My India Trip --- Some Impressions

My December 1998 trip to India was my first time off the North American continent. ShantaMa (my name for my mother-in-law, Shanta Sen) and I arrived in India at Delhi, traveled to Agra, Jaipur, Hooghly, Shantanikitan, and left India from Calcutta (Kolkata). These are all places familiar to Deshantari members so descriptions of them would not be interesting. I suspect that my way of looking at what I saw in India might make for more interesting reading.

Two questions that I have been asked by a number of Deshantari members since my return is how I felt seeing the poverty in India, and what I thought about the pollution. Here in Ottawa I am a bit of a political activist, working on issues such as Climate Change and Globalization and thus I would have a different way of looking at what I saw in India. While I was only ever to talk to the most educated in India due to my own lack of language skills (I can so far only speak English), many of those who I had a chance to talk to had a similar understanding of these issues as my own.

Nobody can argue that Delhi or Kolkata is clean. While I was in Delhi there were days that you could not tell if it was fog or smog that made it very hard to see very much in front of you. As an activist I am more concerned about our individual influence on pollution and thus I look at it on a per-person basis. When looked at on a per-person basis, one would easily note that the average North American (with places like Ontario being one of the worst in North America) generates far more pollution. Put in another way, the ecological footprint (The amount of land/air/water used by each person) of a North American is several times higher than that of an Indian, making India seem clean in comparison. From this perspective it becomes clear that in order to have clean land/air/water that majority-world nations will need to take a much different path towards the future than so-called 'developed' nations have.

When I saw the many people on the streets of Kolkata I had to remind myself of much of what I had read and what I had heard when talking to people. Poverty can be looked at more of an issue of where you are facing than where you are standing. While India clearly has some problems in this area, poverty is primarily a result of a population problem, a problem I was well aware of before traveling to India. As I read various newpapers and magazines (and I grabbed pretty much any english-language publication I could ;-) I noted the work of government and NGO's towards solutions to these problems.

On the other hand, when I see a person on the streets of Ottawa I feel much worse. Canada is very resource rich and has a very tiny population. My belief is that if Canada worked as hard as India does on these problems, that nobody in Canada could ever be considered poor as we do not have any justification for any hardships.

I did note that while corporate logos representing western consumerism was everywhere in India, that there is still more of a connection to other people than to products. The feeling I had was one where relationships were one of the most important aspects of peoples lives.

Late in the trip while visiting some friends of ShantaMa in Hooghly I was asked if I found India to be warm. My immediate answer was, "Do you mean the weather, or the people". While this little comment made everyone laugh a bit, it was a reflection of how I was feeling at the time. There is a caring for each other, and a much stronger bond in families that I felt there. While in Delhi I felt ill one evening and we were invited to stay the night for me to recover at the home of some people who I had just met that evening. It is a feeling that I have felt since meeting Rina and becoming part of this community, and it was clear where this came from while in India.

As I write this article almost a year has passed, but in many ways I do not feel as if the trip is over. While in Delhi I met some people who were in the process of forming the Linux users group of Delhi. A few of us had an immediate connection on a personal level, and we are now doing some business together. Due to the high costs of telecommunications in India it is cheaper to set up computers here in Ottawa to offer web publishing to customers in India. One such customer of my friends in Delhi is the Census of India.

Later in the year I did my part to help the Linux Users Group of Calcutta get online, and I look forward to getting together in person with these people who I have been able to get to know online.

Being in constant contact with people living and working in India I am always reminded of what I have seen. While my body may be here in Canada, my mind feels as if it is still in India.

P.S. For those with Internet Access there are pictures and other commentary from my trip at

Note: Section in Italics were not printed in the broshure due to space limitations.

Back to India (I wish ;-)
Last Modified: 1999/10/20 14:22:08 UTC