Saturday, March 2, 2013

Observations About India

Sleep is something that we take for granted.  We lay down at night and in a short period of time sleep comes over us and we fade away into the pleasant oblivion of rest.  When you are on the exact opposite side of the world from your home, sleep often is a luxury that you can never get.  On this trip to India this has been especially true and each night my sleep time has been limited to a few hours.   

All of this results in one of my key impressions of India being that of tiredness and sleeplessness.  For a country that is so vibrant and alive, I have felt the opposite as I have felt lifeless and continuously hungering for rest and sleep during my visits.

Despite my lack of sleep, my senses of have been filled with the exotic world of India.  There are so many things for me to look at and try to understand.  Some of them are difficult to take while others are interesting and exciting.

One of the things that has been very difficult to take on this trip has been the extent of the air pollution that is rampant throughout metropolitan areas of India.  The pollution has been here on my previous trips of course, however I am in the process of recovering from a cold and the air pollution has sent my cold over the edge.  The air in Pune on Tuesday was like a white soup.  As the sun set in the evening, objects in the distance faded away into a white cloud of air pollutants.  The air was filled with the smells of burning wood, diesel fumes and dust.  My eyes watered constantly as the pollution stung my eyes.  As remarkable as it sounds, that evening the air on the airplane I flew to Delhi was so much more breathable then the outside!

The plight of the stray dogs that wander the streets of the cities is another thing that always bothers me.  Their situation was made ever so more apparent to me as when I was driven back to the hotel on Wednesday night.  Silhouetted in the lights of the traffic on a very busy road was a lone, old dog slowly crossing the street as cars rushed by.  I felt so bad for this poor little dog but of course there wasn’t anything I could do.  I just wish I could have rushed from the car and grabbed it out of traffic and taken it back to the hotel with me.  The plight of the stray dogs is always an issue in developing countries.  You feel horrible for what they go through but at the same time you don’t want to get too close as they might have rabies.

(Not a stray dog, but stray pigs wandering the streets)

Of course much worse than the plight of the stray dogs is the life of the poor of India.  It is hard to look upon the multitudes of people who are left to beg and scrounge for a living.  The city in which I am spending much of this trip, Gurgaon is a prosperous place.  The extreme poor and beggars are mostly absent from the busy highways and streets of Gurgaon.  But you can still see the hard life that many people live in the “house boys” who work in the offices taking care of the custodian type work.  They obviously earn a wage, but you can see that their lives are not easy.  You realize from their physical appearance that many of them probably have suffered from the lack of nutrition at some point in their lives.  Though most are men in their twenties, they are all very small in stature and you can’t help but think that is because they have struggled with malnutrition at some point.

A side note about the “house boys” as I want to explain the concept a little bit better.  In each of the offices in India that I have ever worked, there are employees who perform the most menial of tasks.  For all the conference rooms they keep them stocked with water and take orders from the office workers for tea, coffee and food.  The office workers have to pay for the food, but the “house boys” will take their money and go to the local restaurants that are around the office and get the food, coffee or tea.  On top of those kinds of activities they keep the office and the rest rooms clean.  It cannot be a fun job.   

Even for people who have “higher level” jobs life can be difficult.  During my drive to the airport in Gurgaon on Friday, I had a lengthy discussion with my driver.  We talked about his daily life and it is not an easy existence.  He works 12 hours a day, 6 days a week.  Though he doesn’t live that far from work the commute still adds another 3 hours to his working day.  Each day he has only 9 hours to sleep, be with his children and do all the other things that are necessary to maintain life.  What a difficult life he and so many hundreds of millions lead!

On the positive side, life in India is so vibrant and it is something that always takes you off guard.  There are people everywhere!  No matter where you turn it seems that there are people.  Every single inch of land seems occupied by some one – whether they are living on the spot of land or making a living there – every inch is utilized for something.  An amazing sight that I saw upon my arrival in Delhi on Tuesday was a “truck” full of men.  The truck was a broken down old thing and the men were packed into the back like sardines.  There were so many of them in the back that they had ropes ties to an upper canopy so that they could stand on the back bumper and still hold on.  It allowed another 4 people to be carried by that old truck.  It is amazing how resilient the people are and how every small little thing is used to help get a job done or move people around.  I wish I had been able to take a picture of this contraption loaded with people!

India is also a very colorful place.  During the day I spent a considerable amount of time sitting in an office looking out upon a landscape that stretches to the horizon filled with house after house.  Each house is a different color – from those that are the pale gray of plain concrete to those painted in wild and crazy pinks and purples.  Adding to this crazy quilt of colors the flat roof of each house is topped with clothes lines upon which countless colorful saris and other clothes are drying.

It seems that India has more vendors than any other place on earth.  Day and night these folks occupy their stalls, booths and carts.  Every kind of food and ware is sold from these small establishments.  They add a flair and dynamic spirit to the side of almost every road.  Around the busy office complexes of technology and outsourcing companies, there are row after row of these stands catering to the needs of the hungry workers.   During the day people mill around these, places to purchase chai (tea) or a dosa (traditional India food – kind of like a taco or burrito).  At night the harsh glow of propane lamps or the soft light of burning charcoal illuminate the faces of the owners as they stay open until all hours hoping to earn another few rupees before they rest.  Walking or driving past these places you come to feel that you are in place that is very different than home.  The spirit of hard work and anything is possible seems to fill the air and you realize the raw potential of this country as the countless people who own and operate these small business will do anything to get ahead and succeed.
(One of the countless street vendors near the office in Gurgaon.)

Transition is a continual state of being in India.  Everything is a work in progress.  On the drive from my hotel to the office in Gurgaon, the road is continually lined with heaps of dirt.  It seems as though grass does not grow in this part of India as construction projects keep the area in a state of constant flux.  Along most of the roads there is work going to install a new pipe, electrical lines or telecommunication lines.  The work is mostly done by hand.  In the United States when a new telecommunication line is being installed or a small pipeline, you will see the work being done by a very small group of men using a machine called a ditch witch.  In India it is the exact opposite.  Instead of a small group of men with a machine, there are large groups of men with no machines.  Shovels, picks and hard carts are all the tools that are used.  The work seems to be back breaking, but the reality is it is much cheaper in India to use large numbers of people as opposed to machines.  With 1.2 billion people in the country, finding a large pool of manual labor is much cheaper and easier then finding a machine.

 (Worker moving a huge pile of gravel by hand.)

My stream of observations from India is continuous.  Just when I think I understand some aspect of the country, I learn something totally new about it which changes everything I had thought.  This place will challenge your views regarding just about everything.  You must throw out all preconceived ideas when you set foot here, as they will all be proven wrong.

I am now back in Colorado and another journey to this colorful and ever changing land is at an end.  My body and mind will take several days to adjust to the reality of life at home.  It is good to be home to see Zack, Lisa, Nancy, the pups and my brother and his family.  Colorado is home and no matter where I journey it always good to come home and embrace the feeling of comfort and security to be with the people I love and the security of my “normal”.

Thanks for reading along with all of my journeys!   

Thanks and peace to all! ~J.


Dee said...

I have enjoyed visiting your blog and reading about your travels. Also, I'm not sure if I like the picture at the head of your page more or the quote beneath it. The picture reminds me of the one that I used for my own blog. I would like to give you a Liebster Award. Please stop over at for details.

Dee said...

I have enjoyed visiting your blog and reading about your travels. Also, I'm not sure if I like the picture at the head of your page more or the quote beneath it. The picture reminds me of the one that I used for my own blog. I would like to give you a Liebster Award. Please stop over at for details.