Wednesday, August 15, 2012

India: Shock and Awe

Now that I’ve been home for a week and have settled back into my routine I can reflect on what I had experienced in India.  I will be the first to tell you that I was less than thrilled with the idea of traveling there.  Those who know me well and even those who don’t can confirm that sentiment.  India had never been a country on my “must see” list. I had heard various stories both good and bad as far as what to expect.  “Bring toilet paper” was the most common piece of advice I was given:  Advice that I gratefully followed. I tried to keep an open mind but kept my expectations very low.  My anxiety level rose higher and higher as the day of departure grew closer.  Thoughts of a 19 hour flight, 10 days away from my daughter and family, 10 days of insufferable heat and humidity, and 10 days of spicy food all contributed to my angst.
Upon arrival in Chennai my expectations had already been exceeded.  The flight, though long, was fantastic.  Kudos to the Qatar Airways crew for making us all feel comfortable. The airport was quiet and simple.  We were soon greeted by Sundari, our host from the National Management School. As we exited the terminal, much like in New York, families and cab drivers waited to greet new arrivals.  I was told that the minute we walked outside it would be hot and smelly.  Much to my surprise neither of these tales was true.  Yes it was warm and an odor was present but not more so than any big city here in the U.S.  I was pleased. We boarded our air conditioned “Incredible India!” bus and moved on to the Raj Park Hotel.  Our accommodations were more than adequate complete with an Indian style bidet.  Again, I was pleased.
TRAFFIC!!!!!! Wow!  It’s difficult to not swallow your heart when in the midst of the chaos Indian’s call daily life.  Whether on foot, by bus, passenger vehicle, motorcycle or auto rickshaw traveling around town is a harrowing experience.  I’m convinced that the lanes marked on roads and highways are simply there for decoration as they are not used to control the flow of traffic in anyway.  In many ways driving in India is much like playing a videogame.  You choose your mode of transportation and then the race begins.  You’re met with obstacles in the road like, livestock, dogs, people and stalled vehicles.  Obeying traffic laws and law enforcement are optional.  Choosing not to follow does not result in penalties of any kind except perhaps maybe loss of life.  The most important thing to remember, however, is to HONK YOUR HORN INCESSANTLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Beep, beep, beep, beep.
Our week in Chennai was filled with trips to local corporations, Cognizant, Sankara Nethralaya, L & T and Nissan Renault.  All of these companies were fascinating in their own right but the one that struck me most was Sankara Nethralaya, a privately funded non-profit eye hospital that provides eye care and surgeries free of charge to those who need it.  We were shown a video of a mobile operating room that travels to rural areas to perform eye surgeries for the poor.  It was unlike anything I had ever seen.  They are definitely an organization that cares about the people of India and is most certainly deserving of donations.  I highly recommend visiting their website to learn more about what they do.
While the other corporations prove to be quite lucrative for their shareholders they fail to accomplish what Sankara Nethralaya succeeds at every day, corporate social responsibility.  I was disappointed to see an inadequate level of “CSR” among the larger corporations. A common thread that I hope will improve over time.
In addition to visiting local corporations we had the privilege of not just interacting with but also befriending students and management from the National Management School.  They taught us much about Indian culture and customs and treated us as though we were friends not visitors.  From negotiating prices with rickshaw drivers to explaining what food was placed on a banana leaf in front of us, they devoted their time to make sure that we were comfortable and were getting as much as possible out of our trip. We were lucky to have them as our hosts. A special thank you to Sankaran, Sundari and the NMS students for making us feel welcome.
After five days in Chennai our journey took us to Delhi, a larger city with much more traffic which I didn’t think was possible. There we met with Airtel, a very young and lively telecom company that was very open to our inquiring minds and willing to answer any question we had.  While in Delhi we visited several Moghul tombs and a Hindu temple, the beauty of which rivals the Taj Mahal.  For the first time in my life I witnessed a snake charmer and his cobra and monkeys wearing makeup dressed in costume.  It was quite the site to see. Of course one cannot travel to India and not see the Taj Mahal and so after a four and a half hour bus ride we were able to visit this magnificent structure.
Our last day in India included my favorite activity, shopping! We were taken to a local bazaar where vendors sold anything from woodcrafts, silks, toys to furniture and stone crafts.  I can guarantee that many of us came home with much heavier suitcases.
It is nearly impossible to talk about India and not mention the poverty and lack of sanitary conditions present everywhere.  As a mother I found it extremely difficult to watch children, babies, whole families living on the street; literally.  Watching babies taking care of babies, eating from the trash left on the side of the road and sleeping next to raw sewage was unbearable.  As a human being I find it unconscionable that the Indian government has allowed this to happen.
India and its people have had a profound effect on me. My apprehensions prior to our arrival were erased the moment we set foot in Chennai.  The overload on my senses and the pandemonium that exists in daily life was quelled by the overwhelming calm of the Indian people.  I have learned to see the diamond in the rough and have most certainly come home with a new appreciation for the life I live and am grateful for all that I have.  I will forever be changed by this experience and can only hope to pass on what I’ve learned to others.

No comments: