Never trust first impressions...
Well most of the time at least! When you get off the plane in Chennai and the "fresh" air of India hits you in the face there is an unmistakable first impression. IT IS HOT, HUMID AND APPARENTLY NO ONE IN INDIA SLEEPS AT 3:30 IN THE MORNING!
So what first impression was I wrong about? People here must be miserable. Not only because of the oppressive weather, but having to live in and amongst poverty, refuse, open sewage and a population density that makes Manhattan look like Vermont.
I could never have been more wrong. Everyone manages to smile. From the children bathing naked in a nearby river, the determined cyclists cutting off traffic at each turn, and the mad rush of everyday workers crowding the streets.
The caste system creates a way of life that is accepted and embraced as easily as we Americans believe in the concept of upward mobility. I cannot say that I have become an ardent advocator of class society, but my experience has made me understand that there are other ways of life that I need to try harder to understand.
The facts are...
1. I saw two police officers during my entire stay in Chennai and Delhi.
2. While strolling through the streets at all hours (day and night) I never saw one altercation involving shouting, swearing or physical violence.
3. Television news did not incessantly report on murder, crime or child abuse.
4. People can drive without accidents even when ALL traffic rules/regulations are ignored.
5. Foreigners are treated with dignity and respect by all classes.
6. Hospitality is not a forgotten art.
7. Hotel workers will argue with you about how they should be ironing your dress shirt!
8. Business people play for keeps.
9. Gandhi is not alone. Truly great humanitarians live and work amongst its people.
At the end of our trip I believe I have come one step closer to understanding the "INDIAN WAY"