(5 Dec 2007)
I should talk about the area where Tavant's office is located. This is a suburb of Delhi called Noida, and from our location it's about a 20 minute drive just to get to the Noida-Delhi border. Until ten years or so ago this area was just a rural village. But then some developers started building roads and office buildings, and starting two or three years ago, many software companies have moved into Noida. Adobe just completed a large building here (looks quite nice, actually). So, Noida has this interesting mix (which I have out is quite common in India) where you have the local rural peasants and pieces of Westernization/modernization - roads, offices, shopping malls (sooo many of these now in India) occupying the same space as very poor people, stray dogs, and, of course, the ubiquitous sacred cows walking everywhere, including in the middle of heavy traffic. In my high school studies, I remember discussing the notion of cows and how they treated as sacred animals and how they can walk anytwhere and have the right of way. I never really expected to see them in the middle of Noida's nasty traffic-thick roads, but they really go anywhere and nobody can (or does) move them, hit them, or ignore their presence.
Also the driving here in India is pure chaos. If you think New York City cabbies are crazy, that's nothing compared to this (although, NYC cabbies do make more sense to me now as a lot of them are from India). Basically, there's no real notion of a driving lane here. Yes, there are lines painted on the ground, but the are wholly ignored. With sooo many bikes, rickshaws, auto rickshaws, buses, trucks, two-wheelers (motorcycles), and cars all sharing the same road, and everyone is swerving and switching lanes and passing, you'd think I would have seen at thrity accidents by now. Often the distance between the car I'm riding in and anything else on the road is less two inches. All this much is not too bad, but on top of it all, everybody is honking their horn. It gets insanely loud when traffic slows down.
Through my years of hearing about India, talking about the culture and food, I always had the feeling that just being here would be a spiritual experience. I must admit that for the first few days, I really don't feel like I'm in that India that I had imagined. Mahesh and I were talking about this, and he says that the India of today is not the country he grew up in (he's from the south in Madras). He says that life and culture used to be much simpler, but now with so many cars now (compared to just ten years), all the Western-style shopping malls, and the changes to family life (mothers working late-night call-center jobs, for example), that Indian life has become much more complicated, at least here in Delhi. So, he definitely understands my lack of spiritual-bliss-upon-arrival feeling and he recommends that we travel outside of Delhi to see more of the country side and religous sights where we can experience the more traditional side of India. I have found it interesting, though, that both of us, a native Indian (who has been away from India for more than seven years) and a dumb mid-Western guy, both have the same impression. Not that there is anything wrong with change or modernization, but we both fear that maybe something is uniquely Indian is being lost in this shuffle. I wonder if this is what happens to all countries on the route to modernization?