India Arrival and First Impressions

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Text by Patty Simon | Images by Dick Simon


Capetown to Dubai – 9 hours
Layover in Dubai – 4 hours
Dubai to Mumbai – 3 hours

I was apprehensive, curious and excited to be going back to India. What I remember is a place of dense population and colors everywhere mixed with a smog made of dust, automobile exhaust, humidity and poverty with a touch of the rich and famous (Dick’s friends from HBS and YPO).

In the last 2 days, we have dined in luxury… had incredible conversations about slum rehab and doing business in China from an Indian’s point of view… Visited Dharavi – the slum of “Slum Dog Millionaire”… Driven thru Kamati Pura – the red light district hearing the horrific stories of sex trafficking… Learned about “Pavement Dwellers”  – whole families literally sleeping on the streets and if you are lucky, under a piece of ragged plastic or fabric… Dhobi Gaat – the historically famous open-air laundry where “only” men use 730 cement vats to wash and line dry laundry… And lastly, the famous delivery of 200,000 lunch boxes daily by white capped men to all parts of the city. (Harvard Business School has done a case study where there is less than 1 mistake in 6 million deliveries.)

I am overwhelmed by the air pollution “thick as soup”, the crazy traffic, the garbage everywhere, the professional courtesy of the staff at the Oberoi, the thousands if not millions in poverty, the crumbling buildings, the makeshift shack stores, the opulent wealth, the ugly underbelly that every city can have but this major city shows too much of it, the marigold garlands adorning the doorway for good luck and the industriousness of making recycling big business in the slums.

I seem to be always attracted to the struggling, the poor and the history of how they got there. In every instance, I have been pleasantly surprised that our view of “slums” now includes the term “work” and “upward mobility”. These people are still stuck and it is not happening fast enough.

I had a strange experience. When I landed and took a taxi to our hotel, I was so overwhelmed by all of the above. Then I went to the slums which are ten times worse and looked at the same hotel route with new eyes- all relative.

Which brings me to my final thought… All this ultimately forces me to look at what ails our own country – our poverty, our policies, our homeless and unemployed. We are all in this together!


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