There’s cows on the roads!

Ever since my kids were born, I’ve wanted to take them to India – the land of my ancestors. Partly, as I wanted them to connect at an early age with their heritage, and partly as I think they’ll be better equipped for the future if they start understanding the nuances of India – a country that everyone’s accepted as being central to global prosperity in the future.

In their lifetimes, they’ll see massive change. The centre of gravity will shift from Europe & North America to India & China. Given their obvious link to one of these future superpowers, our purpose was to introduce them to the sights, smells, and joys of our motherland.

So, we took them to Mumbai – home to the Indian film industry, commercial capital of India, and a bustling metropolis that is, arguably, the most outward looking of all Indian cities where their eyes came alight with – not the razzle dazzle of neon lights – but by seeing cows, goats, and pigs sharing the roads with the human race and by witnessing the sheer number of people on the streets of Mumbai.

Although I say it in light jest, it’s an important lesson that they realize that a civilization as ancient as it is, respects & shares with others, and that the concept of private space is (a luxury, and) perhaps, unique to the western hemisphere.

Along with the (rather, costly) saree shopping we had to endure on this visit; on New Years Day, we took the opportunity to visit a community school run by a NGO called Pratham in a Mumbai slum. I’d heard and read a lot about their stellar work, but visiting projects such as the ones we did reminded us that India may be a wonderfully colourful, vibrant, and hip place to be but there’s absolutely no escaping the fact that India is still home to a third of the world’s poor.

Cars, scooters, and rickshaws not only share roads with cows and other animals, you also visibly see the increasingly affluent sharing their immediate vicinity with some of the poorest people on the face of our planet.

My kids visited a crammer class of 20 students aged 7, who all sat cross-legged on the floor in a one room building with a teacher who used a blackboard to coach them on how they could attain a 80% pass rate for an exam, which if they did would provide them with 750 rupee (just over £10) scholarship to study further.

We worked our way through the slum – with open sewers, noisy workshops, and a dhobi ghat, to visit a room that also doubled up as a community library, which had fewer books than, not our local school library, but the books on the shelves in my children’s bedrooms! It may have been woefully inadequately resourced, but what came through was the immense pleasure of the children’s faces from being able to read the few books that they had at their disposal. With every page they turned, you could see their minds working overtime to grasp and understand what the author intended.

Lastly, we visited another home, where 20 children aged 2 – 6, who had never gone to school, were able to say the days of the week, read an early stage book, and respond in English to us.

All of this served to bring to the fore not only that we’re materially better off and have comforts that so many don’t, but the fact that there’s an entire generation that’s young and hungry to succeed. They’re going to take every opportunity that comes their way to improve their lives.

Economic forecasts show that as a result of various factors, primarily due its very young population, almost 25% of the world’s workforce will reside in India, not in 50 years, but in the next 15 years – in our lifetimes!

The basic message that we want our kids to recognise is that they have an inbuilt advantage, which they would be wise to embrace given the strides that India’s going to be making. Their economic well being in London, will in some shape or form, be dependent on how they understand and interact with India.

As parents, my wife & I committed to doing everything at our means to ensure our children run faster than we did, have larger dreams that we had, and in all are able to stand strong, not on their own, but realizing they belong to an increasingly interdependent and connected ecosystem – on in which they understand that their actions can have a major impact on someone else’s prosperity and vice-versa.

Whilst, I’ve focused on the material benefits of a relationship with the Indian subcontinent in this post, I don’t want to leave you with the impression that that’s all India offers for the future. It was Mark Twain who aptly described India as “India is, the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only”, meaning that her ancient traditions, religious practices, philosophical outlook could perhaps address and teach us how to be better people and, just perhaps, answer the mother of all our questions – “what is the meaning of life”.

My daughters are way too young to grasp such issues, but, I hope that as a result of the connection they made in their 2010 Christmas break, they’re able to run that little bit further, climb a bit higher, and dream a bigger dream.