Sharing news and commentary about education, careers, investing, and life.

Sharing news and commentary about education, careers, investing, and life.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

India: how I'll miss thee.

I have two months to go before I leave India, hopefully for good, and I've been reflecting today on my time here so far. And all this time I should have been studying for that exam I have tomorrow. Oh well.

One thing is for sure: I will not miss this country. Everything, every place, and everyone has its ups and downs, its pros and cons. Today we're talking about India, the Motherland, the Bharat, Hindustan. The land of my ancestors, the land I never knew until 4 months ago, and the land to which I will most likely never return.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not writing this with a bitter tongue. There are a number of good things to say about India, and I'll mention those in just a bit. But to help you understand where I'm coming from and why I feel the way I do, allow me to quickly recap the past four months:
  1. I am constantly harassed by 10-year-olds holding their baby siblings asking for money.

  2. There's nothing like seeing grown men, little children and sometimes the occasional woman all urinating or defecating in public. Really.

  3. Severe lack of communication, both within my company and without, makes for a very difficult and uncertain life.

  4. No order at all. The word "line" - which is very commonly known here as a "queue" [ahh, the remnants of British colonialism still manifest themselves in the most subtle of ways] - is absolutely ignored. Try to behave civilly when placing a food order and you will undoubtedly be shoved, pushed and ignored out of the way.

  5. India claims that officially, English is its business medium. All transactions must be conducted in the colonizers' native tongue [as I like to call it], and my company specifically mandates that at all times English will be spoken on campus and in all business dealings. Unfortunately, in order for this to truly work at the global level, the Indian education system [see my previous post], particularly with respect to how English is taught, needs a critical overhaul, because in its current state, the English spoken by native Indians around me is shoddy at best and abysmal at worst.
Now, onto the good stuff. The exchange rate is incredibly favorable to us while we're here in India, although when we leave this country the rate will hurt [after all, remember we're getting paid while we're here]. The current [and fairly stable] exchange rate is Rs 40 to USD 1, which effectively means that every day I can have breakfast, lunch and dinner for about USD 5, and that's in the moderately pricey range of the spectrum.

Better examples come from the clothing industry. Tailors abound in India, even in dinky little Mysore where I've been for the past 4 months. I found one tailor here in particular who has been tremendously helpful - very well-educated, actually used to work for my company himself for a short bit before he and his brother decided to open up their own clothing and tailoring shop. Now he's very successful and enjoys what he does.

But I digress. If you've ever been to Tommy Hilfiger in the summer months and come across their white linen pants, which retail for about USD 70, you are about to appreciate what I have to say. Remember that the Tommy pants are pre-made somewhere on the other side of the world, and the price you pay goes not towards the stitching but to the corporation. Sometimes it's worth it to do that, but sometimes you can get fantastic deals if you're in, say, a country like India. I've had FOUR pairs of such pants made - not off the rack but tailored to my body - at about USD 25 for each pair. And when I say tailored I do mean tailored. I mean the tailor takes about 7 different measurements around my lower half, then cuts the requisite amount of linen material, then tells me to come back in a few days when he will have them ready. And every one of them fits me exceptionally well. In fact as I type this post I'm wearing my black pair.

In short, clothing here is fantastic. So is any kind of travel, compared to the US. Flying from Bangalore to Delhi and back again [about a 3-hour flight each way] set me back Rs 8000, or approximately USD 200. Try finding that kind of deal in the States.

And if you think I'm having a financial blast here, imagine how my UK counterparts feel. The exchange rate for them is approximately Rs 80 to the British pound, so their quid stretches even further than the dollar!

However, even with all of these great things here, I know deep down that this is not home, nor will it ever be. No matter how much I love the fantastic deals and the cheap food and inexpensive travel, I will never get used to the extreme poverty, the terrible infrastructure [driving on even nicely paved roads here is akin to rollerblading on gravel] and the cultural nuances that truly make me appreciate how good we have it in the States. I will cherish this six-month experience for the rest of my life, but I don't think I could do it all over again if I was given the option.

Soon, in two months' time, I will be saying NAMASTE to India and HELLO to the US. Until then, I'm counting down.

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