India 2010 Notes

17 April 2010

Now, after a few days back in Kuala Lumpur to pick up my India visa and an overnight stop in Singapore, I am on my way to India, a place I have dreamed of visiting for many years. Much like the Far East, so many of my philosophical and spiritual influences originate here that it feels like a soul homecoming of sorts (although culturally, these countries are very foreign and unfamiliar). It will essentially be a working trip, as my two weeks are packed with talks and workshops (in Mumbai, Raipur, Delhi, Chennai and Pune), but sometimes that is the most authentic way to get to know a country.

21 April 2010

My first few days in India have been all work and no play, but rewarding nevertheless. The evening that I arrived in Mumbai, I interviewed the founder and researcher at Karmayog, an organisation which runs an information and sharing portal for NGOs and citizens, including the ability to report corruption. It also runs a CSR Rating of the top 500 companies in India.

The following day, I travelled to Raipur to deliver a talk on the Future of CSR, hosted by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). The flight back to Mumbai was via Bhopal, which felt somehow significant, given my work and the number of times I have used the 1984 Bhopal disaster as a case in my talks and writing.

Yesterday, in Delhi, I did a workshop on CSR Around the World, hosted by the national power supplier (NTPC). Several power cuts during my stay at their guest house seemed ironic, but just highlights the scale of the challenges India faces. Today, I do a workshop on CSR, Marketing and PR, hosted by NASSCOM.

My impressions of India so far are still in flux. On the one hand, I didn’t get the ‘assault on my senses’ that I had expected, other than the heat – it has been 43 Celsius during the day and 30 at night, the highest April temperatures in 52 years. Poverty is everywhere in evidence, but is not as overwhelming or pervasive as I had expected. Perhaps I am just accustomed to slums and scenes of hand-to-mouth existence, having grown up in South Africa and travelled extensively in developing countries.

What is more notable is the traffic. Not only are the roads swarming with cows, bicycles, bull carts, rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, taxis, cars, buses and trucks, but there appear to be no rules of the road, other than ‘take the gap’. Traffic lanes, stop signs and traffic lights have no meaning. Hooting is constant. Many cars and trucks even have ‘Horn .. ok .. please’ painted on their bumpers, seemingly encouraging hooting in the interests of safety. Somehow, this lack of rules makes drivers more alert and aware, so in a chaotic way, it works.

Cutting through the dust and (in Delhi) the smog are iridescent colours – of the women’s saris, the brightly painted trucks and the temples, shrines, gods and goddesses. I find this fascinating, that the hottest, driest and often poorest places in the world are also the most colourful. Perhaps it is compensation for a harsh and bland environment, or perhaps it is simply the richness of indigenous cultures.

There is also a real sense of diversity and dynamism among the people here – constantly busy and bustling, wheeling and dealing, in animated discussion, struggling to make themselves seen and heard amidst the crowd, manoeuvring, manipulating, engaged in the cut and thrust of survival. What is also different is that people and animals mix and move freely together, on the streets and pavements, through waste dumps and in markets. It is a moving morass of life that is unmanageable and incredible.

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