Let me start with this. Incredible is a vast understatement.
I happened to spend about a week in India, given the chance of a friend’s wedding. I mostly spent my time in Delhi, also visiting the cities of Agra and Jaipur. As expected, the trip turned out to be quite of an experience, to say the least. And I’d like to take the opportunity and share with you some photos – mostly of low quality- I took across the trip, next to some traveler’s thoughts which may turn to be an interesting read.
Misery, or not
The indian people are extremely, almost unsustainably poor, yet utterly adorable. Living standards for most people in the places I visited are well beyond what a european will consider viable. Living in a tent by the end of the street, or just under a blanket, seems to be common for a really big number of people; access to public toilets or concerns for personal hygiene are almost exotic.
Moreover, this part of the society seems to have fully accepted their status (‘karma’), or maybe they’ve never learned about a different way of living before. As a result, they’re not really motivated or educated to work hard, they rather prefer sleeping under the sun, staring at the sun or talk with each other. However, this tends to change lately, as big chunks of the population move to the cities or get access to a TV. Still, this is far from a smooth transition, many of them remain really confused before switching to a more modern way of life.
Life, at the same time, gets celebrated, a lot. Take weddings, for example. Every indian wedding has numerous functions, typically around 7, while the celebrations last about a week for everyone to participate (or just get bored enough). If you consider also the vast number of weddings -famously about 20 thousands everyday- taking place during the ‘wedding season’ in Delhi alone, you can get a picture of the mood every night around the city.
Chaos, or Self-organization
On an abstract level, roads of Delhi are totally chaotic. There are no lanes, drivers use their horns instead of flash lights when they want to make a turn or overtake another car, and half of the -many- vehicles are bikes, rickshaws and motor-rickshaws; you can imagine the mess. What’s even more frightening were the vehicles moving in the opposite direction of the highway; I faced some such occasions and, judging from people’s reactions, that wasn’t a rare event after all.
However, and while one would expect this chaos to result in many and much dangerous situations, it was not. Actually, to my surprise, I didn’t see a single, minor or not, accident during my stay there. At the same time, the space allocation in the streets was close to optimum, a system of intelligent self-organized agents functioning with a minimum set of rules, in a very efficient way.
This also has a time dimension. Things in India happen to take shape the very last moment before the hard deadline, in a much more steep fashion than my fellow greeks tend to define as ‘the greek way’. For example, the Commonwealth (what’s in a name, really) Games take place in October in Delhi, and there were stadiums still at their foundations and the whole city centre under reconstruction; I’m pretty sure though everything will be in place on time (or just the very last night before).
Numbers in India are hard to imagine. For example, Jaipur’s population gets doubled every decade, now at 6 million. Biggest mobile operator adds almost 3 millions of new subscribers per month (indeed, Indians obsession with their mobiles is outstanding, rickshaws and mobile was a usual combo). A huge and immature yet very price sensitive market awaits to be explored and conquered, imagine a population the size of the US escaping the poverty level in the next 10-15 years.
What’s even more exciting is the new generation of, let’s say 100 to 200 millions, well-educated, english speaking, and hard working Indians, willing to change their country, or the world in general. If China has reshaped production across the world, India is probably on track to reshape the services sector.
Apart from geopolitics or the very big picture though, India provided me with a very tangible lesson of altruism. I used to consider happiness a relative feeling; people feel better the better they are, compared to those surrounding them. India taught me however that this relativity has specific boundaries and is only applicable locally, where the differences essentially turn out to be much limited after all. You definitely cannot be happy with such a hardship around you, so you’d better work towards improving, next to your own life, the lives of people around your and the society at large.