You are viewing a read-only archive of the Blogs.Harvard network. Learn more.

The Weekend

August 2nd, 2007

…doesn’t really exist here. But I’m kind of glad. I got to experience the two extremes of India firsthand (hence this really long post)…

I had my first field visit on Saturday. We went to the VRC at Bodeli. It’s about a 4 hour drive from Ahmedabad, so we left at 8 in the morning and came back at around 9. PM. Honestly though, by the end of the day, I had had such a good time I almost didn’t want to leave.

Six of us went-4 from SEWA, and 2 from another NGO (the All India Disaster Mitigation Institute) looking to become a new expert center. When we arrived at the VRC, located in a town of perhaps a couple thousand (but enveloped in ‘tribal area’), we sat down with some of the women in charge and heard their stories. I was amazed at how SEWA has helped transform their lives. I was even more amazed at their spirit – at how, even at the age of 35, having never picked up a pen (much less having learned to read), they were still motivated to educate themselves and attempt to come out of poverty.

The representatives from the other NGO and I asked these people, who had all arrived early for a teleconference session later in the day, questions in order to characterize this system in more detail. In a way, I was already ‘evaluating their teleconference system’ (my assigned task), and I was already getting ideas for things we could possibly change.

My biggest accomplishment for the day (or rather the first actual thing that had something to do with what I have some experience in) came afterwards, when I sat down to talk with the woman in charge of the VRC. She, herself, wasn’t very educated, but she was very eager to help. We began to talk about SEWA at the district level. What started with a conversation about the layout of villages in the district led to a potential goldmine of data. She had detailed records of pretty much every activity that any aspect of SEWA did in all of their villages. The econ major in me was already getting ideas about indicators and difference-in-difference equations in order to quantify the impact of these telemedicine sessions on these villages. I managed to get some electronic copies of monthly summaries in Gujarati (which I read at about, um, 20 minutes a page) for analysis in the future. In short, I finally had some way to possibly go about ‘evaluating their teleconference system.’

We pretty much brought a monsoon storm as we were coming back to Ahmedabad, as the streets in the eastern par of the city were flooding as we entered. However, I was told that always happens when it rains an inch or more.

I saw the other extreme of India on Sunday, when I was out with some of my cousins. We spent half of the day in Gandhinagar at Science City (think the Indian government’s attempt at Epcot). It really turned out to be a rundown museum, where most of the exhibits where either broken or empty, with a large 3D Imax screen, where people lined up half an hour early to enter despite seat numbers written on all their tickets. Nevertheless, it was a valiant attempt at science literacy in India, and I am sure that place can be cleaned up in no time when a high ranking government official or a corporate sponsor visits.

The other half of the day was spent in the rapidly developing Western side of Ahmedabad. Here, I finally saw firsthand the effects of India’s 10% growth rate. My cousins’ new flat was very Western. Looking out of their 4th floor balcony over their complex and more broadly at the multitude of cookie-cutter bungalows taking shape over the landscape, I could almost imagine myself being in Europe. There were evenly spaced streets (many under construction), and (a couple) grassy lawns. It almost seemed like what we would call suburbia. The only giveaway would have been the crazy traffic. And the peacocks chilling on rooftops. And the monkeys, cows,…

Then we went to a mall. Not THE mall, because that’s two streets over (and even bigger one is under construction like ten minutes away). It was the Himalaya Mall, with 4.5 floors, a food court, an arcade, and the enormous Big Bazaar (think Wal-Mart) stacked on top of a three story parking garage. It had attractions, such as a giant climbing rope, and big tubes all around which blew crisp AC air, revitalizing those entering from the torturous heat outside. It even had several stores common to malls in the States, with prices that (although cheap to us) would be pretty expensive for an Indian salary. And it was packed.

India’s culture has changed so much from what I had last remembered it to be. For this rapidly growing (middle?) class, everything is driven by consuming as much (preferably American or Western) as possible, almost mindlessly. Perhaps I get this impression because I usually live with my grandparents in their albeit large, but old-fashioned bungalow in an older part of town, or because I had visited some of the poorest of the poor in this country only the day before. While I want to embrace this dramatic increase in standard of living, I don’t know how I feel about its impact on those on the other side of the spectrum. The existence of stores like Big Bazaar in India takes the Wal-Mart effect to a whole new level. I’m sure I’ll see more in the next seven weeks and eventually get around to making up my mind, which was sufficiently blown by this weekend.

Entry Filed under: Uncategorized


August 2007

Recent Comments