Previous posts in this discussion:
PostIndia (Gurgaon) Report (Evelyn Aleman, USA, 04/23/13 1:25 pm)
India: A World Historical Site that Must be Preserved
India is a country that shocks and stimulates one's senses immediately upon arrival--with sounds, smells, colors, spices and more. Its beautiful architectural wonders like the Taj Mahal, Qutub Minar Minaret, the Red Fort, Jami Masjid Mosque in Old Delhi, and hundreds of beautiful temples, are a testament to its rich historical and cultural past, while its evolving modernity offers travelers western comforts. It offers the visitor a look at an ancient civilization just as it is being transformed through and by globalization.
I visited India for the first time in 2005. It was a Rotary exchange between the Woodland Hills Rotary Club in California and the Gurgaon Club in India. I went back last month, and this time stayed with a Rotarian couple, both doctors, and had an opportunity to experience much more than just the tourist spots.
I stayed in Gurgaon, which is one of the country's most expensive suburbs, and its second largest technology hub. The world's largest multinational companies and banks are located in its center. Downtown Gurgaon is lined with malls, including Ambience--its largest, which boasts an ice skating rink, 32-lane bowling alley, 24-screen cinema with first-class service that includes reclining seats, dinner and more, restaurants, shops from around the world, a brewery, amusement park rides, a gym and golf course. A metro, which now connects Gurgaon to Delhi, will soon provide connectors to each office building, so that commuters can quickly access this new mode of transport, thereby further reducing traffic, which is horrendous. Toll roads are quickly replacing dirt roads with new, more modern highways, while apartments and condominiums are filling open spaces--a process that is giving way to further urbanization and prompting many organizations, like the Rotary Club, to take on environmentally conscientious campaigns such as tree planting.
While in Gurgaon, I also had an opportunity to visit a Rotary-funded school, which provides K-12 education to some 2,200 students from local areas. At the school, upper middle-class and poor children study alongside one another. Thirty percent of students from poor families receive an education free of change. In a society still divided by castes, the school instills moral values and a strong educational foundation. Students wear uniforms to remind that at the school everyone is equal and that what matters is their academic success. The students have an Eco Club, which teaches them about environmental preservation, and are taught music and dance. They are also taught medicine and yoga, with emphasis on key pressure points throughout the body for mental and physical strength and focus.
Throughout India there is great emphasis in science, math, technology and English as core subjects. The success of a student is dependent on a teacher's effectiveness--a far cry from the way our education system works in the US. Teachers at the Rotary school explained that there are also now Abacus or Vedic centers throughout India, which teach children as young as four years old to do mental arithmetic using their fingers and the abacus.
In spite of its infrastructural gains, and technological and economic advances, India's poverty continues to be daunting. The plight of the elderly, the sick, women and children is especially gripping. During my stay, I visited an NGO in Delhi called The Earth Saviors Foundation, which provides food, lodging and care for the elderly poor and destitute, and a school for children from the slums. Its founder, Ravi Kalra, a Rotarian, is a former businessman, who traveled to 40 countries before he started the organization. During the day, Karla and his volunteer corps visit slums and stop at traffic signals to convince parents to allow their children to attend his school. By night, he travels the road looking for abandoned sick, elderly, mentally ill and women who may be in need of care. Karla performs last rites on those who lay dying along the road and ensures that they, and the unidentified bodies he often finds, are properly cremated with the dignity that he says all human beings deserve.
Social activism is strong in India. There is some progress being made in support of women's rights. More and more men and women have taken to the streets in recent months to protest rapes that have made headlines in the country and around the world.
On my visit to Old Delhi, I also met a Rotarian activist who has turned his home into a hotel--for safety reasons. Arshad Ali Fehmi, his wife and 14-year-old son are working toward the preservation of the 17th-century Jami Masjid Mosque, and its surrounding areas. Fehmi's efforts are opposed by the mosque's Imam, who stands to lose financially if it were to be turned over to the government for preservation. Because threats have been made on his life, and his home has been vandalized by a mob, Fehmi is now guarded by a military soldier 24 hours a day, seven days a week. His wife is a well-known activist for the rights of Muslim women. His young son, Omair, hopes to some day become a lawyer.
There is so much more to India than its historical sites, its cultures and people. It is a modern world emerging within an old country--a world historical site that must be preserved. I am curious to see the new changes on my next visit.
JE comments: A most fascinating report from Evelyn Aleman, whose visit to India coincided with my brief trip last month to Guatemala. Perhaps nowhere on earth is the contrast of the ancient and the modern so pronounced as in India--and as I recently remarked to Evelyn off-Forum, WAIS coverage of the world's second-largest nation is quite scanty.
Evelyn included a number of beautiful photographs, three of which I attach here. Size and e-mail constraints limit the number of images I can send in one go, so I may have to do a follow-up post.
Evelyn Aleman at Holika Festival of Colors, Delhi
Gurgaon Business District, with Metro
Evelyn Aleman at Red Fort, Delhi