This was true when my husband and I arrived in New Delhi at four in the morning. What surprised us most besides the hundreds of people trying to get through immigration at that time in the morning was security. The Indian Army operates security for the airport conducting personal searches and luggage investigation. Armed infantrymen stand outside the exits checking identification and monitoring cars. We think surrendering our water bottle is a hardship in the US. The Indian people undergo a serious of searches without grumbling.
Our car’s headlights create twin beams into the night. The thick haze I first dismissed as fog is smog. My first hint was that the scooter riders wrap scarves around their mouths and a few have cold masks similar to those donned by individuals with compromised immune systems. This is a tiny facet from one city.
What did I know of India before our visit, not a great deal besides people wash in the Ganges River, cows wandered freely in the streets, and beggars lurked around every corner ready to rush an obvious tourist. How true were my initial perceptions garnered from an outdated geography film from middle school? Actually many people do use the river as their personal laundromat and bathing station. This is a misleading because there are several classes within society. A growing middle class in India often has several servants. A man at the same pay level as my husband has five servants. This amazed us since we can’t afford any. Certain jobs are beneath the higher castes/classes of people thus they hire people to do those jobs.
On our trip to Taj Mahal, we saw several cows wandering the street looking reasonably well fed. Our guide assured us these cows belonged to someone, but roamed at will. Occasionally some herders would show up moving the cows in a general direction. The cows were beef cows as opposed to milk cows, which means they are not slaughtered in India. Eating beef is against the prevailing Hindu faith, which means it isn’t available anywhere. There may be some places selling it, but we didn’t run across them.
Most people not familiar with India might think it was a land of beggars. Impoverished people do live in sheet metal and tarp shacks. However, there is also a large, vibrant working class. No matter how humble their job maybe they arrive in pressed clothes ready to work.
The school uniforms changed as the children aged. Young boys could wear shorts, but graduated to pants. The older boys wore ties and often crested blazers. The girls started out in school skirts reminiscent of parochial, but moved on to an outfit that covered the legs. The older girls’ uniforms were more Indian in nature with a long tunic, loose pants, and often a scarf. The teachers didn’t wear uniforms, but dressed more formally than teachers I’ve worked with.
Family and faith are paramount to the average individual. Outside of that, priorities depend on the person. Although, most Indians value their jobs and even report a high level of contentment at work. Some Americans are irritated about jobs outsourced to India, but there are several major companies in India that now own interests in American businesses too.
Every Indian child learns English so he or she can be competitive in the world of business. Indians often structure their workday to coincide with the United States time zones. Employees often work twelve to eight and dine as late as ten in the evening in an effort to work with their American counterparts. Depending on their job, it can be standard to work seven days a week with an occasional week off for weddings or festivals.
It is easy to think of India as what it used to be from the spice trade, British rule, and historical edifices. The country has developed into an attractive business proposition with an unlimited work force. Skyscrapers, apartment buildings, parking garages and malls are under construction everywhere. The India I encountered was not the one I expected.