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January, 2008

The Shy Writer

Chicken Little And The Dignity Of Labour
It’s raining hens
By  Buzz Burza

guess it's customary everywhere to make end-of-the-year resolutions.

Ergo, the resolution I vow to uphold forevermore is to not only respect deadlines, but to govern all of my time accordingly.

Sadly, I have tried to toss out Bill Gates’ accursed time-waster, “Classic" Solitaire, many times, to no avail. I keep sneaking back to the trash bin to retrieve it. I welcome, as, I’m sure, do you, any advice people have on this problem.
I just got into – and out of – a terrible bind faced with a beginning-of-the-year deadline for a feature that has been pending for several years. One of the publications I write for is a Washington DC-based book for Peace Corps alumni, of which I am one. The editor had long ago mentioned the possibility of a feature about the Indian poultry industry and how the Peace Corps affected it.

Initially such a story seemed daunting, if not overwhelming, because I mistakenly took a macro approach to it. In India, the tremendous depth and breadth of the poultry industry, both in terms of eggs and broilers, is a direct result of the 16 years the Peace Corps were in operation here.

But in 1977, Indira Gandhi pulled three populist fast ones: she nationalized the banks; she took away the privy purses from which the former Maharajas were bought off; and, I’m here to tell you, she kicked out the Peace Corps.

Even so, almost 30 years later, poultry is well established because it proved to be the ideal entry-level position for the typical B.A. generalist volunteer such as myself.

Thanks to my efforts, the last person sent to India to deal with poultry would be someone with a degree in poultry science, who would be trained to deal with 100,000-bird flocks, whereas the average PC volunteer dealt with a mere 100 bird, max.

The writing assignment I accepted, then, several months ago, was to do a story based on a husband-and-wife PC volunteer team who had a profound effect on one Indian family. I was given exactly (count ‘em) two pieces of information: the name "Elias," living "near" Nasik, an industrial city several hours outside of Bombay.

Suffice it to say I couldn't make contact with anyone so I jumped on the train, arriving at 6 am on the last Saturday in December and leaving the following day at 6 pm. One rather crucial piece of information missing from what my employers provided me was the family name, D'Souza.

It took a couple of hours, but at 10 am I was talking to Elias's wife on a telephone in a guardhouse outside of one of the grander houses I have seen.

But the lack of servants was the defining element of my weekend in Nasik. Mrs. D'Souza and her daughter Michelle served tea themselves in a baronial reception room. Michelle drove me herself to meet her father and uncle. Her father drove me to the train station the following day. The two brothers served lunch. At all has to do with the dignity of labour.

This was a mom-and-pop operation that had grown from humble beginnings behind the ice factory pop managed. In 1961, mom was given permission to keep chickens to help supplement funds needed for school fees. In 64 the two brothers took delivery of 200 day-old chicks. A month later, half of the new venture dead, someone mentioned the Peace Corps volunteers in town. Elias set off to find them.

The couple he found were unique because they were in their 50s and had just sold a dairy farm in my home state, Wisconsin, USA, when neither of their sons opted for agrarian pursuits. For them the Peace Corps was a second career rather than a prelude to beginning one.

Meeting up with the U.S. Midwesterners was pure serendipity for the D'Souza clan because they were the most successful of the 160,000 odd PCVs who had served since 62. Their expertise, the D'Souza family's ability to think outside of the box and belief in the dignity of labour led to a situation where they now employee more than 2,000 loyal Indians and do business throughout Asia and Africa.

Thankfully, miraculously, 2,000 words of the story were in Washington at 9 am on January 2. A lesson learned, indeed, beyond the dignity of labour. And hence my resolution:

Never leave being dignified until the last minute.
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Buzz Burza is a freelance writer, photographer, teacher, lecturer, film actor and print distribution consultant living in New Delhi, India. Email:

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Part III: What Your Publisher Won't Tell You
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