As I write this, I am 35,000 feet above the ground, heading for Chicago. The cabin of the 777 is dark and most people are sleeping. It will be a long night as the flight follows the darkness over the full 14 hour, 43 minute route. My second Indian adventure has come to an end and I am homeward bound to Cincinnati.
Two things most apparent to me this trip were the multitudes of people and the pollution. The throngs of humanity are overwhelming. Anywhere I went, everywhere I turned, there were people. And more people. The three states I visited, West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh hold more people than the fifty United States. As I departed Kolkata, from a distance, the activity of the morning looked like an army of ants streaming in all directions. It's hard to fathom, but India's population is over 1.2 billion. The implications are staggering. Less than half the people in India have access to toilet facilities. About half of women of child bearing age are anemic and half of children are malnourished. The pollution is also striking. Days in Delhi might be bright, but you often don't see the sun. When I mentioned the haze to my driver in Lucknow, he replied, "that's just fog". Unfortunately, it wasn't. I heard so much coughing and crouping as I traveled around the country. The pollution most certainly has negative effects on the health of the people. With that all said, everyday more babies are born and new cars are sold in record numbers. C'est La Vie.
In a short two weeks, with a fast paced itinerary, I saw so much. Yet, as far as India goes, I just scratched the surface. I must emphasize that through the haze there is an air of optimism. As dire as it sometimes appears, life is improving for most Indians.
I remain amazed by India's contrasts. Horse drawn carts ply the streets of Lucknow, passing a new McDonalds restaurant with drive through service. And cycle rickshaw drivers in Varanasi dodge potholes petaling past signs advertising computer alignments. It's sureal.
I guess it’s natural, but I realize that I am becoming desensitized to life in India. No longer am I alarmed when the taxi driver abruptly swerves into the path of oncoming traffic or do I pay much attention to cows wandering the streets or the piles of garbage that litter the landscape. And the many beggars, old and young, all just seemed to be part of the cultural fabric.
With more time and a slower pace, I might have gained insight from Simranjit, the young journalist who I met at the train station in Gaya or perhaps I could have visited the Little Stars School in Varanasi. However, I am thankful that my second trip to India, like my first, went smoothly. My experience, like a good Indian meal was rich, satisfying and filling.
I'm looking forward to tomorrow and the Thanksgiving holiday.