Wednesday, December 30, 2009

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!

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