That development thing
About every travel book you pick up these days about India says the same thing: India is a place of contradictions -- sex and marriage, poverty and wealth, caste and democracy, etc. India is also celebrated in the States as a place of rapid development and economic growth, a potential superpower.
My opinion is this: Maybe, but it has a long, long, long friggin' way to go.
The Internet in Dharamsala has been out for the past week (since last Friday), apparently because of a fire at a building in Chandigarh (a large city about 5 hours south). Now, this is important because this fire knocked out Internet connections not just in Dharamsala, but across all of Himachal Pradesh and all of Punjab. Open up a map of India. That's an enormous portion of northern India, home to about 35 million people. Just imagine this story in the States: A fire at some server warehouse in Chicago knocks out all Internet access to people in Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and Indiana. One fire, at one building. A week to fix.
I was warned by someone before coming here that, "India is great, but nothing works." And that's precisely right. A friend walked into the Internet cafe I'm at in McLeod Ganj five minutes ago and told me that her taxi broke down halfway up the 1,000+ foot climb from the CCS flats in Dharamsala. She walked the rest of the way.
The list goes on, but it's a list that so long and so unbelievable that it's not worth getting into. In fact, I think one thing every person has to learn in coming to India is to expect to create such a list. It's a list of shocking stories of illness and bad infrastructure and transportation that's it's funny. Hilarious, actually. You have to laugh at it.
Chances are those lists will be getting shorter as years go on, though. The country has dedicated itself to development, and it is this dedication (coupled with democracy, to make the growth a little more humane than that of, oh say, China) that is one of India's real strengths. The country is building human capital like few states in the West, and the people India is putting out are motivated and wanting like you can't believe. After talking with friends and teachers and families, I truly believe that if the U.S. opened its borders tomorrow, more than half of India would show up. These people aren't free-riders, and their craving for education and wealth is proof. I'm glad they like us, because India will continue to grow into modernity (even if to the detriment of some of the country's best qualities, the top two in my book being religious fervor and love of life). It just has some enormous problems to work out first.
Time for some Italian food with friends. My food cravings are out of control. Neenah is going to have a beef and beer shortage when I get back.