It’s a different experience traveling with students. Especially to a country that isn’t seen as a part of the Western world. India straddles the line between the West and the East. On one side there’s abject poverty. That’s the side most people see on the news or on television. It’s the gritty side where people like Amitabh, a young boy of 7 years old runs around asking people for money. He went into the street, tapping cars and giving the signal to halt to bikers so that my friend and I could cross the street. He didn’t do it out of charity. Amitabh was looking for a payment for services rendered. In broken Hindi, I asked him why he wasn’t in school. He told me he didn’t know. I gave him a 100 Rupees. I’ve heard that people like Amitabh may follow you some more or get his friend to come along. Amitabh chased my down, yelled bhai, and gave me a smile and wave goodbye. He probably earned dinner for the entire week, maybe more if he’s careful.
But on the other side, there’s New Delhi with its high rises and American style culture, where everyone knows English and wears the latest style of jeans. The shops aren’t as crowded and the smell doesn’t attack you. I saw a many driving a BMW and the first images to hit you in Indira Gandhi Airport, right after clearing immigration, is an advertisement for the all new 2012 Toyota Camry, about 2,380,000 Rupees. Apparently in Delhi, that’s a $40,000 car.
That’s why the students are here. Sure, they’ll see quite a bit of the poverty and they’ll see the rich side, but they will focus on the rising Indian middle class, one of the fastest growing socio-economic groups in the world. Oddly enough, the middle class largely ignored and pushed aside for images of the poor, monkeys climbing on roofs, and cows roaming the streets. That’s a myth we’re hoping to dispel.