India needs no introduction to me as I was born and raised there. And even after coming to the United States 12 years ago, every trip back to visit friends and family has been enjoyable. This trip was however very unique for me. I was thrilled at the prospect of visiting India with my classmates, to most of whom it was a land far far away. Having lived on both the continents, I knew for sure that the culture and general atmosphere were as much separated as the physical distance between the two lands I have known and loved. In retrospect, I guess now all my cohort members would agree.
Throughout the trip, it was a fun experience to observe my classmates watch the happenings around us. Be it walking in the crowded marketplaces, shopping in crowded stores or just watching the street side snake charmers, it was simply different. The juxtaposition of livable infrastructure with the not-so-livable slums was appalling to many, and so was the haphazard traffic and the continuous cacophony of honking vehicles. Clear disregard of traffic rules, presence of stray animals on the roads, and a whole family of four travelling on a bike without a helmet, to which I was hitherto immune to, suddenly became amusing scenes to say the least, and I couldn’t help but agree as I looked from the perspective of an American traveler in India.
After the initial general chaos settled into our minds, the experience of being in a place that is so different began to sink in. The heat and the humidity started becoming “expected” when we ventured out. Everyone began to look beyond the chaos. The animals on the street could be ignored, crossing the street became an adventure, and auto-rickshaw rides became a pastime. Street-side shopping was an entirely different experience for our group while in Chennai, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the bargaining expertise gained in Chennai put to great use while in Agra and Delhi.
One lunch everyone will remember for a long time was the Banana Leaf lunch at a local joint. Substituting a leaf for a plate was novel for most of my fellow travellers. Traditionally hands are used for eating this meal, however we were offered minimal silverware to bring our comfort level to positive territory. The traditional Tamil Nadu cuisine may or may not have been palatable to all, but in the courage department everyone did Anthony Bourdain proud. Even small acts of trying out paan (a betel leaf preparation) together with some friends has become such good memories.
The company visits – Cognizant, Renault-Nissan, L&T and Airtel were all good learning experiences but most of us would agree that our visit to Sankara Nethralaya was a real eye-opener. The focus on selfless service and innovation within limited resources to provide world class care, especially for the have-nots, touched all our hearts. The enthusiasm with which we were shown around the campus was amazing, and it was such a humbling experience to meet Dr. Badrinath, the great man behind the institution. While many a companies can claim corporate social responsibility, this institution has been founded firmly on those principles.
We were very lucky to have NMS folks help us with the arrangements in India. We all enjoyed the small treasure which was a wonderful dance program put together by the very friendly NMS students. My thanks go out to Don for being the captain of the ship, counting heads all the way; and to Sanjay for this huge effort, expert guidance and making us feel at ease with his sense of humor in the most demanding situations. And above all to the opportunity to know my classmates better. Here’s to remembering the good times together in the Raj Park basement hangout. Two “Thums Up”.