Share this post
Incredible India! is the Indian government’s marketing slogan to attract tourism. And I agree. India is truly incredible in countless ways, both captivating and heartbreaking.
Ten days ago I returned from my annual study tour with university students to India and my mind continues to sort memories, questions and concerns.
Meeting families in the slums of Chennai, visiting Japanese companies and diplomats, staying at rural development projects and getting to know Indian law students through study, laughter and dance, each year my students are challenged by India to get their heads around the unfathomable.
India has almost 10 times the population of Japan (1.23 billion vs. 127 million) in a country about 10 times larger (3.3 million sq. km vs. 377,915 sq. km), but what tends to overwhelm my students is India’s sheer diversity in all things.
It could be argued that Japan is the antithesis of India. It is clean, efficient, controlled, homogeneous, relatively quiet and predictable. One Indian friend calls Japan sterile.
India, on the other hand, is chaotic. People walk in the street, music blares from temples and shops, and signs and posters are everywhere, as are smells and garbage. Auto-rickshaw can be seen driving the wrong direction and the din from horns can be nearly unbearable. More often than not, traffic rules are the victim of opportunity and vehicles find their own frenetic flow.
“Diversity” is so often used in speaking of India that it has become a cliche. Still, it’s hard to come up with a more appropriate word. Diversity is the source of India’s vitality and beauty; it is also the cause of debilitating social and environmental problems.
Above and below the surface, India bubbles with all varieties of race, religion, philosophy, language, culture, politics, socioeconomic and caste divides, and myriad combinations of all of these. Geographically, too, India offers everything from sandy beaches and dense forests to deserts and towering peaks.
Its cities in particular seem to pulse with youthful vitality, which is not surprising, since 18 percent of the population is between the ages of 15 and 24. Just 5.7 percent of Indians are over 65.
In contrast, almost 25 percent of Japanese are over 65, while only about 10 percent are between 15 and 24.
India is truly incredible. But new visitors to India’s cities probably won’t notice the captivating diversity at first, if at all. More likely they will be overwhelmed by the garbage, rivers that are often putrid with sewage and air that is yellow with dust and vehicle emissions.
The sad truth is that India has a bulging portfolio of serious, and growing, environmental problems.