Sunday, January 13, 2008

Unique India!

The classes that we have taken have for the most part been very enlightening and informative. I have gone from knowing nothing about micro credit and micro financing to seeing it first hand and understanding at least the basic idea of it. While there is more I would like to learn about this service I think that it is a good idea and has an enormous impact on individual lives, which seems to be the point, at least in India. I think that micro credit and finance would have really good implications in the USA and could work well in disaster relief and in metropolitan ghettos. –KK

The past few weeks in India have been amazing. All the common conveniences of American life I am used to are not at first glance present in India. The power outages and interesting toilets are becoming common for me. I have really adapted well to life here in India. I have also learned many interesting subjects from my studies at JNU. The students at this school are incredible and really cherish the fact that they are able to pursue higher education. The faculty, students and staff at JNU have treated us with the highest respect and I am very appreciative of that. I love experiences I have had in this great city and country and cannot wait until my next visit. - AS

Over the past few weeks here in Delhi, the group and I have been sharing in this experience which has gone through many levels of disbelief, belief, and more disbelief. These experiences have been shared on the one hand, but also unique to the individual. I myself have been inundated with many of the unique aspects of Delhi life. Hopefully this translates well in the following paragraphs.

Language can be found in many forms depending on the individual’s home state. There are 16 official languages in India and it is not uncommon to hear a number of them spoken on the streets of Delhi. For many reasons, people are proud of their regional cultures and it shows in their dress as well. Many of those same individuals who are speaking the various languages of India are the same people who can be distinguished by their unique costuming which is distinct to the region of India from which they hail—sometimes this is also a distinguished characteristic which can also be the result of their religious beliefs. Nevertheless, the uniqueness remains.

One of the other unique characteristics which I find to be quite interesting about Delhi, is the “mixed usage” that is so much a part of urban space usage. One of the best examples which I can use to show is the very hotel in which we are staying at—Pamposh Guest House. The bottom level of the hotel we are staying at is actually a Dominoes Pizza. This is interesting because in most cases, especially in South Texas, this is not a common occurrence, but in Delhi this is actually the case. The area in which we are staying, Greater Kalaish II (GK II), is indicative of this same situation. You can walk pretty much in any direction and on the next block you will find a number of shops, restaurants, and bars on the bottom level and living space just above.

The last example which I would like to mention is yet another unique aspect of not just Delhi but the whole of India. A few days ago we had the opportunity to visit an institute of higher learning, the Energy and Research Institute (TERI). The institute is also a research (think tank), and environmental resource center. TERI is an oasis in the midst of farming flats and a growing corporate business sector outside the city of Delhi. It is located in Gurgaon, a suburb of Delhi, and serves as yet another example of the uniqueness that translates into an important cause which is such an integral part of the growth that has enveloped India. The facility we visited is responsible for incorporating environmental technology which makes use of gasifying processes to produce electricity as well a solar panels which aid in the same production of electricity. TERI is responsible for developing a facility that is self-sustainable. This model not only translates into a potential resource in aiding with increasing consumption demands, but also into a solution to perhaps a multi-pronged approach necessary to combat the rising pollution concerns.

There are so many examples of uniqueness that are specific to Delhi and many which can be generally applied to India. The importance of discussing all of this is two-fold. One reason is to recognize Delhi’s diversity and the other is to give those of you reading this a sense of the experience which I contend has changed my life for the better. - JRQ

In previous posts and/or journal entries, my fellow Bharat Hippo Rats and I have most likely mentioned the symphonic cacophony that is the traffic of New Delhi. We have all been frightened to the point of nearly needing a change of clothes, but mostly we have marveled at how a flow of traffic that cannot conceivably operate actually does operate.

In the last lecture of our program at JNU yesterday, Professor Gurbachan Singh expressed that population density in India is not a problem – not even in the overcrowded cities like New Delhi and Mumbai – as compared to the population density of other (more developed) localities like Hong Kong and Bangladesh. Though he was referring to population density’s impact on real estate prices, I associated his population density declaration with the means by which people transport themselves from Point A to Point B.

I was incredulous; how can there not be a population density problem here when all day, every day I witness such traffic bedlam?! Dr. Kishore Gawande of Texas A&M University-College Station told us that only 20% of persons in New Delhi have cars. So I must surmise that, if New Delhi had the population density of the aforementioned places, and if more of the people here had cars, things would be much, much worse. Is it possible for things to be worse? I guess so.

But that still leaves the question of how the dysfunctional traffic system functions. I believe I know how. The answer came to me as an epiphany while I was riding in the back seat of a Tata: I was thinking about British comedian Mr. Bean in the movie “Johnny English”. In one scene, he unsuccessfully uses a unique form of echo-location to find his way through a pitch-dark tunnel.

And then it struck me: Indian motorists have their own special echo-location technique for avoiding wrecks and weaving and wending their way through incredible traffic jams! It’s the all-mighty honk!

Auto-rickshaws and buses all have the polite request “Horn Please” painted or stickered on their back bumpers. Our driver was copiously complying with this request, as were all the other vehicles on the road! The unenlightened observer might ask why everyone is constantly honking, or “horning” and this observer may feel annoyed at all the seemingly unnecessary and pointless noise. But that’s only because we westerners are accustomed to only using our horn to express alarm or anger. Here, the horn is the equivalent of a bat’s screech.

And we shouldn’t be surprised at the idea of using sound vibrations to “see”, since the notion has been present in our society via a Marvel Comics character recently depicted in the Hollywood blockbuster with his name: “Daredevil”.

Finally, we must realize that, unlike Mr. Bean, the people of India are well-accustomed to perfect sounds, this being the place where the holy syllable “Om” is most often pronounced. Perhaps their horns are the synthetic version of “Om”. – HB

Thinking of India now, I can no longer relate it to one symbol or monument. India is a unique country composed of far more than simply snake-charmers and the Taj Mahal. It is home to about 1.1 billion people with varied backgrounds and experiences. Still, each Indian shows some connection or pride in his homeland. On my first night in New Delhi, the taxi driver proclaimed with a good deal of pride, “Welcome to my India.” Overall, I feel the people in the city have met us with a warm welcome and quite a bit of curiosity This is what really stands out to me about the people here in India: their genuine interest and willingness to talk to foreigners. It has become rather common for us to be approached by a stranger who is interested in our plans here and our observations about India.

I have not really felt moved by anything as much as the events of this past week. As part of our activities with JNU, the TAMUK and Bush School students had unique opportunities to meet with non-governmental organizations and academic experts in the fields of micro-credit and sustainable development. On one outreach activity, our group of students went to meet representatives of a micro-financing institution called the Fountain for Development Research and Action (FODRA) in north-east Delhi. We were witness to the many social benefits micro-financing institutions can have on the lives of impoverished people in developing countries. By giving small loans to generate income and meet consumption needs of self-help groups, FODRA is helping lessen the amount of people who faces problems like malnutrition and unsanitary living conditions on a daily basis. The thing that seemed the most striking to me was the crowd we generated while meeting with FODRA clients in the community. Within minutes, it seemed as if we were surrounded by the entire community. It was a bit overwhelming for me at the time, but looking back now at the sheer amount of people who were interested in our conversations with the local women was extraordinary.

The experience we had meeting with FODRA clients was later enhanced by the lecture given by JNU professor, Amit Ray, Ph. D. Professor Ray specializes in economics and teaches at the Centre for International Trade and Development at the School of International Studies. The professor’s energetic lecture titled “Micro Credit for Poverty Alleviation” helped explain how micro-financing institutions like FODRA work to remove the people from the vicious circle of poverty. Both the rural and urban poor may never be able to pull themselves out of their unfortunate economic conditions because they do not have the collateral necessary to secure loans from traditional lending institutions. This experience has shown me that while micro-finance may only be responsible for marginal macro-economic consequences, it is making a real difference in the quality of lives of many individuals who are poor.

Out of everything seen and heard on this trip, what I shall remember the most vividly the optimistic outlooks that Delhi citizens and university intellectuals have for the future of India. Perhaps someday soon India will see a reduced amount of poor nestled on the streets, less pollution in the air, and an improvement in the living conditions for all. Only time will tell what role micro-financing will play in improving India’s place in the world economy and there are reasons to be hopeful. -SMA

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