This week I am in India. To be more specific, as I write, I am in Jaipur, at a three star hotel, and there is a cow mooing outside my room. The contrasts are extraordinary: unlike the United States, which tends to segregate its poverty and riches, these qualities exist side by side. Having already spent a few days shopping, I feel like an ugly American, and yet I know that however unfairly distributed, these purchases contribute to the economy. India is the next largest emerging economy in the world. But did you know that in 1700, as European expansion was one the move, India and China made up 50 percent of the world’s gross national products? The wheels of history turn ineluctably, and yet, in broad strokes, predictably.
When we were in Delhi, I asked our guide to slow down as we passed one of India’s premier academic institutions, the Delhi Institute of Technology and Engineering. Scores of people make their home along the gates of this institution; you can see them cooking, cleaning themselves, and yet inside its walls this institution is producing some of the most prominent scientists and engineers in the world. Most people are aware that the CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, is Indian-American. So is the chancellor of the University of Massachusetts, Kumble R. Subbaswamy. And the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, the Rt. Rev. Prince G. Singh.
And there are scores and scores of other examples of extraordinary strides and accomplishments that the people of India and Indian people are making at home and around the world. Historically textiles has been one of India’s greatest exports; today it is software (especially in the banking industries). Of course, its educated, hard-working, ambitious young men and women are the greatest export of all, a diaspora that is slowing down as more opportunities emerge at home.
At the historic India Gate on New Year’s Eve, we were observing the old Hindu temples, overtaken and defaced, literally, by Muslim conquerors, and marveling at the extraordinary victory tower when about 200 school girls, 11 or 12 years old, starting running down the steps from an ancient silent arch with excitement and glee. I instinctively turned my camera on them, only to soon turn it off, because as more and more of them came towards us, they smiled and called out greetings. Their enthusiasm completely enchanted me. I met the greeting of as many as I could, eye to eye, to say hello. Not a single one of them looked away.
All the girls wore uniforms, even though it was not a private or parochial school. There was not the variety of color, nor the competition of dress whether for finery or expose. Thank god. Nor was there a hint of cynicism or indifference. Some were more shy, and some outgoing. If any of them wondered who was this crazy lady waving hello was, hey didn’t show it.
Had they seen the tears roll out of my eyes after I walked away, they might have truly wondered about me. What they didn’t know is how deeply I felt their unaffected beauty, bountiful hope and unadulterated enthusiasm. It stands in such marked contrast to the prematurely sardonic, posturing, pre-teens that seem to dominate the portrait of young women that age in the United States. Cliquish socially, fragile and therefore defensive psychologically, young women in our country seem to skip pre-adolescence. I exaggerate. I know to some degree it is a stereotype. But I don’t think I am wrong completely to identify a distinction that makes a difference. These young women see the poor, the truly poor, of Delhi every day. And yet they greeted my soul authentically with the fullness of possibility.
You can't buy that quality for all the G.D.P. in the world.
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