What is this blog?

In the summer of 2011 our graduate class visited India. It was the most amazing and eye-opening experience of my life. Here are my thoughts and observations from the trip. I was surprised at the level of introspection that flowed into the posts but it was all real and all me.


Evacuation of the Nation

As we were about to embark on the industry-centric portion of our trip and travel to Mumbai, we got the news. Mumbai’s Biggest Terrorist Attack Since 2008 Leaves 21 Dead.

Being so far from home, some were noticeably shaken while others took the route of the native Indians and were less concerned. Personally, I wanted to continue. We had come so far, we were just about to see the New York City of India, and most of all – I wasn’t ready to leave. Everything from the people and their innate kindness to their accomplishments in architecture and the arts was intoxicating. I feel as if I only got to taste a delicious appetizer at the most foreign dinner of my life. But. I get it.

We had to leave. The school was liable for us and they had no choice but to bring us back. I still think about India, almost daily, and wonder if I will ever make it back. This has opened my eyes to traveling globally to places that aren’t tourist traps. This trip made me believe that foreign lands should be foreign, not pseudo-foreign representations to lure tourists.

Anyway, the trip was amazing, interesting, a joy to share with friends, wonderfully guided, epiphanical, and most of all life changing.

Taking the iPad 2 India

Before we left the school lent our everyone in our group an iPad 2 with 3G capability. In return they asked that we report on the usability during our international study abroad adventure. So, here’s my mini-report.

The biggest problem we faced was the availability and affordability of internet. Our first means of accessing the internet was the 3G via AT&T. This proved to be both costly and ineffective. Due to the very small amount of data (less than 1 GB) for the monthly price of $150 we realized this was not an option. We then tried to access the internet using our hotels wifi. Though good in theory, it was completely cost prohibitive. Due to our busy schedule, paying up to $20 per day for access was pointless. We’d only be in the hotel and awake for 4-5 hours of use. In the long run we did find a system of rotating internet buyers that allowed everyone access.

When we did have internet video chat was awesome. Using skype and Google video chat (through Gmail) was almost flawless. No latency issues and the picture was clear. Score one for the iPad.

I found when trying to capture audio/video with the iPad the system seemed clunky. The system is portable for a computer but not as a camera. Trying to balance the iPad and take pictures in the wind proved to be tricky along with the fact the pictures only came out 5MP and were sometimes blurry due to low shutter speeds. Were there no other options, the iPad would adequately suffice in documenting your travels.

My number one recommendation for next time. Please. PLEASE provide a bluetooth keyboard, either built into the case or separately.Typing on the screen was cumbersome and irritating.

Overall, I think the iPad was a great traveling partner. Once we jumped the hurdle of internet access it was an amazing tool. Keep in mind, when walking around the country it will bring lots of stairs and curiosity, but then again, when did we not.

Yep, THAT is a wonder of the world.

Upon embarking on our lil’ trip to India I had been looking forward to many things, not completely including the Taj Mahal. I thought it might be an interesting story to tell or a neat profile picture, but I wasn’t convinced it would have much impact – I mean, come on, it’s an old tomb, right? Well… WRONG.

The Taj was absolutely phenomenal. It was awe-inspiring. Though it can’t be seen or felt through the picture, here is what we saw at sunrise.

The Taj was so beautiful and flawless that it seemed as though someone had carefully affixed  a giant painting to the horizon. It looked almost fake, changing colors by the minute, each more vibrant than the last.

Maybe this seemed surreal because we had seen many palaces and forts that were built for war and power, while this was a triumph of love. The distinct feeling that eminated from the monument was almost palitable. Was it the love? Was it the amount of time and energy spent hand crafting an entire building by hand? It’s hard to say. I’d guess it means something different to everyone. I got a feeling of extreme wonder and inspiration. My thoughts were clear, my mind uncluttered. If only for a second I could think of everything, nothing and feel tranquility.

Then suddenly, it was time to leave. I didn’t want to go. I could have stared at the building all day – but I guess it gives me an excuse to go back…

Hand Made, Inlaid, and Unafraid

India’s rich tradition of ornamentation was passed down, generation to generation. It’s everywhere. It’s even marketed in the “incredible india” campaign we read about. Many of the executions were based on visuals of intricately striking things. They realized that India needs only to display to the world it’s vibrance, antiquity, and amazingly detailed landscape to draw attention.

This attention to detail made me realize and believe that they were a more patient people. They were willing to spend time and resources to decorating the most mundane, everyday, objects. For instance, many fences, gates, and chain-link guard rails had a touch of detail.

To see residential gates with beautiful iron work was not uncommon. This design was not only aesthetically pleasing but it was also built for a purpose – to keep others out. We learned that there are many architectural and cultural influences that still linger in India because of their rich history.

It seamed like they were a  group of people who live in a country where overcrowding hinders any kind of rush and it was refreshing change from our ADHD nation, where pills are dispensed like candy at a parade.

Of course, we didn’t spend enough time in India to learn the intricacies of their intricacies, but I’ll be back – Ohh yes, I will be back.

Plain Plane Ride

Before the trip began I was most anxious about the long flight. Not sure if it was shortsightedness on my part or being over six-feet-tall and sitting on a plane for SEVENTEEN hours. In any case, I packed as many distractions as I could think of. I had magazines, snacks, books, iPad, my phone with music and freshly downloaded games, Movies on my iPad, Gameboy with newly bought games, and a puzzle book – in case I got bored. I was overloaded with stimulation and big brands. After packing for the entertainment apocalypse, we finally got on the fourteen and a half  leg of our flight.

I settled in, got my window seat command center situated, and waited for the flight to begin, when a 40ish year old Indian man sat down next to me; Rama Bijapurkar, the author of We are Like That Only, would classify him as a “mainstreamer” – the middle majority who is motivated by familial responsibility and their behavior marked by conformity. He sat down and was very nice. We spoke for a few minutes about our trip and what we were going to visit. He revealed that he was from Delhi and was only in the US to visit family. As we parted conversational ways, like you do on a 14 hour flight, I started to realize – he brought nothing. No carry-0n, nothing. This blew my mind.

We hadn’t even left U.S. airspace and I was already perplexed, and a little ashamed. In my American way I had brought gadgets and shiny objects to keep my attention while my Indian neighbor brought nothing, needed nothing, and was absolutely happy.

I will never forget how content he was with (what this snobby Americans would consider) nothing. It was a great prequil to our time in India and helped frame what we were in store for over the next few weeks.

Needless to say we both lived, me nodding to the music in my headphones and he nodding off on an airline provided pillow.

Amitabh Bachchan’s India

The man. The myth. The legend.

This man was EVERYWHERE. By the end of our abbreviated trip through India it was made clear how important Amitabh Bachchan was to cinema and the Indian people. We saw him in numerous film trailers, interviews, billboards, commercials, and he was even mentioned in TWO of our lectures. It wasn’t till I re-read the chapter on Amitabh in Mother Pious Lady that I realized where India’s infatuation came from. The book says, “for today’s urban India, he reconciles our ritual respect for the past with the need to build a future.” – This hit me hard. It seems to be the key to what is happening in India’s culture. There are people clinging to traditions as if their life depended on it while others are trying to break free and modernize at all costs. The shifting of ideals reminded me of Prahalad’s idea of changing the pyramid social class system into a diamond where there is a fundamental shift from a large portion of the population being extremely poor to a very large middle/consumer class.

(Illustration from C.K. Prahalad’s Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid p.110)

Whatever the reason, this divide is happening quickly, generation to generation people’s beliefs are becoming fragmented. Many times we witnessed families where the mother and father wore traditional garb, the older child wore a half-length kurta, and the youngest child proudly wore a Mickey Mouse t-shirt. To an outsider it would seem the layers and pressures of the past are being shed at an amazing rate, by some, while others hold traditions and “old culture” to be sacred.

Who is right?

Which way is the right path?

Only time will tell.