"All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware." Martin Buber
At the end of June I'm off again, for three weeks at a university in South Korea and a visit to Kyoto, Japan, then in August we will be in Guatemala looking at one of the world's greatest challenges: how to grow a lot of food sustainably on small farms. Come along!
Friday, December 28, 2012
India # 47 Reflections on India Five Weeks Later
Last week I
was in Idaho Falls with things to catch up on but what drew my energy was not
work but decorating the large window into my office with fabrics and photos
from India.In my last days in India I
bought fabrics, turbans and two statues I wanted to display for our staff and
visitors, along with photos of flowers and spices. My first abiding impression of India is of its
Benedictine monk Bede Griffiths landed in Bombay in l955 (“to find the other
half of my soul,” he said) this was his first impression:“I was fascinated with the spectacle of this
world of immeasurable beauty and vitality. It was not the beauty of nature
which struck me but the beauty of the human nature…the ‘human form divine.’….
It was not the poverty and the misery which struck me so much as the sheer
beauty and vitality of the people.On
all sides was a swarming mass of humanity, children running about quite naked,
women in saris, men with turbans, everywhere displaying the beauty of the human
form...They have the natural spontaneous beauty of flowers and animals, and
their dress is as varied and colourful as that of a flower-garden.”This may be romantic but after living there
for 35 years it remained his impression and it was mine as well.
had another notion that the East would counter “the violent aggression of the
West,” with its exploitation of nature through science and technology, with an Eastern
influence that emphasized spiritual and less materialistic values. This proved
to be idealistic.
died shortly after the Indian economy shifted into high gear under its present
Prime Minister, Mahmoud Singh, in l991.The middle class has grown, poverty has been reduced and India has been
propelled into prominence and self-confidence.However prosperity has left a still-deeply unequal society, rampant
corrupt and environmental decline.Griffiths
took hope from the Hindu religion’s deep connection to nature, for example
through millions of local gods who protect particular places.But forests have been razed against local
protest and rivers are filled with pollution with little effective
resistance.Hindu’s may have a deeper
love for and connection to nature than Christians but growth and material
well-being have trumped such values.
conversation between myself and a hotel owner in Jaipur bemoaning all this the
owner’s nephew told us in no uncertain terms, “Indians are entitled to the same
aspirations as everyone else.” Indeed
they do.However India occupies
one-third of the U. S. land mass with four times more people.The British depleted India in ways that have
not been replenished—its water system and the strength of its guilds and
I came to
India with an image of it remarkably like the photo above of garbage piled on the
banks of a small river running through Bangalore. My impression was based on what I had read,
particularly about Mumbai. This is not immediately apparent when you live there,
however. I experienced instead the vitality
and necessity by which people live.Traffic may have been oppressive but it moved with skill and a
long-suffering patience Americans could never tolerate.People are on the move, proud and
And yet the
river is a sewer and the 300 lakes around Bangalore have become polluted by
garbage dumped into old, nearby quarries.The New York Times wrote that “The Garden City,” as Bangalore had long
been called, has become “The Garbage City.” As it became India’s Silicon Valley, its
government did not develop a parallel sanitation system.High tech companies created garbage with no
place to go.
have been otherwise—or at least tolerable--had state and federal governments
been more transparent and trustworthy.For example, a good portion of the garbage collection business is
controlled by companies whose interest is in monopoly control, not keeping the
streets clean, but this went undeterred, according to the Times of India.
above is from Agra, not Bangalore, but disregard for the authorities seems to hold
true in both places: people dump their garbage precisely where they are told
India is the
world’s largest democracy under a British parliamentary system and, in many
ways, more democratic than the United States.When citizens marched on the office of one cabinet minister in September
he welcomed them by saying “Agitation is the music of democracy.” If that is true, India is the most musical
place in the democratic world, as I noted in my last post about the riots in
Much of the
agitation today is over corruption which is loudly lamented but often quite
open and accepted.The Hindu “Festival
of Light,” celebrated in mid-November, is said to be an auspicious time to buy
things.It is also an auspicious time to
give presents to people who have some control over your business.A newspaper in Jaipur visited government
offices on the biggest day of the festival to see presents being delivered to
police officers, building inspectors and regulators of all kinds openly.“We are grateful to them and know they have a
hard job,” was the unabashed justification of those who came bearing
Many people run
for public office with an expectation that they will be able to direct
business or other favors toward their friends and family.
The Big Question:China or India?
Some in the
West are counting on India to outstrip China because India enjoys greater
freedom and a more open economy.A new
study by the Organization for Cooperation and Development disputes this.Looking ahead to 2060, it expects a
seven-fold increase in the per-capital income of both China and India.It expects China to pass the U. S. no later
than 2030.Both countries will grow
almost twice as fast as Europe, the U. S. and other developed countries.
However it says that in 2060 China’s
per-capita income will be 25 percent greater than that in the U. S. while
India’s will be just half of the U. S.It expects relative economic inequalities to remain in India but less so
in China.This is not the outcome we
might have envisioned.Nor does it tell
us how the natural world will absorb all this growth.
I ask a
retired university ecology professor if he was optimistic or pessimistic about
India’s ecosystem.He said he was
optimistic and cited the dramatic growth of organic rice production.There is indeed a lot of ingenious,
sustainable development in India and substantial state-directed investment in
alternative energy.We hope the
professor is right.