I was only in Mumbai for 3 days as I had to get back for a funeral (yesterday), which was a shame, but it was long enough to make a lasting impression. My first thoughts were very much from the perspective of a westernised rabbit finding himself in the headlights of another culture, so rather than attempting to rewrite them, here’s a snippet of an email I wrote to an Indian friend.
– The general feeling of industriousness was telling. In England there have been examples of people feeling threatened by people coming over to the UK and working far too hard compared with their western peers. Catching a glimpse of the other side of the fence, where such effort appears absolutely the norm and not the exception, really put things into perspective for me. Meeting the staff at TekPlus was great, 10 MBA university graduates all with such drive and enthusiasm! India has so much to offer, and very clearly, it will be a major economic power in the future (in some areas of course, it already is).
– The amount of construction work going on was stunning. One day I took a rickshaw to Andheri (west) from where I was staying, in Andheri (East), and saw plenty of new buildings going up; on another day I headed south in a taxi to the Gateway of India, and saw a great deal of development as well on that journey. I understand in some areas of Mumbai, property can cost as much as in Manhattan.
– I had some good conversations, for example with a diamond seller with whom I shared a table at the local restaurant. He was saying how it was difficult for the poor, as successful businesses and people were getting richer, pushing prices up beyond what poorer people could pay. Square footage is doubling in price where I was staying, for example, due to a new micro-train being planned.
– The seeming contradictions between rich and poor, as both rub shoulders, was quite a surprise to my untrained eye. This was entirely down to my perceptions of course, but to see people from all walks of life going about their own business right next to each other was very different to how things are generally in the West (where we like to partition things up, and there is much fear and resentment). I was staying in Andheri (East), near the railway station ? so it was certainly not a ?sanitised? tourist resort but equally, I had aircon in my hotel and a hot shower which I took to be a luxury. Many people were sleeping on the street outside.
– The media, I was an avid reader of newspapers while I was there ? gave me a great deal of insight as well, both into cultural differences and local issues. In general I would read with interest something differently presented to here (“Guidelines for hugging in the workplace,” for example), and then almost immediately think of several examples of similar contradictions in my own culture. Interestingly though, I did find (in the papers and during the days) more examples of cultural alignment than I found differences, which helped make me feel quite comfortable wherever I was.
To my surprise I was not daunted by the squalor in various places but neither was I unaffected by it, nor the bustle and the noise. Overall, I found people very welcoming, accepting and helpful, and I didn?t feel particularly threatened. The obvious question of course is, “why should I be?” but then, it was my first time in a very new place, by myself, where I really did feel I stuck out like a sore thumb. It won’t be my last – I have already been invited to come and speak again at another conference, and also to be a visiting lecturer at a University in South India for a couple of weeks. We’ll have to see what develops but equally, I’m very much looking forward to going back and I have no doubt I shall be spending a lot of time in India in the future.
Looks like I wasn’t the only person writing about travelling in India last week, I defer to the greater experience and I’ll have to read the book!