Saturday, May 2, 2009

India - Lost and Found

We have been having a great time in India so far - decamping from all the physical stress and emotional upheaval of leaving NY. Since getting here, we have been getting our pending affairs in order - filing our U.S taxes, making sure our credit cards have the updated address, and researching budget friendly hotels in the various cities we will be traveling through.

I love coming back home, but every time I do, I find myself comparing India to every other place that I have ever lived or visited. I come away frustrated at how my time gets wasted and how inefficient the 'system' can be. That being said, I did also find some very heartening changes...

* We arrived in Cochin on May 13th with a 1 day layover in Chennai. Tariq spent an interesting day trying to buy a hard drive - an errand that took him most of the day and inspired this humorous post. If running an errand outside home takes so long, it's no surprise that we need all the domestic help we can get.

* The level of professionalism and enthusiasm across the service industry leaves much to be desired. I went to a local "highly recommended" salon to get my hair trimmed - a rather unpleasant experience which came close to sheep shearing. The person cutting my hair was uninterested and lacked any of the courtesies that I have come to expect of a hair stylist. Unlike the West, in India a large percentage of salon attendants come from a socio-economic background that leaves them with limited professional options - in stark contrast to the stylists I have met in NY who think of themselves as artists and love what they do. It doesn't help matters that waiters and hair stylists in India earn negligible tips - further exacerbating the quality of service being rendered.

* Civic sense seems just as bad if not worse. Now that there is more 'packaged goods', I find that streets (and even rural trails) are even more littered than 6 years ago. On a train ride from Mumbai to Pune, I sat across a man who threw 2 plastic bottles out of the window.

* Perhaps the most promising change I have seen during my visit is an almost feverish motivation among the urban youth to make a difference in the current elections. A friend pointed me to the 'Jaago Re' (loosely translated to 'Awaken' ) campaign started less than 2 years ago by a U.S returned couple who took it upon themselves to simplify the process of registering to vote.

* Delhi's Metro system is a shining example of how public transportation and infrastructure can transform a city for locals and tourists alike. We loved riding the train and for the first time I got a glimmer of what life in India ought to be - clean, efficient and modern.

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