Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Visit to Indian Parliament

Day 4- Wednesday, December 30th, 2009
The day before New Year’s Eve, our schedule is still packed with activities and visits. In the morning, we went to Delhi University and listened to a lecture on Kashmir conflict (precisely my research interest) and spent the afternoon dazzled ourselves through the colossal, neoclassical structure of the Indian Parliament- the favor paid for us by one of our previous speakers, who happen to LIKE our group.

Delhi University campus was vastly different from JNU. Its campus is located near the commercial district, which lends it a purer atmosphere, spacious ambiance and enlivened with restaurants and much locomotion. On the other hand, JNU derives its antique feeling from the old buildings, the “parasite” trees overflowing the stone-structured concretes connecting building-to-building. In contrast to the more politically indecisive student body of Delhi University, JNU students express their political and ideological stances clearly and loudly through pervasive and propagandanistic graffiti and flyers on all buildings. One graffiti reads, “Smash American Imperialism.” What a great welcome! Because all JNU students were on break and we were not scheduled to meet with them, I could not test their ideological commitment and position, however, the lunch with Delhi University students was as enjoyable as we engaged in discussions on international studies, cross-cultural perceptions and personal ambitions.

I enjoyed every bit of our tour of the Indian Parliament. The British has erected a fine jewel in the middle of the city. It is something that every Indian can truly take pride on. Epicenter to the design is the earthy color scheme of the soil, the green of the well-trimmed trees places strategically to both give a space and create a sense of unison and the harmoniously pale white cover of the building. From the Parliament’s dining table, you can extend your view out on the garden and see a line of trees leading straight to the water fountain at the mere center. Indeed a serene scene to have. The ceiling of the main guest room can house up to 600 people and has fresco painting of the Mogul’s life and ruling in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Mogul legacy continues to accompany us as we attended the light and sound program at the Red Fort in the old Delhi part, which tells the history of India since the rule of the Moguls in a unique and creative way. A big turn-off that substantially reduces the effect of the show was the flashing camera of ignorant people, who either ignored the heeding, or purely disrespectful.

This concludes the fourth day. We came back to the Center, ate dinner with delicious soups and here I am writing to you. Hope you find this useful. I have enjoyed very much here, learned a lot and prepared to learn much more. Tomorrow is another day, but a special day. New Year’s Eve is here and I know it promises more adventures to come!

Karim's struggle

Day 3- Tuesday, December 29th, 2009
In the morning, we met at Jawaharlal Nehru University with two distinguished professors: Dr. Amitabh Mattoo and Dr. Rajesh Rajagopalan, who spoke on Indian nuclear security and Indian foreign policy. We also had the opportunity to have a roundtable dialogue with former Indian Ambassador to the US and other honourable excellencies of India regarding national policies of India that have impact on human security and regional peace. The dialogue was organized with a lunch by the Association of Indian Diplomas and Indian Council for World Affairs. Sitting on the same table as these distinguished host speakers and conversing and grilling them about issues that matter are of great meaning for me personally, as I’m sure a pleasure for the other students as well. Late afternoon, we stopped by the American Center to speak with American Foreign Service officers about the role of India in the US global strategy. These people offer some hands-oh knowledge and understanding in the changes in the Indian economy and at best attempted to ignite some interests in their job.

New Delhi has a great cuisine and the restaurant named Karim’s shows you exactly that. We had a delicious dinner with egg curry, kebab and naan. This may be the most authentic Indian food I would ever have in my life, until disproved. More interestingly, this food was also the dish prepared for the Mogul kings and has been passed down through generations, now serving the public and all those enthused with a night satisfied and nutritiously fulfilled. The walk back to the bus was not as desirable. We struggled to get pass lines of people, coming out of a sudden, beggars, merchants pushing their cart of vegetables, “marketing” fellas yelling “hello” to get our attention in their products, mostly cheap clothes and plastic jewelry. The light was dim (and somebody told me it was perfect so the buyers can’t see the wrongs in the stuff they’re buying- maybe so, maybe public electricity is just a scarcity), and we had to walk through broken, intact and dusty roads, scattered with poops, urine and rubbish. It was by far the most unpleasant moment of the trip. On the positive note, the food was worth the struggle.

New Delhi First Impressions

Getting aboard with a group of intelligent, well-traveled and internationally oriented students from American University in this India Program has been nothing short of a memorable learning experience and a reminiscence of hometown. The program officially started on December 27th, including Jennifer, Lauren, Liz, Katrina, Mathew, Nathan and myself, Huong Nguyen. The first five students are seniors at the School of International Service, all of whom have traveled throughout the world and always spice up conversations with their cultural and emerging experiences they have gathered during their previous opportunities abroad. Nathan and I are graduate students of International Affairs and took this trip because it deals with Human Security in South Asia, which is beyond a doubt an important aspect of our studies. Nathan focuses on US foreign policy and international security, while I study East Asian security affairs.
We are spending 12 days in India: 6 days in New Delhi (in the province of Punjab) and 6 days in Orissa (our leading instructor- Dr. Amitav Acharya’s hometown). Half of the program gives us the opportunities to meet with Indian and American Ambassadors, government officials, respected university professors, and media reporters. The nuance of complex issues related to human and individual security, ranging from territorial disputes, economic development, ecological problems, energy supply, and ethnic conflicts, is presented to us from a variety of perspectives; some are conceptual, others practical and hands-on; some examine policies at the strategic (national) level, others through the individuals’ perceptions.

Day 2- Monday, December 28th, 2009
We continue to stay at the International Youth Center, Viswa Yuvak Kendra, which has a green, well-trimmed grass in the front yard and a line of coconut trees along each entrance to the Center. As soon as you get off the taxi, you are led through a hallway decorated with multiple pots of yellow daisy, which give a light scent if you take the time to enjoy them. In the morning when you walk around, you will find on the side yard “paper flowers” in purple, orange and fuchsia, pleasantly surprising me as I recollected the sole, unanimous light pink of its kind planted in home country, Vietnam. The pure air, green view and colorful flowers at the Center are not to be mistaken for the dirty, highly polluted air on the streets, throughout the city, which during the day, I would say near chocking. Need hard proof evidence? Simply blow your nose once.

New Delhi, the capital of the rising India, was not completely what I had imagined. The city is old, not in the antique sense. The motorcycles, the cars, the signs on the street, the signs of the shops alike bare a mark of wash-away and tear. You see an old man pedaling hard on the carriage that bears 3 youngsters, an acrobat girl performing on the street dividers to implore pocket money from by-passers, a one-legged person pushing through traffic to cross the road, a crowded bus during jam, women beggars holding under-nutritious infants persistently following you until you are tired of saying no, a group of poor, torn men sitting in front of restaurants to wait on a rich person to come by and buy them food. These are jaw-dropping, heart-breaking images that haunt me, these are images of the work to be done by the government, these are images of a struggling India.

We visited the Business Standard Office on the “wall street” of Indian printed media, where we chatted with the Editor-Designate of the newspaper about the economic and political rise of India. He rightly points out that there is much to be done in education and infrastructure, two aspects of national development that directly concerns human security. India needs to further ameliorate its illiteracy problems and quickly transform its road and rail systems to accommodate fast-growing business activities and human travel. As the man who had affirmed his vested support for Manmahon Singh as Prime Minister of India before any real evidence surface and later worked for PM Singh as his speech writer, he now ascertains that despite much literature and buzzing around a rising India, the country will remain a developing country in the next decade or two, until fully setting itself on a stable course of development.

Our group was also taken to the Connaught place, an imporium complex where goods are made and marked at exact price (meaning no bargaining needed). The complex sells mostly hand-made, traditional Indian items such as cloth made of silk and cashmere; jewelry boxes, chess set, trunk, lamps, Buddha, and other home decorations from a plenitude of materials such as marble, sandalwood and walnut. The artisans employ high skills and meticulousness in these products, giving them the vibrant colors, polished artwork and interesting cuts on the traditional Indian outfits. As you explore the floor levels of the place, you keep on being daunted by the creativity and resilience in each product. I hope fair trade organizations find their next partner.

Back to the Youth Center, we discovered our new fondness, masala chai tea, prepared in house with masala tea, ginger and milk. Relaxing after a long day battling in Delhi traffic, we sat back, listening to Professor Acharya’s story of his tea tour in China… Off to bed, tomorrow is one of the most important days!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

First post from New Delhi!

Welcome to the India abroad blog! We are in our fourth day of the trip and on our way to Delhi University to listen to a lecture on the Kashmir conflict. This post is going to give you a review of our first day here.Our first day was long and eventful. We arrived in Delhi at 3 in the morning after 20+ hours of traveling and had a quick 2 hour nap. After a traditional breakfast at our hotel (which is located in the diplomatic district of New Delhi) we relaxed and had another nap! After a lunch of curry, rice and masala chai we left for the Gandhi memorial (see pictures) and museum. Back at the hotel we dove right into our first lecture which was focused on the Indian effort to objectify their school textbooks. I was amazed I stayed awake for the whole thing (not because of the content or speaker but because I was going on 3 hours of sleep). After the lecture we had dinner and promptly went to bed.

Now for some things that you will enjoy about India:
Monkeys, cows on the road, curry, tea, shopping, millions of people, racecar taxis, acrobatic children performing for money on the street. More later.
Nathan Brubaker