New Delhi airport, 3:30pm
I just gave a two and a half hour presentation at the Jawarlahal Nehru University in Delhi with NO preparation! Who da man? I can’t hear you!
Many thanks to the School of International Studies at JNU for hosting me and for putting up with that droning noise that is my voice. They asked some very pointed questions, for which I am quite grateful.
I asked some questions of my own. Here are some samples of the answers I got from a smattering of students:
On Nepal: we sometimes consider them the 29th Indian state.
On Bhutan: insignificant.
On Canada: an extended Punjab? (Said in jest, I’m sure)
On Barack Obama: excited to see a dark-skinned man in office, but his policies have been less than inspiring.
On Sonia Gandhi’s Indianness: if someone says she’s Indian, then she’s Indian.
And so forth. As an Indo-Caribbean person, I was particularly interested in their attitudes toward the diaspora. They were curious about why so many diasporic Indians suffer from alienation, and why so many cling to “Indianness” more vehemently than do “mainland” Indians. Some took this as a sort of one-upmanship, until I pointed out that it’s actually a desperate grab for a connection to a lost homeland.
Some were concerned about the portrayal of India in the West. One person was upset that most Westerners see India as a land of poverty, ignoring her economic explosion. Another was upset that Westerners see India as a land of exploding economic opportunity, ignoring her poverty.
I am very impressed by both the vastness and beauty of the JNU campus, and by the diligence of her students. The students doing their theses on Latin American politics all speak fluent Spanish. One fellow is studying the financial origins of Quebec separatism, and had learned to speak fluent French.
For my job at Ottawa U, I am required to be French/English bilingual, but I am terrified to speak French in public, lest I slay la belle langue. In India, I have no such hesitations. The student and I carried on an entire conversation in French, I am both pleased and surprised to say.
You must understand, I feel intellectually hobbled in a land where everyone speaks five languages and I can speak none. It was glorious release to be able to carry on in a tongue that no one else in the vicinity understood!
The students were very bright and engaged. Many already knew of Guyanese history and politics, had already read the idiotic Joel Stein piece in Time magazine that I had only read this morning, and were fans of Russell Peters!
If they would have me back, I would gladly give another presentation –or 6– at JNU. The funny thing is that this was my second visit to the campus. The first time, I spoke in the English department. This time, I was hosted by political scientists. Do remember, I’m an epidemiologist. All very weird.
On the drive to JNU I saw a fascinating billboard. I guess this is one of those moments when it would have paid to have a camera? The image featured a baby being held by adult hands, and the caption was: “Save girls, save family. Girls bring happiness to the home. Save them.”
This is obviously in response to the emerging demographic crisis of the new, young India. Generations of female infanticide, and now pro-male sex selection, are resulting in a deficit of women. China has the same problem. While this is the fastest and easiest way to curb steep population growth, a dearth of women means an overabundance of unmarried young men. And no society has ever survived THAT particular melon.
By the way, the new domestic terminal of Indira Gandhi airport is fantastic. Lots of green, several laptop kiosks, interesting food being sold, clean toilets, and excellent piped-in Indian classical music! There’s also a fabulous player-piano amidst the boarding gates, surrounded by plant life and pictured above.
But even in the airport the phenomenon of the queue-jumping man persists. Yes, someone pushed passed me as I was about to walk through the metal detector… and the security guards didn’t seem to care. What a place.
Signing off now.
Oh, Kingfisher Airlines, you have officially unseated Porter Air as the new king of economy travel. Gorgeous, happy and helpful flight attendants (yes, I said gorgeous; get over it); satellite TV; spacious seating; no one bothering me when I wore my headphones during take-off and landing; and –get this– a superb full meal! I want to take that 90 minute flight again, just for the service and food!
Am happily ensconced in the Grand Hotel on Ballard Estate. What a great place! (Thanks, Kulsum!) For under $100 Canadian, I get three beds, a couch, a huge room, complete with living/entertaining area, free highspeed wifi, complementary breakfast, a flatscreen TV and –get this– a gym! Do you know how rare gyms are in this country? Oh, India, sometimes I do love you.
The monsoons have arrived and rain is falling like sheets. Mumbai is, as always, magnificent. My old friend Kulsum is on her way over. I suspect there will be drinking tonight…