Three things

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Has it been three weeks already since we arrived in India? And not one real post about our adventures? Sorry, we are just getting ourselves oriented, and India, Mumbai especially, takes some orienting.

In spite of being somewhat discombobulated, we managed to take a weekend trip – anxious to get away from the noise and tumult of Mumbai. We flew to Aurangabad to see the caves of Ellora and Ajunta, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We arrived in Aurangabad, a rapidly growing mid-sized city, on Thursday evening and reached our delightful hotel, Hotel Kailas, in Ellora, about an hour later. The next day we explored the Ellora Caves, located right next to our hotel. On Saturday we hired a driver to take us to the Ajunta Caves, two hours away. The driver was so nice, helpful, and knowledgeable that we decided to hire him again on Sunday to show us some of the sites of Aurangabad before returning to the airport for our flight “home.”

Arrow points to Ellora Caves as seen from the lawn area at Hotel Kailas.

We learned that Aurangabad is a rapidly growing city that has industry, agriculture, tourism and good schools. Cash crops grown in the area include sugar cane, sunflower (for oil), and cotton. Food crops are also grown including peppers and many other fruits and vegetables. Please excuse the quality of the following pictures. They were taken from the back seat of our speeding cab – not an easy thing to do given the condition of the roads and the car’s shocks.

Hay stacks in fields provide fodder for livestock.
Worker picking cotton in field (left); sugarcane (right)

In writing this blog post I got online to check some of the information that our tour guide/taxi driver shared with us and found it to be remarkably accurate. His knowledge of the local area and its rich and complicated history was impressive. Furthermore, his discourse on current conditions seemed thoughtful and reasoned. His English, learned driving a cab for tourists for the past 15 years, was amazing. All of which leads me to value his thoughts on the problems that confront his country.

M. Parvez, our driver, listed three underlying problems for India: Overpopulation, corruption, and the dowry system. Overpopulation and the resultant high levels of poverty and environmental degradation need no further discussion. Corruption means that money intended to address serious problems, especially poverty, goes into the pockets of corrupt officials. It is so pervasive that it prevents progress and leaves people feeling like nothing can be done. And finally, although dowries are illegal in India, apparently they are still commonplace. As you can imagine, people of limited means who have daughters are at a big financial disadvantage. This inequity makes girls undesirable offspring. Roughly half of the population are at risk of being disenfranchised, and unable to contribute to necessary change and progress. In addition, it can ultimately lead to a demographic change in the balance of genders

Having India’s major problems so clearly spelled out made me wonder whether I could analyze my own country similarly. Limiting myself to three, this is what I came up with: 1) Political gridlock, 2) The widespread use of a simplistic, dichotomous approach to solving problems, and 3) Excessive materialism.

Although we have our share of political corruption, it pales  in comparison to India. Nevertheless, most Americans will admit that government is not working in the public interest. I suppose this is primarily because many politicians work hardest on enhancing their own political careers at the expense of those they represent. The current deadlock, however, is a systemic problem and significant changes to how we govern may be required. Just as the corrupt officials who benefit from the current system in India are disinclined to change anything, our politicians who benefit from financial support of large corporations, whether legally or illegally, are unlikely to make a change. The  system, as it  is, is working for them.

The second problem, an all-or-nothing approach to problems, plagues our country. Not only do we align ourselves with one camp or another, we refuse to even listen to anyone with whom we may not agree. Since many are convinced of the moral superiority of their side, it becomes a fight-to-the-end with no compromise possible, leading to an inability to work with others toward a common goal. This afflicts the public in everyday encounters and is a significant cause of the political deadlock mentioned above.

And finally, it probably comes as no surprise that Americans are highly materialistic. Success is measured by one’s possessions and money. The acquisition of wealth is even considered a moral pursuit. Consequently, the acquisition of material goods and money overrides the value of leisure time, close relationships with family and friends, and a pursuit of inner peace and calm.

When I thought about blogging during our travels in India I was unsure of whether I wanted to do it. I was sure I did not want to catalog our travels, and continuing in a plant-centric mode seemed beside the point. Traveling gives one a new perspective, one that can be used to look back on our decisions with a fresh eye. I realize this quick-and-dirty analysis of the woes of our world is just take – quick-and-dirty, but it is good to take a big look at things, every once in a while.

What do you think?

Just one picture from the Ajunta Caves. Amazing isn’t it?
Last Modified on March 24, 2015
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