Thoughts from India

I am recently back from India, and while this is deserving of a much larger post, I thought I’d post some things that were top of mind.

The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed

All over India, I couldn’t help but think of the famous William Gibson quote. The level of inequality in the country is hard to prepare for. Amazingly, by Gini coefficient, India isn’t particularly unusual: it exhibits equality if anything. But that’s mostly because…

There are SO many people

I think intellectually everyone realizes that there are a lot of people in India. I mean, duh. But I didn’t appreciate it until I was there. The list of cities by highest density is dominated by India, and if anything this understates the situation: if you restrict it to cities with more than 1 million, six of the top nine are in India.

Practically, this means that there are ALWAYS people around outside. Living in NYC, I tell people that every street in the cities is as crowded as 3rd Avenue: not a crush of people like Times Square, but always, always people around. And you can drive 50 miles on a highway and see that kind of density for almost all of it. It is staggering.

The differences within India are much more than I expected

I went to India expecting pretty-much everyone in a large city to speak Hindi (the national language) and maybe English. I was way off base. Less than a quarter of Indians speak Hindi natively, and only about half really speak it at all. The rest of the country speaks in what I guess you would call ‘regional languages’, but at this scale they aren’t regional. There are more native speakers of Punjabi than German. More of Telegu than French. More of Marathi, Tamil, and Urdu than Italian.

Beyond language, the differences between North and South in religion, food, and ethnicity were way beyond what I was expecting.

Security is a huge concern, but the country is safe… generally

Living in NYC post 9/11 and having been to Israel several times, I am used to fairly tight civilian security. But Pakistan is sponsoring terror attacks in India, and security is really tight as a result.

That said, I felt very safe in India (though traveling with family makes it easy). We did drive through a damaged toll gate in Bangalore, however. When I made I comment about it, I was told that an angry mob had broken it in protest of the toll. Not the answer I was expecting.

The Taj Mahal is empty on the inside

A silly point, but I was surprised. I had never thought about the inside, but you look at it and forget it’s a tomb. There are basically two dead people in there and that’s about it. WYSIWYG, indeed.