Archive | November 1, 2009

An Englishman in a Familiar land.

Over looking my fathers land.

Overlooking my fathers land.

This is my last full day in the Punjab. We travel back to Delhi in the morning and fly out out the following day. As I write I am sitting on the balcony of my fathers house overlooking acres and acres of land. The sun is beaming down and again, and as per every day we have been here there is not a cloud in the sky. The only sounds I can hear are that of a harvester harvesting a field to the right of me and the incessant chatter of the birds.

Below me a heard of cows have just gone past. In the opposite direction and elderly woman walks past, carrying a basket full of cow pats on her head. The methane gas makes them perfect for fuel.

 I have been here for most of the day and despite the absence of the internet and English language television channels I have thoroughly enjoyed my time and wouldn’t have it any other way.

The pace of life in the west is becoming more and more hectic as we work longer hours for less and less reward. Sometimes all one wants to do is stop the word and get off. That is exactly what I have done here. And it’s great.  

I have always wondered what made my parents leave this idyllic land and start a new life half way around the world, to endure rain, cold and of course prejudice. The answer is simple, Poverty.

B both my parents’ family were poor, although my mother’s side was a lot poorer than my father’s side. Moving to England was their way to escape the poverty and in turn send money over to alleviate the poverty for family members in India.

In my father’s case, England really was the land of opportunity as his hard work and dedication paid off.  His fortune grew and throughout the years he sent literally Hundreds of thousands of pounds to India. He built a new house. Bought land and was the cash cow of the community.

Unfortunately. my Mother’s side of the family didn’t see much of the money, hence the reasons why they are still very poor. All over the Punjab you see enormous homes, paid for by money from NRI’s (Non Resident Indians).  The money pumped in from England has certainly helped boost the economic prosperity of the region. But as in most states the level of poverty is still alarmingly high.

Has my opinion of India changed during the two weeks of my travels? The simple answer is yes.  I was immensely proud when it launched the first space rocket a few weeks ago. The first stage of a programme that will ultimately take India to the moon. It is costing Billions of Rupees.

Having seen the poverty first hand, India’s space ambitions should certainly be given a lower priority. It’s pointless sending a rocket to the moon when 500 million people are starving at home. The same applies to the 2012 commonwealth games to be held in Delhi. The Billions of Rupees spent should also be diverted in helping alleviate he slums and provide better housing. Instead a fortune will be spent on Bamboo walls to hide the Slums from view. 

India are clearly in Denial with regards to its poverty problem. They have an image which they want to portray to the rest of the world. The image of an Economic super power in waiting. The slums do not fit in to that view. Indeed from what I saw, I cannot see India as a super power. In the last hundred years all super powers have built their might upon a strong industrial base. At its heart, India is still very agricultural.

It is a country of extremes. The haves and the have nots. If you have money then India is a great place to live. If you don’t, then survival is the order of the day. And yet, it is they who smile the most. Would I go back to India? I certainly would. Would I like to live there? Maybe. Despite the differences compared to England, I found the Villages surprisingly familiar and felt at home straight away. Something I thought I would never do.

I came as an Englishman in a strange land. I leave it saying goodbye to a familiar place.

An Englishman in a strange land (11)

I had a relaxing day in the Hotel today. The women were busy shopping and so I decided to venture out of the hotel compound and go for a little stroll.

I made sure I had the taken all the precautions, shades on, baseball cap on, Mosquito spray on. I walked past the multitudes of people, some loitering, some shopping some just taking a rest while they pick their noses. Etc etc etc…

Street life in India is a totally Alien experience

Street life in India is a totally Alien experience

In the UK we expect our pavements to be safe and fit for purpose. Here, there were pot holes the size of the Grand Canyon.  Even worse, there was no safety guards covering the holes. Word of advice, never jay walk in India!!

Crossing the road was also a risk. You need to look both ways and if you avoid being hit by a car, motorcycle or rickshaw, then a passing killer cow may finish you off. In fairness though, the cows just graze quietly without a care in the world. They are given free rein in the towns and cities because the Hindus regard cows as sacred animals. With the absence of grass they merely munch on the plentiful supplies of litter.

I was filming at a crossroads when I noticed two young girls begging money from cars which were stopped at red lights. They were barely seven years old. Once they laid their eyes on my  I was  a lamb to the slaughter. Travelling at warp factor 10 they were suddenly six feet away. Their  outstretched hands  in full begging mode.  I pulled out my Wallet and gave each one a 100 rupee note. Big mistake. They danced and waved at me in appreciation and then the older of the two began gesturing towards her feet.  A 100 rupee note was now not good enough for her and she now wanted me to buy her a pair of shoes.

The children of the corn!!

The children of the corn!!

I gestured to her that she can afford 10 shoes with the money I gave her. Both children then vanished. I began to walk back to the hotel when the two girls reappeared, this time with an older boy of about 12. He was just as dirty and unkempt as the girls and his begging  also paid off as I put a 100 rupee note in his hand. By now both the  girls were asking me to buy them shoes, the boy was still begging despite my gift to him and all of a sudden, warping in from the Gamma  Quadrant  a second boy appeared. Same appearance as the other three. This time I didn’t oblige.

They were walking about 6 feet behind me, each begging in their own inimitable way. I would stop, they would stop. I would speed up, they would speed up. They were always six feet away nect to each  as if they were posing for a photograph.

At this point in time I was getting rather irritated. What is this I thought? The Village of the Damned?

Eventually I reached the hotel compound. The children clearly knew the limits of their begging and as quickly as they appeared they vanished.

I have mentioned the poverty a lot in my blogs but to be honest you cannot escape it. Everywhere I went, I saw poverty at a scale that will haunt me for a long time to come.

The next blog will be my last India update. See you then.

Untill the next time, over and out.