar but the impact on the environment of such continuous and mindless acts just to bump up the bottom line and demonstrate that the entity is a profit making outfit is where we appear to have steered off course.

So first and foremost, and in my opinion, these parameters which we have taken for granted need to be reevaluated from the perspective of state of the globe(stripped, contaminated and polluted and continuing at an exponential rate) and man today with an exploding population and consumption patterns that challenge any norm of sustainable growth.

Roger, you mustn’t misunderstand me. I am all for progress and development. I am all for art and luxury (I specify art because in most of its forms it does not conform to any code of economics). And, I believe in resources being expended for creating something exquisite just for its existence even if i never get near it in my lifetime. Because, we all need a dream and and we all need to dream. Whether it is a cowrie shell or a gold nugget, we need something to stir our imaginations to push ourselves, to strive for, to uplift our souls and spirits just for a moment. So, everytime the kids and I see a Ferrari, we cheer, like we would cheer a rock star.What a magnificent machine!

Now, roger, I now leave it to you to weave these various elements and make a beautiful shawl which can be worn.

See you tomorrow.



Bonsoir Purnima,

Excusez-moi de vous écrire si tard, mais nous avons regardé toute la soirée

l’investiture d’Obama.  C’est un moment historique:  Vous l’avez regardé ?

CNN has had live coverage of all the events since about 4:30 this afternoon.

We even ate in front of the TV to be able to catch it all.

I’ve checked out a few museums in Geneva, and there isn’t a big choice in

terms of special exhibits.  There is an exhibit on Egypt at the Musée d’art

et d’histoire, which isn’t far from you place.  It’s called Akhenaton et

Nefertiti: Soleil et ombres des pharaons

The other place that looks very interesting is the Musée d’art moderne et

contemporain with some interesting permanent collections of modern art.

The Maison Tavel is also a possibility.

Let me know what suits your fancy and we can either meet there or at your

place and walk to the museum.  All three of the above places are within

walking distance.

J’espère que vous passez une bonne soirée.  A demain,


Thank you Roger for indulging me once again, you have given me an opportunity to put my scrambled ramble down!

I don’t remember how our conversation meandered, but I do remember mentioning to you once that I was keenly involved with a museum project on the Indus Valley Civilization which was being spearheaded by the Global Heritage Foundation in Palo Alto and your EYES SPARKLED blue as the Indus…so I take the liberty to impose.

See below The Indus Valley Civilization:

Some Images of The Indus Valley Civilization from The National Museum in New Delhi, India: The Dancing Girl, An Indus Seal, Poster of all the major ancient River Valley Civilizations, images of major cities like Harappa and Mohenjodaro.

My involvement with the Indus Project, a museum to be built, a story to be told about a thriving, technologically advanced and vibrant culture that goes back 5,000 years to the time of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization, was initiated a couple of years ago in Palo Alto. My imagination was stirred by a friend named “Kalpana” which in Sanskrit means imagination, who took me upon her wing for an incredible ride to a time and place far away back to the cradle of civilization, spinning a story of a time and place, a utopia of technological progress and town planning, an egalitarian settled society with proud empowered women, in the same lands watered by the Indus that would look back with envy at the people who settled here 5,000 ago. Presenting me with the exciting idea of involvement in a project that promised to somehow bridge the place I came from to our current home.  I met numerous times with the lady responsible for coordinating the museum effort and we enjoyed bouncing this would oughts ideas off each other ( I was probably viewed as an insistent pest urging them on, assisting from the periphery). In my continuing support for the project, I introduced a business partner who publishes a quarterly magazine with a focus on philanthropy as a supporting sponsor who agreed to carry an article on the Indus Museum Project. 


Kalpana Sounds like:

Pasted below is part of the information on the Indus Valley Civilization that I sent to the magazine hoping to elicit interest and gain publicity for the project . I felt that the Indus story must be more than just a compilation of facts, which is essential, but that initially it is more pertinent to have a storyline that connects it to the community it looks to for support.

As this was an area and subject close to my heart, I felt passionately involved, as though this were my very own museum, my project, my story. I have subsequently and as recently as a few days ago, here in Geneva, added additional thoughts to the core idea broadening its scope as we journey onwards.

The following were broad points covering the highlights of the Indus Valley Civilization for the article to be substantiated by detailed facts. It also provided the broad storyline mentioned above that would connect with the community it was looking towards for support:

Unique city planning – the most advanced drainage systems in the then known world

Egalitarian society – with no structured hierarchy

Script – not yet deciphered – mystery to be unraveled

Technology– Carnelian (?) beads – firing and drilling technology at it’s best. Standardization of weights and measures.

Commerce – Actively traded goods with Mesopotamia likely used Indus seals. The Unicorn seal being the most prominent- Myth of the unicorn arose from the Indus – Little known fact 😉

Position of women: Elevated position in society. Figurines of mother goddess, female hunter on seal, images of proud women with majestic headgear.(recently added)

As i encountered the Indus project in Palo Alto, I was exhilarated, thinking I have finally found my space.For journeying to America we had continued our journey eastwards, to India, the the New India of all our dreams! i could finally put my own journey with my children and my family and weave it into the fabric of America, the Story of America.

A story that goes back to the cradle of civilization, the story of the Indus: an exciting story, an untold story, an undeciphered story!

The story of an incredible people stretched over a vast area which developed a highly sophisticated and efficient system which offered their inhabitants safety, security, clean and effective public amenities like running water drainage, well planned streets and residences, public baths and granaries, standardization of weights and measures for facilitating trade and commerce. The average man’s life appears secure and prosperous with little radical distinctions between the people which would be the envy of people currently inhabiting those lands, today,5,000 years later.

This very story of the Indus must have travelled far and wide in the ancient world, exciting the minds and imaginations of peoples in the far recesses of the world, still living a semi nomadic life, which propelled the subsequent journeys onto these fertile plains. And with every journey, the waves of people from all the various tribes that made it to these plains absorbed and assimilated enriching the land with their culture and mythology and left behind the next layer of gold dust.

As we uncover the various layers that line the banks of the Indus we find, Indus seals, covered by aryan burial mounds, covered by Stupas and symbols of their buddhist past, which adds to its golden glow. As we unravel these layers of sediment that line the Indus valley we find many journeys,  some invasions. However brutal the initial impact of their arrival upon the plains  but we find primarily a people journeying to settle and embrace.

The eternal story being of the dream that propels the journey, the many layers, the varied hues, the invasions the assimilations, the contributions, all adding to the layers of gold dust and the story that is India…the journey continues. 


I doubt if you have made it this far, I can’t imagine you would have the patience to read but I certainly enjoyed telling.

Hope you feel better, see you soon.



From: Roger Stevenson

Date: Sun, Feb 1, 2009 at 8:10 PM

Subject: The Indus Nirvana

Hi Purnima,

Thanks so much for your piece on the Indus Valley project.  Sorry to be so long in getting back to you about it, but I’m still not feeling great.

It was fascinating feeling your enthusiasm and lyricism as I read through your email.  As with everything you seem to do in life, with the possible exception of French homework, you dive headlong into your pursuit of a goal, a dream, a mystery, an ideal, a utopia.  That was the primary pleasure.  The second was discovering so many previously unknown aspects about the Indus civilization:  I had always thought the myth of the unicorn came from Eastern European origins, and a society where women are revered and looked up to and enjoy full equality ! ! !.

I am somewhat intrigued by your motif of the bridge and the movement to the space, place where those ideals can flourish, and in one sense find it both totally appropriate and utterly outrageous that California might represent a reincarnation of the Indus dream.  That’s something we will have to have a long talk about.  On so many levels, Southern California, in spite of its natural, physical beauty and its magnate-like ability to draw creative minds, is the very antithesis of intelligent, environmental city planning.  The economic inequalities that abound in Southern California are heightened by the tremendous resources that the so-called creative sector produces, and only serve to widen the gap between those who live on the hill in their ghastly oversized mansions and those who populate the service sector as their maids, gardeners, fruit pickers, construction workers, etc.  By the way, did you see the film Babel ?

Anyway, a lot to discuss, including, when chasing the utopian dream, how does one deal with those pesky little details like human nature (Marx’s one serious shortcoming, in my estimation), ethnic and racial equality, deviants who don’t want to go along with the established system, corruption and crime, external pressure and threat which more often than not leads to war, etc.

J’espère que vous avez passé un bon week-end.  Est-ce que vous êtes sortis ce week-end ? 

A mercredi, j’espère,


Dear Roger,

As you know, I have been at a loose end, wondering what I should be doing next, how to reinvent myself at this phase and stage of life…especially here in Geneva!

Well, what do you think of the pursuit of a multi-disciplinary masters degree program. Apparently, the University of Geneva is considering offering such a degree.

I have always been interested in the multi-disciplinary study of law, as I believe that Law and Literature, Law and Theatre in combination with the sciences, technology and other subjects would make a fascinating advanced study. Not only would that be of value to senior attorneys who wish to get upto speed on a broad spectrum of todays relevant issues but for judges and other members of the judiciary, who as we have discussed are completely “out of it”.

Also, don’t you think, that literature and theatre would be a wonderful way to convey pivotal legal issues and core values that form the substratum of our laws to the general public for purposes of education and reaffirmation, a form of a modern day referendum. There is much of what a lot of people take for granted but are unable to explain or convey to the next generation, to the public, to the jury. And, do you not feel that we are at incredible crossroads with science, technology, law and literature and someone needs to put it all together for JOE???

I know I am trying to make a persuasive case to embark upon yet another course of study, but here I see incredible value. Would LOVE your feedback.


Dear Purnima,

Your imagination has certainly been active.  I actually quite like the idea of combining law and literature, with a touch of science and technology thrown in, for an interdisciplinary degree.  It’s something that not many folks will have thought of doing.  You are dead right that not just the general public, but those sitting in places of authority, be it the bench or in public office, are often so terribly out of touch with reality.

On the practical side, you would have to be very sure, and from the beginning, that the U of Geneva would have the faculty and the curricular structure to support such a degree program.  That can often be a sticking point.  Have you contacted anyone there yet?

Another question that comes to mind is how you would envision incorporating literature, especially the theatre into any kind of program of study and then eventually in efforts to enlighten the public and/or judges?  Would you use existing plays and adaptations or would you produce original material?  There is always a certain risk in writing plays that are didactic in nature.  Berthold Brecht comes to mind.  His plays have a very heavy-handed political message and point of view that, in my opinion, distracts from any artistic value they might have.

On this end I have been quite occupied with thoughts about time, its relentless passing, and how it structures our lives.  I think our musings about a virtual reality where time and space would be reordered and altered have caused me to dream.  Wouldn’t it indeed be wonderful to be able to escape the effects of time and exist anywhere and anytime we chose?

Speaking of time, tomorrow at this time we’ll be winging our way towards the “land of the rising sun.”  Isn’t it interesting how former empires are so taken with the sun, what with the British and their notion that the sun never sets on the British Empire? 

More later from Tokyo,



Dear Purnima,

You so aptly characterized that period in the US.  It was the time in my life where I was a graduate student, learning to see the world through different sets of eyes, loosing that sense of innocence I had about existence and understanding that all the Kool Aid, Hotdogs, Baseball, Fast Cars, Jeans, Ketchup, Marilyn Monroe, Bubble-gum,  were just the flashy, surface, easily recognizable and oft-imitated facade of America. I also discovered little by little that there was a dark underside to this nation I had been taught to believe had some kind of manifest destiny.  My trip down that road to a more acute awareness took many turns and detours.  I still remember how devastated I was when John F. Kennedy was shot.  It was such an unthinkable act and it left a rather large hole in my bubble of hope and optimism.  But then the assassinations continued : ironically, I was living in France in 1968 and was traveling when both Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were felled by the assassin’s bullet.  I was in Spain when I heard on my transistor radio (my constant companion then as now) that Martin Luther King had been shot and in Greece when Kennedy, who had been my hope for some sanity in the presidential election campaign, was shot in California.  I have vivid memories of walking around Athens that day with my transistor to my ear listening for reports about his condition, and more than one Greek person realized why I was so glued to the radio and asked me about him.  I also remember going to the American Embassy that night to sign a book of remembrance and express my grief about yet another senseless, dream-shattering act.  And then there was Richard Nixon !

The next major crossroad was my eventual disillusion with a nation waging what I came to understand as an immoral and unjustified war in Southeast Asia.  I was a graduate student at the University of Washington in Seattle when the campus protests against the war spread throughout the country, and I heard many a fiery speech denouncing America’s involvement and I willingly joined in many campus marches and demonstrations.  The shootings by the National Guard at Kent State are firmly etched in my mind.

And once settled in a small university town in Southern Oregon, I saw more of Americana in action, from the Hippy movement to the Rajnishi’s to Haight Ashbury in San Francisco to the Berkeley Free Speech demonstrations – I used to listen to a talk station from San Francisco all the time, KGO, which I could pick up very easily at night in Southern Oregon, and I do indeed recall the discussions about Harvey Milk when he was killed.

No time to go into any more detail, but the lesson I learned from all of this was that for many people in America a gun and violent acts were almost always the preferred solution to anything they disagreed with.  That and the superficial, crass materialism, the self-centered disinterest in the rest of the world so prevalent in the States have played a primary role in my choice to live in France.  I’m sad that I wasn’t in California when you came looking for me, but you caught up with me in Geneva.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still a myriad of wonderful, unforgettable, inimitable and treasured aspects of America that are all part and parcel of who I am and how I conceive my birthplace : tough individualism, generosity, my Danish grandmother, skiing in the Rocky Mountains, the great films Hollywood gave us, Redwood forests on the Pacific Coast, Sunrise over Crater Lake, Tom Robbins, John Irvine, Harper Lee, Toni Morrison, a cold glass of milk with chocolat chip cookies, and, of course, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, Keith Jarrett, Mose Alison, Nina Simone, Thelonius Monk, John Coletrane, Cal Tjader . . . . .

Sweet dreams,



Roger Stevenson

Hi Purnima,

Fascinating how we got from Harvey to the actual liquid.  For me, drinking a cold glass of milk was as common and everyday as tying your shoes in the morning.  The elementary school I went to even had a program where every morning each child got a small carton of either milk or chocolate milk   Later on, we had milk delivered in half-gallon glass bottles to our front door every other morning by the local Milk Man.  In the winter the milk often froze and the expansion pushed the cap off and there was a little column of frozen milk protuding from the top of the bottle when we got home in the evening.  I also remember my first summer spent in France (1967).  At that time, fresh milk wasn’t readily available in France, it wasn’t kept in refrigerated space in the stores, and it always had a slightly sour taste.  We did a quick trip to Switzerland that summer and the Swiss had wonderful, fresh milk and I had a tall glass of it in the Bern train station.  It was heaven.

But the sad part of all of this was that when I was young and growing up on fresh milk, I was totally in the dark as to the conditions that existed in the rest of the world.  I just took it for granted that children all over the world had access to milk and all the other things that I enjoyed without even thinking much about it.  I, and most other Americans, lived in total and insouciant ignorance of how fortunate we were.  Your description of milk and its scarcity in India and what you had to go through to get even small quantities was heart wrenching, and I understand better now why the beacon of economic prosperity that shown forth from our shores was such a strong attraction for so many, my own grandparents on both sides included.

But that prosperity that has attracted so many to America also has its down side.  It is based on an economic system that plunders the raw materials of the rest of the world in the maddening frenzy to expand, to produce, to grow, to acquire.  The result has been a totally unjust and unequal distribution of wealth and goods between the North and the South.  The poorer countries whose natural resources were gobbled up and exploited by huge corporate conglomerates, were left with very little, while those of us who were fortunate enough to live in the North enjoyed increasingly empty lives amassing our plastic possessions thrust upon us by slick marketing campaigns.  We all had our shinny new cars in our surburban three-car garage (the third space filled by our camping car), our garbage disposals, dish washers, electric tooth brushes, golf carts, Cuisinarts, Tupperware, sprinkling systems to water our manicured lawns, hot tubs and jacuzzis, etc., etc., etc. ad infinitum.  And when the developing countries demand the same standard of living, we all shout, but that’s impossible, the world doesn’t have the resources nor the carrying capacity for all of you to enjoy the same kind of lives that we live.  Sorry, but you just didn’t have the ingenuity and the drive (or the ruthlessness) to accomplish what we have done, and besides, just think of all the pollution that would be produced if you all had two or three cars and super highways to drive them on.. .   To be continued.

Aren’t you leaving very soon for India with your mother ?  Have a wonderful, successful trip.  I’ll be looking forward to hearing all about it when you return.

A bientot,


Dear Roger,

Unimaginable, intense, oppressive…44 degrees celsius!!!


Somehow, whenever I am transported to this space I think of u.

I find myself locked up in a cool ac room with family (which is great as I have them captive) as no one dares to venture out in the searing sun. So we chat and eat and laugh and tease all within this space. And, i move from one enclosed space to another from my brother to my grand mother and back.

Geneva with its crystal lakes, cool blue skies and green meadows seems to be the delusion. A incredible illusion.

I find myself revisiting the last scene in Geneva, the famous one about time and trains. I am  waiting for train number 1 at Gare Cornavin with Dhruvum who with his hyperactive 10 year old mind keeps looking at the clock on the ceiling reading the time to me on a second to second basis as time seems to stretch infinitely when viewed from his perspective. We finally embark the train as it proceeds to leave the station and find ourselves staring at a train that appears to be pulling out in the opposite direction on the other side. It is then that Dhruvum asks The Questions: Is that train moving? Are we moving? How do we know? …It was just incredible  as I first let it sink in that I was on a train IN Switzerland being asked these very same questions that I had been posed to me so many times except when it was my turn to respond somehow I was transported to the scene of the original action! Surreal!  These are scenes that I have played in my mind over and over again and for so many years and I find them being played out in reality and now at 44 ABOVE. I have time to mull.

As I write, I see the skies darkening…perhaps we will all be rescued by the monsoons soon.

See u back in Switzerland.

Lots of love



Dear Purnima,

44 is indeed oppressive and surreal.  It brings back a flood of memories of two sweltering and sensuous summers in the desert of Arizona (Phoenix).  45 was the highest it hit, but one spent the time moving from one air-conditioned space to another, from house to car to supermarket back to car to any available pool and any biking was done at 6:00 am before the energy-draining rays became unbearable.  The city itself literally had no soul to it, as the sidewalks were barren and deserted.  The only respite was to drive to Sedona where the higher altitude brought such blessed relief.  That’s a chapter in my life I’ll have to tell you about someday.

The Helvetia illusion/delusion has been somewhat tainted by much higher temps and thick smog the past three days.  It has been 30+ with little wind and the valley has filled with a haze that is reminiscent of Los Angeles smog.

Your train sequence and Dhruvum’s questions fascinate me.  It is one that I have often asked: how do we know which train is moving.  It’s like the proverbial philosophical question about the tree falling in the forest and whether there is any sound if there is nobody to hear it.  Woody Allen dealt with trains in a slightly different way in his Bergmanesque “Stardust Memories”, only there it was the recurring scene of Allen on a train as it passed another train going in the opposite direction, and in this case the other train was filled with merry-making and frivolous party goers, while Allen’s train was empty and lifeless and dull.  He has a new film out now, by the way, that has gotten excellent reviews in France – “Whatever Works”

Strange that your being in India draws your thoughts my way.  I had the very same experience in Japan.  We were obviously meant to travel.  Too bad it has always been in opposite directions.

Don’t stop !

When are you returning ?

Gros, gros bisous,



Disclaimer : P

All persons, places, events are fictitious; all imputed relationships purely aspirational. There were no men harmed during the penning of the Feminist Manifesto

%d bloggers like this: