Last Of The India Blogs

Rajiv Gandhi Airport, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, 7pm

Greetings from a sublimely beautifuland efficient airport.  I’ve discovered two thingsjust now: I much much prefer India’s south to its north; and it seems I’ve been spelling Andhra Pradesh wrongly all these years!

The south, with its proliferance of caterpillar moustaches, is more polite, cleaner, physically beautiful and slower than the north.  I’ve been trying to manufacture personal connections to the south, such as identifying dietary traditions that are reflected in my family.

The drive to the Rajahmundy airport from Kakinada was simply stunning, as wove through millennia old villages that still bustle with wholesome, though poor, agrarianlife.  Rajahmundy itself is a little town in the middle of nowhere.  How it got an airport I’ll never know.

Mind you, my bags were 2kg overweight (27kg), according to the technician who weighed them.  But he announced to the clerk that they were right on 25kg.  So as I brushed past him, I dropped 100 rupees into his hand that was cupped behind his back.

For all I know, he could have lied about the overweight bags.  But I admired his sneakiness and style.  Mind you, if this is the standard deal, it’s a wonder any of the planes ever get off the ground!

Another discovery at the airport was confirmation that almost all toilets in India are made by –wait for it– Hindware!  Oh irony, you are a fierce bitch. Here’s a pic.

This morning I enjoyed my final masala omelette at the hotel, then went off for my second meeting with Dr Chandra Sankurathri.  This time he showed his foundation’s school, which provides free education, uniforms and meals to hundreds of children who would otherwise not be able to afford such things.  The school also provides vocational training for adults.  I’ve added some photos of the school to my very small set of India photos on Flickr.

Here’s a brief video of the kids singing (in Telugu) about body parts:

The whole set-up just brings a tear to the eye, especially when you realize what might have befallen these kids had not the Srikiran foundation stepped in to give them an opportunity.

I tell you, I feel very honoured indeed to have spent so much one-on-one time with Chandra and his sister Hema.  The world is sadly short on truly giving and joyful people like them.

I have about 5 minutes before I board yet another flight for Delhi and there wait four hours for another flight to Germany.  But I can’t be assured of the same connectivity that I have here in Hyderabad, so I will write as much as I can!

Hyderabad airport, 5:45 pm

Oops, I misread my itinerary.  Seems I have an hour before I board. Oh well.

Did I mention that the Indian rupee now has its own symbol?  You used to have to write “Rs” to indicate roops, but now India has joined the US, Europe, UK, Japan, etc, with a specific symbol for its currency.   Here it is:

It’s a stylized verion of the “r” morpheme from the Devanagari alphabet.  Since Devanagari is used mostly by north Indians, I’m surprised the south hasn’t complained.  Oh well.

In other India news, the country has developed its  own internet browser, called Epic, which is based on Firefox.  Why does it need its own browser?  Well, maybe for font support.  But I really don’t know.

What else?  Oh yeah, so my friend SM and I saw a movie in Goa last week.  It’s fun to see a film in a nation that values its cinema.  Yes, there was fidgeting and some talking in the theatre, but it was all in good fun.  There wasn’t the annoying suburban entitlement games that go on nowadays in North Amerian cinemas.

Some observations about the experience, which might surprise those of you who’ve never been to India.  First, they play te national anthem before the film, and everyone is expected to stand!  I’m told that in the big cities, no one bothers.  But in our cinema, everyone stood!  Compelled nationalism in a movie theatre?  Dr Wat does not approve!

Second, there was assigned seating!  Even though the theatre was mostly empty, we had reserved seats and, supposedly, were not permitted to wander from those seats.  How the seats are allocated is still a mystery to me.  Apparently this is standard practice throughout the country.

Third, there’s an intermission!  Yes, an intermission!  This I approve of, as my middle-aged bladder is increasingly unable to survive both a large Coke and a two hour film.

Lastly, everything is censored.  We saw that forgettable Tom Cruise movie, Knight and Day.  The most offensive parts of it were its banal plot and sexist overtones.  But the offence, according to the Indian censor board, was dirty language and sexual content.  Swear words were blocked out, and I’m pretty sure there were some sexy scenes that I did not get to see.

Dr Wat is not a fan of censorship in any form.  Boo, India, boo indeed.

The same day SM and I took a drive to Mangeshi village in Goa to walk through an ancient village temple.  These are different from the classical, awesome Hindu temples that tourists always visit.  Village temples are smallbut gorgeous, and are still at the centre of living village life.  It was wonderful.

I mention it because Mangeshi is also the home of Lata Mangeshkar, hence the name.  Who knew?!

Okay, it’s time for my final thoughts about this particular trip to India.  See, everytime I come here things are dramatically different.  It’s impossible to have two similar trips to India.

In the past I have been charmed by India’s ancient cultural richness, horrified by its pooverty and filth, bewitched by its staggering vistas, temples and gorgeous people, hobbled by its brutal diseases, and amazed by India’s ability to affect my senses and groundedness.

In subsequent visits I have been shocked by India’s economic explosiveness, her youth’s thirst for opportunity and their optimism, and amazed by India’s spanning leaps into the future, hopping past slower moving countries like they were standing still.

On this trip my earlier enthusiasms were challenged.  I’ve seen more growth, no question, and a healthy disdain for all things Western.  But I’ve begun to see the stresses of expansion –stresses that are fairly obvious to those who live here.  One stratum continues to get richer beyond anyone’s dreams, but enormous swaths of poor get left further and further behind.

I’ve seen renewed stresses in the cities, where for the first time I see the distress on workers’ faces.  The work day is more hectic than ever, and the culture is slow to respond.  The best example of this has been the Delhi subway, which is modern and efficient; but the culture of “me first” pushing and shoving hobbles the subway’s potential for making citizens’ lives easier and happier.

Some serious challenges await India in the near future (one or two decades).  Overpopulation is always on everyone’s mind.  An unsustainable economic growth rate may see a crash sooner than later.  City infrastructure is in some ways improving, but in basic ways deteriorating.  The underclass must be acknowleged before a class and labour crisis befall this great land.  Climate change will hobble agriculture, strangle waterways and produce new sources of military tension, and a maturing society that might just be short of women presents a new, chilling demographic challenge.

See what I mean?

Signing off now.  Next time I check in I expect to be on a different continent!