From Vermont to Chennai

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Eager learner: Mike Earley
Eager learner: Mike Earley

American Mike Earley loves the `fluidity of the streets' here

It was the Peace Corps, createdby John F Kennedy in 1961 topromote peace and friendshipby sending American volunteersaround the globe, that broughtMike Earley and his wife together.The same organisation inspiredthem to uproot their life in Vermont,U.S., and shift to Chennai.

Mike and his wife are "internationalists"and met while studyingthe `Program for InterculturalManagement.' Both were PeaceCorps volunteers - Mike in Braziland his wife in Botswana. "ThePeace Corps experience never leavesyou, and you always want to giveback to that," Mike says. He alsodid a Masters in Counselling andworked as a clinical mental healththerapist.

In Chennai, Mike calls himself"the `quality of life' manager" whilehis wife is the Elementary Principalat the American InternationalSchool.

His job here includes being the`stay-home dad', reading as muchas he can about India and its varioustraditions and customs, andtrying to understand how to betternegotiate relationships with peoplein Chennai.

Having been raised an "egalitarianAmerican," one that "thinksrace or class differences should notbe an issue," Mike feels that he hasa lot to learn in terms of respectingthe apparent differences betweenpeople.

He is wary of "not pushing hisown mentality around" and dealswith people calling him `Sir' eventhough it makes him cringe."I always say `call me Mike,' butseconds later, they call me Siragain."

When his wife was looking forwork overseas, for Mike "it was likegoing fishing - sometimes we got afew bites, but then the big onecame, and that was Chennai."Mike didn't know much aboutChennai apart from wearing `MadrasPlaid' during the 1960s. "I hadMadras shorts, jackets, shirts andpeople loved them because theywould fade and change colour."

He also learnt that J. Krishnamurtihad lived in Chennai andthat was a big draw for him.Having read Krishnamurti'sworks, Mike said entering the TheosophicalSociety grounds was "apretty heavy moment.I was floating."

Coming from a place of only15,000 people, the hardest thingfor Mike is living in an urban environment.

"This is an enormouscity. If I were from New York,maybe it would be easier," he says.Although he finds it chaotic, Mikelikes the "fluidity of the streets"and to see people dealing with thechaos "with kindness andcourtesy."SEEMA SANGHI




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