I just got back from India tonight. Usually I enjoy being in India; but, not so much this time. In many ways it was a disappointing trip. The items that needed to be accomplished were not accomplished. The aspects of business travel that can be considered pleasurable were equally dismal – bad food, bad travel, dangerous surroundings. The one item that was the saving grace was that, as usual, my Wisdom score increased by one again. That seems to happen with every journey to India. Then again, my starting score was around 6 so there is still a long way to go (for you D&D nerds, you know what I mean.) Oh, and the dinner company on Friday was incredibly beautiful and charming. That was nice – though the music was too loud to talk.
What was learned this time? Its so hard to capture the essence of India. India lingers with you long after you’ve left.
The poverty strikes hard. The huge disparity between rich and poor, where some people squat in open dusty fields trying hard to make enough food to eat while others sip from $200US bottles of fine scotch. Yet so many seem to accept their fate. My driver this time mentioned that I must enjoy life because I’m a foreigner. Foreigners can enjoy their life, he says, because they don’t have to work as hard. He works three 24 hour shifts a week, four shifts every other week. The equivalent of a 60 cent tip was greatly appreciated by him.
People can be brutally callous to each other there. Maybe its because there are so many people. Maybe its because there are so many struggling to just eat enough. But then at the same time they revere life and treat animals as individuals just as well as humans. Not just the cows roaming the streets. One morning a teenage boy riding a bicycle kicked a feral dog out of his way. Instantly, as if without thinking, a pedestrian shot out an arm and whacked the boy off his bike.
Workers are treated like slaves in many ways. Extraordinarily long hours are expected, particularly of managers. If you don’t respond to email on Saturday people question you. When I ask people why they accept such treatment their response is that this is the Indian culture. There is no use trying to fight it. The alternative of being out on the street is not viable, not when you see the streets of India and the mass of people who do live off the streets. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule and some teams actually behave reasonably; but, this extreme working condition seems more normal than not.
Then there’s the religion. There are at least four prominent religions in the area where I stay. Hinduism is the norm, with Islam and Sikhism following closely behind. Christianity exists; but, is a minor player. Buddhism seems non-existent – at least I couldn’t find any evidence of it. Hindu extremism is on the rise, partly in reaction to the Muslim terrorism. Also, uneducated and poor people are used as pawns in the political battles. They are whipped into a frenzy of hatred against each other. Between the crushing poverty and a nationalism based on religious hatred, an opening of an army recruitment center in Punjab this past week saw three people trampled to death by the mobs of young men looking to join the military.
By a number of folks there America seemed to be seen as a paper tiger. Condi’s trip to New Delhi was openly scorned. It did nothing but make my own stay more dangerous. We are impotent and weak. The world knows it. There is still plenty of economic power in the US; but, even that wanes.
So what was learned? Again, its hard to say. To me India has always meant Life. Its teeming populace, crazy traffic, pollution, wandering animals, garbage strewn cities, spicy food, and warm heartedness assault the senses. The amazing array of colors and beliefs are an embodiment of the mystery of life. What was learned? The mystery of life is a mystery, and the answer is in the flesh. In the past India has been uplifting. The message this trip was that the flesh is weak: weak minded, weak spirited, mortal and decaying.