Remembrances from my last trip in 1997

#1 Sep 30th, 2008, 22:47
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India! I have come to the conclusion, for the second time, that India is beyond description. Everything was different... but, being India, everything was exactly the same. Kind of confusing? Roads, population explosion, motor vehicles, pollution... what a difference almost a century makes. The people? They were the same, beautiful, gracious, hard working, ... and poor. Poverty such as is hard to imagine, certainly never seen is this country. The very poorest in the US are equal to what the Indians consider to be middle class in so far as standard of living. Here the poor, with some notable exceptions, have at least a shack to live in, a TV to watch and eat at least 1 meal cooked just for them every day, if not under their own power by the various agencies we have to help the poor. In India nearly 300,000,000 people have nothing but a hut they built from sun dried mud with a crude grass roof. Most of these have only seen TV if they went to a larger village with electricity. They have no bathrooms, just a field or a "big tree". The water is scooped up from a polluted stream or gotten from a central pump, hand pump, in which the water is only marginally less polluted than the river. The huts may house from 2 to 10 people in one room. In spite of all this, we saw a happy people. They didn't know they were so bad off. All they have ever known was this kind of life, a civilization 4-6,000 years old. The people were noticeably cheerful. The children went to school, usually hard dirt under a tree with a blackboard on a tripod. They have a very high rate of literacy considering their poverty. As we drove by the kids would smile and wave. If we stopped for tea the teacher may ask us to pose for a picture with a class. Elouise made on early observation, "I couldn't live here and see this every day, it would make me too sad."

I saw two more of my class I hadn't seen since 1952, Lilli(Leila) Berri and Ajay Agarwal. We had lunch and dinner together and had long talks about the years at school and the years since. The perspectives between us varied because of the differences in our respective countries. All of my class would be considered very wealthy by village standards. I had never thought of myself as wealthy, but I guess I am when compared to what most rural Indians have.

I sincerely believe that to understand even a modicum of India, one must travel through the countryside, not fly over it, or even pass through it on a train. Driving through India is in and of itself an unexplainable experience. To see the villages, the bazaars, the masses of people in various places in life, farming, vending, shopping, just moving about, is to get just a little flavor of life as it is outside of the city. Even then, we only see the larger more metropolitan village life, because it is by the roads that the electric distribution system runs, furnishing life to these more favored people. Away from the roads are villages without electricity, without busses, and without the trucks that bring in supplies from the outside world. An estimated 250 million people (fully the population of the U. S.) live in such isolation. There only contacts are bicycles, bullock (or maybe a camel) carts, and the old standby walking. Some of these people seemed so preoccupied with staring at us that it seemed they had never seen someone with so light colored skin. Indians are dark skinned, ranging from near white to extremely dark, depending on the part of the country from which they come. They are for the most part Aryan, having descended from the ancient invaders who came from Caucasia, regions in between the Black and Caspian Seas. It is from here that the word Caucasian comes.

Our driver, Americans should never attempt to drive in India, was full time employed as a chauffeur for a tourist transportation contractor. His salary is Rupees 2,000 monthly. He has a wife and three kids, and an ailing father, to support. There are 35.5 rupees to the dollar. That translates to $56.34.

He is an educated person, speaks 4 languages, reads and writes in 3. (He doesn't understand Arabic script so can only speak Urdu, not read and write it.) Kuldeep thinks of himself as successful and is a deeply religious person, a devout Hindu and a real vegetarian, he won't even eat eggs because they may have hatched into chickens. He almost had a "conniption" when I tipped him RS 3,000 (less than $100) for 2 weeks of total devotion. He even slept in the car to save the little stipend his company gave him for a cheap flop. Enough of this!

The first time that we came to a river with no bridge, Elouise at first expressed distress that we may have to go back, retrace some of the hard miles we had traversed, and cross elsewhere. Kuldeep, without hesitation, drove into the mostly dry riverbed and forded the little water there was left from the rainy season. Had it been July or August, we may have had to go around perhaps 200-300 miles to the next bridge. We crossed many such semi-dry river beds, some which had never had bridges, and some whose bridges had washed away in some monsoon season past.

We saw the beauty of the Himalayas from the first ridge, 7,000 and not yet to the top. The hills are covered with rhododendron trees, not in bloom but beautiful nevertheless. My school was old, 150 years, but still together. They had just added a computer science building and a new music building. (there are 2 bands and 2 orchestras for western music and an Indian Classical orchestra)

We visited Hindu temples! What an experience! There was a representation of Christ, he is considered a prophet and great man by the Hindus. We saw the mother Ganges, one of the holy rivers (water is so essential that all rivers are considered to be holy to some degree or another). We went to Lucknow where I lived with my family and visited the Residency (look it up), in which my sisters and I played and chased monkeys as teenagers. We lived in back of the rear wall and climbed over so we wouldn't have to pay to get in. It is a beautiful park and is preserved just as it was after the mutiny of 1857.

We visited the Taj Mahal twice, in the morning in the bright sunlight, and in the evening under the light of the moon. This is arguably the most beautiful building in the entire world. It is made of white marble that is so flawless that if a flashlight is put up to the wall in the darkness the light shines through for several inches.

We went to Sawai Modhopur and rode through the jungle, an animal preserve. We saw Chital and Sambar, deer; Nilgai, antelope; crocodiles; eagles; the large Langur monkey; a pair of small white owls; and myriad other small animals and birds. The symbiosis of the animals is amazing. The Chital and Langur, for example warn each other if tiger or leopard are approaching. The Langur helps the Chital eat the new growth on trees by sitting on the branch holding it down for the deer to eat. All in all a wonderful ride.

We visited castles, forts and palaces that were built before some of the great castles in Europe.

These few words above only scratch the surface of a country that can not be truly described in word. It takes all of the senses, even that of touch, to understand the extremes and differences between our country and society and the country and society of India.

I have rambled on and on, but now the memory is still fresh and it means a lot to me.
#2 Sep 30th, 2008, 23:38
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#2
You may be heartened to learn that driver's salaries have increased.

This July, my driver told me that he was making 5000 rupees a month and he sent most of it back to his wife and 3 kids in his village. That's about $125 Canadian, which is 2 day's work at minimum wage in Canada.
#3 Sep 30th, 2008, 23:43
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From what I understand, an expat-type driver may make Rs5000 salary. A tourist driver won't have a salary that high, but tips and commission push the amount up considerably.
So I am told- others may now rip this info to shreds.
Mosquitos suck.
#4 Oct 1st, 2008, 00:41
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Very nice article. Though India has changed a lot in these 11 years thanks to liberalisation of economy. You will find infrastructure, literacy, wages and purchasing power of people, standard of livelihood, electrification, telecommunication of villages has improved considerably. Poverty, Corruption, littering, illiteracy etc are still away from being extinct but certainly living has improved since the nineties.
#5 Oct 4th, 2008, 02:06
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Many years ago I recall stopping on the side of the road on a driving trip from Lucknow to Delhi, to pick mangoes. In 1997 in Rajasthan we found various fruit trees along the road, most notably papaya.

I often wondered why India, and other nations where there are large populations of poor or homeless, don't plant more fruit trees and nut trees instead of decorative varieties. Here in the US it is common to see pine or oak, or crepe myrtles, etc, planted for various reasons. Appearance, erosion control are but two purposes. Why not plant food trees open to the public instead of the others? Apples, plums, peaches, pears, pecan, walnut or any of myriad other varieties could enhance food possibilities for the homeless and poor.
#6 Oct 4th, 2008, 04:51
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Originally Posted by dnsmith View Post I often wondered why India, and other nations where there are large populations of poor or homeless, don't plant more fruit trees and nut trees instead of decorative varieties. Here in the US it is common to see pine or oak, or crepe myrtles, etc, planted for various reasons. Appearance, erosion control are but two purposes. Why not plant food trees open to the public instead of the others? Apples, plums, peaches, pears, pecan, walnut or any of myriad other varieties could enhance food possibilities for the homeless and poor.
They don't plant fruit trees in American cities because (1) dropping fruit makes a mess, (2) the birds always get to the fruit before humans do, (3) dropped fruit that's not cleaned up brings rats.
The map is not the territory. --Alfred Korzybski
#7 Oct 4th, 2008, 05:49
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There has been a movement to plant some fruit trees in Louisiana. Obviously it is not in the middle of cities, so birds and rats do not pose a problem. One can see people taking advantage of it regularly - especially pecans and plums. Actually they draw more squirrels than rats; Also good to eat.
#8 Oct 4th, 2008, 10:59
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Quote:
I often wondered why India, and other nations where there are large populations of poor or homeless, don't plant more fruit trees and nut trees instead of decorative varieties. Here in the US it is common to see pine or oak, or crepe myrtles, etc, planted for various reasons. Appearance, erosion control are but two purposes. Why not plant food trees open to the public instead of the others? Apples, plums, peaches, pears, pecan, walnut or any of myriad other varieties could enhance food possibilities for the homeless and poor.
Poor people cant be fed with fruits, they need rice, roti, dal etc i.e the main course. Fruits are luxury for the poor. And anyways nowadays India doesnt suffer from fod shortages. Yes, poverty is still not eradictaed, but poor people also somehow manages their basic food(may not be luxurious).Anyways, if fruit plants are planted somehow, the poor will not get access to them, they will be owned by some orchard/plantation farm.
#9 Oct 4th, 2008, 23:36
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Of course the hungry need more than just fruit and nuts, that goes without saying. But the fruit and nuts goes a long way to supplement the rice and dal (or beans)and paneer, if they can get it.

One one occasion I was stranded away from civilization for almost a week in Indo-China. I was very grateful for the wild fruit, mostly bananas, but some scant pineapple. Wild pineapple is very small, even when mature.
#10 Oct 7th, 2008, 22:31
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Yeah, there are some troubled times ahead for the poor in India. Inflation is really trowing things into a tailspin as the cost of rice has nearly doubled in one year along with just about every other food product. If you have money you have some spare money in the bank consider sharing it with our friends in India because the disparity in some areas are obtuse. I worked for one foundation in the past that is now doing great things in India. If you want to help out an org they are at www.cohenfi.org. Otherwise help in whatever way you can. For those of us who have computers we should always try to remember those who do not even have electricity let alone modern technologies and a good food supply.
#11 Oct 7th, 2008, 22:35
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Originally Posted by hal2004 View Post You may be heartened to learn that driver's salaries have increased.

This July, my driver told me that he was making 5000 rupees a month and he sent most of it back to his wife and 3 kids in his village. That's about $125 Canadian, which is 2 day's work at minimum wage in Canada.
Unfortunately the average income is around 1 dollar per day for the majority of India, so 5,000 rupees is considerable good on a population standard. For some rural areas and all the average income is meager, sometimes less than 10-20 dollars per month.
#12 Oct 7th, 2008, 22:44
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Originally Posted by karuna View Post From what I understand, an expat-type driver may make Rs5000 salary.
After years of braving morning traffic to Gurgaon, I decided to hire a driver. Age is begining to tell. Now, I am no expat, but
I pay my driver INR 6,000 a month. The candidates I've looked at expected anything between 7,000 plus overtime (exceeding 8 hours, a laugh, since I spend at least 12 hours at work including commute).

My brother, who works for a TV company, pays his driver 7,000, plus an annual bonus.

An expat driver in Delhi would earn at least 10,000, in my view.

Quote:
So I am told- others may now rip this info to shreds.
With relish!
#13 Oct 8th, 2008, 00:33
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I support the following vigorously, both financially and personally.

MGVS, the Mussoorie Gramin Vikas Samiti, a holistic, integrated rural community development program which emphasizes helping people identify and resolve problems within their own communities.

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