Sunday, June 22nd, 2008
I’m heading to India on Tuesday. My first stop will be in Bombay – aka Mumbai but all my Indian friends still call it Bombay – to speak on a panel about the media and extremism. And then I’ll have about a week to explore a magnificent country which I must confess I’d never considered visiting before but which I’m now excited to be on the verge of discovering.
Call it Developing World Syndrome. You figure if you’re from a huge, sprawling, crazy, chaotic, dirty, frenetic megalopolis like Cairo, what do Bombay or Delhi have to offer but more noise, gridlock, urban sprawl and poverty?
I’ve got to hand it to my sister Nora who for years now has been raving about India and how much she’d love to go.
And now as I read up and plan my trip, I know how visitors to Egypt must feel about finally seeing amazing monuments of human accomplishments that are too often taken for granted by the locals. I sometimes feel like the Pyramids are more a curse than a blessing – a constant reminder of how great we ONCE were. How on earth do you outdo the Pyramids?
India too is blessed – or cursed – with civilizational greatness and it’s outdoing it in the most modern of ways by steadily working its way to superpowerdom. The Arab world’s always complaining how its colonial past continues to ruin its present. Well, India too has a colonial history. It had a painful partition too, with Pakistan and Bangladesh breaking away. The Arab-Israeli conflict and land disputes have their reflection in the dispute over Kashmir.
But India’s on the move and the world knows it.
Ironically enough, the home of outsourcing outsources its visa service in New York! So many people want to go to India that the consulate here directs interested visitors to a company that serves as the go-between for us visitors and the visas we want.
And in a sign that India is aware of its gaining clout and is using it – I was told that Europeans have a longer wait period than visa applicants from the developing world. Call that Revenge of the Developing World for Making Us Wait Days for Our Visas to Europe Syndrome! In Egypt, you just show up at the airport and they’ll give you a visa. To go to India, you apply through an outsourcing company.
As I ponder my visit to India, I can’t help but think that the Arab world seems happy to ignore India and its monumental rise though. Why? Largely due to racism and prejudice. For many Arabs, South Asians bring to mind the cheap labour that built the Gulf. Slave-like conditions are not the only injustices the workers of the Subcontinent face in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar and the other superrich emirates and kingdoms. Racism and derogatory slurs help to confine those labourers in their semi-human work conditions and blind the Arab world to the lessons it can learn from India.
I’m under no illusion that everything sparkles and shines in Incredible India. The ratio of women to men in some parts of the country is a shameful reminder of female infanticide. The staggering gaps between the super rich and the super poor are painful reminders that the world’s most populous democracy still has a lot of work to do.
Egypt and India were tied for quite a while along with Yugoslavia as the founders of the Non-Aligned Movement – Nasser, Nehru and Tito’s group aimed at surviving the Cold War. But that link is now largely forgotten.
I’m very excited to be heading to India. I want to see how the country that gave the world the Taj Mahal and so many other treasures of world heritage has survived that civilizational challenge and continues to wow.