India Journal: Progress in the Midst of Pain

As I mentioned in another recent post, I just completed spending several days in India.  I also said that, having spent nearly three weeks in Delhi, and some of the north/central parts of the country about 18 months ago, I was eager to come back, and to explore some of the other cities that I’ve heard so much about, namely Mumbai and Bangalore.

While these two cities are very different in some obvious ways, they are still India.  And for someone from the outside, that can be jarring.  I think that given that I’d been here IMG_1940before, I underestimated the impact that being here would have on me.  My hotel in Mumbai was within a half-mile of one of the largest shanty cities in the world – go watch this clip from Slumdog Millionaire, and you’ll see it for yourself.  It’s right there next to the airport.  I’m glad I had the background of being here before, but apparently that wasn’t enough to shield me from shock.

Here are some words I wrote in my journal:

It seems that in the year and a half since I was in India last, I had forgotten the degree of intensity of this country.  Mumbai is different than Delhi in many ways, but both are just overwhelming to the senses.  It hits you straight in the face the minute you leave the airport (if not sooner).  The first thing you notice is the sky, or the lack thereof.  Smog blankets the cities – most of which comes from the crowded roads.  The buzzing of the two-stroke engines of black and yellow auto-rickshaws, along with their chaotic driving patterns completes the hive-like metaphor that jumps to mind.  The traffic, with its congestion is often at a crawl . . . until it starts moving at a whirring, frenetic pace – horns honking, vehicles weaving in and out of pathways (not to be confused with lanes).  Road construction has the roads torn up, with ditches and broken concrete everywhere.  Everything is covered with a thick film of dust.  I would assume that means the people, too.  Remarkably enough, most people look well groomed and clean . . .

Later I wrote this:

India’s poverty is so much more acute than anywhere else I’ve been – including the shanty towns of Tijuana, Santo Domingo, and San Jose.  It’s hard to quantify it, and by financial statistics, it may not even be trueIMG_1882 that the poverty is worse here – it’s just my opinion of my experiences.  With all that said, I see a lot of initiative in the Indian people.  Unlike other areas where poverty is an issue, nobody is waiting around, hoping for help to come in from the outside – they know it’s not, so they’re going to have to get things done on their own, or they will die – simple as that.

About the time that I was finally getting acclimated to the rhythm of Mumbai, it was time to move on to Bangalore.  This was a very different experience from the time I stepped off of the airplane into a new, shiny, clean airport.  Bangalore, if you didn’t already know, is IMG_1961one of the high-tech hubs of India – when you make a tech support call for your computer and get someone with an Indian accent on the other end, more than likely, you’re talking to Bangalore.  The amount of brain power in this city is staggering.  Thomas Friedman wrote a good bit about this city in his blockbuster book, The World is Flat.  India is graduating MIT-level braniacs at many times the rate the U.S. or any other country is.

Bangalore is progressive, growing, and pulling in a lot of money.  And you can tell from the highways, the contemporary architecture, the new high-rise apartment blocks, and the computer companies with large complexes.  These companies are working hard to keep India’s best and brightest in India, where they can drive progress and develop even more.

The smog is still there, hovering in a haze over the city.  The poverty is still there, if in a lesser degree than elsewhere.  The noisy auto-rickshaws are still there, but there areIMG_1970 actually signs on the highways that keep drivers more orderly.

It’s obvious to anyone who has been to any non-tourist areas of India why Bangalore is held up as the model of the country’s new way forward.  India’s rapidly growing economy, along with its massive population are putting her on the mainstage, and Bangalore seems to be making many of the strides that will pull people into the future.

There is still a long way to go for these people.  And they still haven’t dealt meaningfully with the evils of the caste system that segregate and oppress.  But there is a pulse of hope.  Keep your eyes on India.  Healing and growth are on their way.

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