Monday, August 4, 2008

Incredible India!

My journey back to Oregon started at 10 pm last night. Mumbai International airport has been ripped up as all international and domestic airports undergo facelifts. It was crazy, the traffic was bad and I saw more crowds outside bidding their departing loved ones good bye. The airport was packed - with many more flights and airlines flying out that evening all at once. Things felt chaotic, but once I was checked in I simply had a long walk to the gate. I had to switch to Swiss Air as Lufthansa flights were cancelled due to a strike in Germany - yes they cancelled flights to India, one of their most promising and always full market, but not the US flights.

As I went through immigration and was waiting to take the escalator down to the gate, I saw a big sign hanging in front "INCREDIBLE INDIA". I also simultaneously heard one of the Swiss flight attendants heading to the gate make a snide comment on that sign. She probably didn't see what was so incredible about India - the noise, chaos, upheavel, poverty. That is all she could see. I had a strong desire to respond back, be defensive, but I stopped. I realized that was her view and I had to show indifference, thanks to the advice some time back by Nina Pileggi. The sutras tell us to be indifferent. I had to be indifferent.

As I walked through the maze of construction towards my gate within minutes the sight of the airport changed from Chaos, to a modern terminal. Only part of the terminal had been finished, but boy what a contrast. Suddenly the dusty, musty chaos has changed to sights I am familiar with at other international airports. Nice cafes, clean restrooms, well organized sitting areas. There were crowds, but everyone was lined up in queues to get to theri flights. There was buzz, no different than any busy airport. I felt I was in another world......

The Jet Airways crew looked the smartest - they reminded me of Singapore Airlines crew - young vibrant and most fashionably dressed. Anyone flown Jet Airways lately? They are ready to take over the world with their incredible service at the global level. They have literally revived the Brussels airport and the defunct Sabina airlines, but making Brussels their international hub. This year Jet Airways made a huge profit, despite rising oil prices, while other airlines stuggle with losses. Jet is flying every where. There were at least five Jet flights that night to Bankok, London, Brussels, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Jet is part of the Incredible India. For years they have had an incredible domestic service, setting new standards in quality and service. Now they are emerging into the global scene and their goal is to displace Singapore Airlines as the number 1 airline in the world for service.

As I settled myself in the Swiss Air aircraft - a half empty plane that looked aged and haggard. No wonder they went bankrupt and got acquired by Lufthansa. I realized they were no Lufthansa, but they certainly were no Jet Airways. I had trouble getting the seat to adjust and the same flight attendant profusely apologized.... "we will be having new seats next year"... I smirked and said to myself - Incredible Swiss! The universe strikes back!

As I settled myself, I took out a book I had just purchased - "The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cellphone" by Shashi Tharoor. Imagine t0 my surprise - the entire theme of the book was about the incredible transformation that is happening in India today. I am still reading it but I was quite enlightened.

India is a bundle of contradictions - there is extreme wealth right next to extreme poverty. This year India had more billionaires on the Forbes list than any other nation other than the US. More than Russia, Japan and China. Number one in the emerging economies. At the same time 212 million Indians live below poverty lines. 50 years ago 350 million did. 50 percent of Indians are below 35 years of age - an incredible demographic of 500 million people. Suddenly what was India's biggest weakness, is suddenly being viewed as its strength - the largest middle class in the world. The largest English speaking nation in the world.

The country is going through a gigantic transformation both economically, socially and culturally. It is the biggest democracy in the world but at the same time about 100 of the 500 elected members of its parliament have criminal records and three recently had to be released from jail for 3 days to vote on an important matter of keeping the current government in place. What a contradiction - but despite these problems, the counrty is growing at at tremendous pace, approaching 10% GDP growth a year. It has reserves of $300 billion. Contrast this to 20 years ago, when it had to mortgage its gold reserves to pay its debt. The country was bankrupt.

So what is so incredible about India? Whats incredibe is that despite itself, India is going to become an incredible nation and a world power in the next 5 years. By 2015 India will be the number 2 economy in the world after China. After 300 years of British rule and 40 years of being suppresed in closed walls, India is breaking through the seams and racing ahead. All of this chaos is needed for the calmness to appear. But what is life without some chaos? It has to go through the pain to achieve its past glory, as a peaceful, spiritual and vibrant society where yoga originated 5000 years ago.

India is country of many cultures, languages, ideologies. Shashi equates India to a thali (plate) of many curries and they share one thing in common, the incredible spices. I think the government PR needs to change the slogan from "Incredible India" to "Incredibly Spicy India". Its the spices, the culmination of so many flavors and tastes, the dust, the noise, the sweat, the contradictions in the coexistence of calm with chaos that makes India so unique. All of this is what makes India incredible!


The Yogi

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

Was on the trip to Bangalore and Mysore and met you at the karanji nature park where we had our lunch served on banana leaves. I enjoyed reading your blogs and what an irony... was reading "The Elephant, The Tiger and The Cellphone" by Shashi Tahroor during that trip!