It is probably not possible to say anything about India for which the opposite is not also true. Leave it as the land of contrasts. Incredible growth and obvious wealth, opportunity and boom-times excitement living side by side with static, deep-rooted poverty; more than a million new college grads per year with a large majority of illiterates in same population. Gorgeous gardens and
grounds and buildings with piles of stinking trash literally at their doorsteps. We docked in Chennai (Madras), third largest city, possibly third wealthiest city, with a port flowing with export automobiles (thousands shipping out daily) – where the actual port pavement is swept by stooped old ladies using hand-brooms which are effectively bundles of twigs.
I was helping conduct the International Business Academic Field Program – and we had one of the best programs ever, with some of the worst elements. Good lecture at the University of Madras, followed by a phenomenal meeting with an entrepreneurial self help group (meetup.com) talking about growing business in every sector you could think of. The students then got on an overnight 2nd-class sleeper train for a 7-hr trip to Bangalore in the interior. (I and the grad students, pleading age and infirmity (and besides, due to a mix-up the Port Programs manager was unable to arrange a post-graduate program, so I set it up myself) did the same trip in 20 minutes the next morning by air.)
Bangalore is like a University town, clean, relaxed, acting slightly superior, and filled with bustling, 24-hr/day IT firms doing call center and programming tasks for companies all over the world, as well as bio-tech, design, nano-tech and CADD. Business people tended to dress more Western, had better foreign language skills, and seemed as harassed as a typical street scene in New York City or Frankfurt. I took the grad students to the Indian Institute of Science, a high-status, well-endowed university pushing entrepreneurial development, and while visiting business incubators, academic commercialization centers and student-start-ups, managed to recruit some students and possibly faculty for the Scholar Ship, and get a formal institutional connection begun. The undergrads visited an IBM branch and a business services center (i.e. runs ATMs for banks in Europe and the US), then after a very full day (with wonderful Indian meals) they got back on the train for another 6-hr journey and I flew home. Odd – I do begin to feel that the Scholar Ship is home. Hmmm.
A major bother of Chennai is the incredible Indian bureaucracy to get on and off the port. The security system was set up in the early 19th century (everyone signed in and out in huge leather-bound ledgers) and was designed to prevent stevedores from pilfering from cargoes. Now that the cargoes are automobiles and generators, or sealed lift-vans, it makes no sense for that purpose, and even less for ship passengers, but masses of armed guards and hordes of babu-clerks carry out their duty – and the culturally unsophisticated students often had real problems. The guards would take exception to the lack of modesty of the girl’s clothing, and the girls would get indignant and confrontational, and the boys would rally to their defense and a good time was (not) had by all. Elizabeth and I had no trouble, but we were not particularly upset at having to “when in Rome…”
Otherwise, Chennai and India were absolute delights. We hired the same driver for three days (saves immensely on haggling time) and saw everything (or at least as much as we could fit in). The site of St. Thomas’ martyrdom (this is the Apostle ‘Doubting’ Thomas, who went missionary to India in 50-80 AD) and heard Mass at St. Thomas Basilica (only three churches built over Apostle’s tombs – this one, St. Peter’s in Rome, and Santiago de Campostela – and we’ve now visited them all), ancient temples and a modern re-creation of 18th
cent. villages from 3 states, with handicrafts (including painting hands with henna), a wonderful seaside resort called Golden Beach, with more Gods per square inch than anywhere else I’d seen.
Again, wonderful Indian meals (we mostly ate vegetarian) and shopping – everything from a screw to fix my glasses to hand-woven Indian outfits for both of us to lengths of thick, beautiful local silk to be made into dresses in South Africa, we hope. Incredible and we loved it.