Beautiful and infuriating, the chaos of India offers many lessons for the Western world. With a population that was tallied at 1.21 billion in 2011, India is the second most populated country in the world (not surprisingly, China holds the No. 1 slot). However, by 2030, projections indicate India will soar into the top position as the only country with a population expected to reach 2 billion within the next 50 years.
Locals in India’s capital city are quick to admit that the population—and government corruption—interfere with their quality of life. Indeed, India may be an example of what the future holds for many other countries: throat-numbing pollution, over-crowding, abject poverty, and the ultimate struggle of the lower class vying for a spot in the middle.
Amid the throngs of immaculately dressed women in aqua, emerald and ruby saris, men in collared shirts who hold each other’s hands, and the street children covered in soot, clutching small babies to boost their earnings, is a deeply spiritual, deeply conflicted place of immense history and problems.
Throughout my four days in India (I had to make the stop on my way to Nepal), I attempted to understand as many of these contrasts as I could. In the process, I spoke with a number of local people, suffered a bad respiratory infection from the intense air pollution, took the handlebars of an auto-rickshaw, and posed in countless photos at the request of Indian men and women. I traveled to India’s jewel: the Taj Mahal (where the government was burning trash heaps just outside the monument effectively filling the skies with smoke), and visited the serene site of Gandhi’s ashes. I explored the old school opulence of the Red Fort, a former residence of Mughal emperors dating back to the 17th century, noshed on the most decadent butter chicken, and vigilantly hunted down some of the city’s only beer stores, standing in line with society’s other “undesirables.”
Life in India for a Westerner is endlessly fascinating, and sometimes, well, downright frightening. Stay tuned for my next post: Visiting the Taj Mahal.