Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Incredible India!?!

Today was Republic Day in India.

Think Independence Day in the U.S. and you get the idea. The holiday commemorates the passage of the nation's constitution on January 26, 1950.

Since it is always on the same calendar date (again, like our July 4th), the holiday could come in the middle of the week, as it did this year, or even on a weekend.

As in our country, the nation's offices close for the holiday. The main event is in Delhi where a parade of epic proportions takes place each year, but additional celebrations also take place in each state's capital city. Bangalore, as the capital of one of the nation's 26 states, hosted just such a celebration this morning.

Since offices were closed today, we used the day for sightseeing here in Bangalore. But, as we near our departure flight tomorrow night, this is also a good day to reflect on some of the things we have observed and learned about India in our two weeks here.

First, to understand India we have learned that we must understand its people and that means understanding its religions and races. India is incredibly diverse, much more so than China.

Three main religions dominate: Hindu, Islam and Buddhism, representing 95 percent of the people. Christianity, mostly introduced during the British occupation, represents only 5 percent.

Atheism is virtually unknown, unlike in China. Daily religious rituals are observed by almost everyone. Religion shapes and drives almost everyone and just about everything, based on our observation.

Second, to understand India, you must understand the national psyche.

A proud people with a civilization that pre-dates Christ, the nation was nevertheless under English rule for 347 years.

India gained its independence largely because it sent 2.5 million Indians to fight loyally beside the detested Brits in World War II and, with India emerging from the war as the world's fourth largest industrial power, the British felt they had no alternative but to free India in 1947 from colonial rule.

Third, all of these experiences have made Indians humble to the core, unfailingly courteous in every interaction.

If we heard a single greeting in two weeks that didn't have the word, "Sir" in it somewhere, I don't remember it.

Even in the face of maddening traffic that would drive a saint to road rage in the States, we never saw a single driver make a gesture in anger or shout a profanity.

But with this humility and courtesy has come a work ethic second to none. There is a fire burning brightly in the eyes of virtually every Indian, especially the young.

Indians seem to stare deeply into your soul as they smile at you or serve your coffee or wait beside you at an intersection.

Fourth, unlike some media reports, India is open and ready for business. They especially like Americans. Indians enthusiastically express their admiration for Barack Obama but they also talk
admiringly of George Bush. This came as a surprise but it also shows that we can't always believe what we read and hear.

If you come to India, you will be welcomed. You will also be safe. I never once felt afraid or uncomfortable, even on Sunday as we walked with our guide through the slums of Mumbai, made infamous in "Slumdog Millionaire."

There is graft. Our van was stopped in Mumbai traffic over the weekend and the driver had to pay 100 roupees (about $2.00) to enable us to continue on our way. We watched through the window as he handed over the bill.

But we saw no evidence or heard anyone say, in any meeting, that this is an issue for businesses doing business. It would be naive to think it doesn't happen but too many American companies are already here and operating successfully to view it as an impediment.

The official slogan of Indian tourism is "Incredible India!"

This might be a bit of an overstatement because much must be done to meet Western living standards but any businessperson, anywhere in the world, who is not thinking about how India does or will or should impact his future business is simply not paying attention.

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