Blair Williams

Words cannot adequately describe India. It has to be experienced. The India government tourist literature describes it as ‘Incredible India'. Here are some definitions of “Incredible”: impossible to believe; difficult to believe; extraordinary . All very appropriate and applicable. India is a land of extremes – extraordinary extremes on a scale that cannot be imagined or perceived by anyone who has not lived or visited India.

Enough rambling. I was in India from Jan 5th to Feb 18th and visited five cities – Delhi, Lucknow, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore. I went because I was half way there, having spent Christmas in London and because I had not been there for 5 years. I went to check out CTR (a USA based NGO established by me 18 years ago) projects helping less fortunate Anglo-Indians in India. . I also wanted to catch up with old friends.

I tried to suspend judgment and criticism as far as possible, and to look for the good in India. This attitude helped and overall I did enjoy my visit and had a positive experience

Delhi very, very polluted and very congested. I was advised to travel only after 11.00am and before 3.00pm if I did not want to spend hours in traffic (5 miles an hour at any other time)! Met many railway colleagues and friends and ate some great Tandoori food. Visited the Delhi Gymkhana: very English with uniformed bearers and food served under canopies on the lawn. Just luxuriated in being fussed over by friends – something you do not get in the US of A. I made a presentation at the prestigious Institute of Technology and was disappointed by the students' lack of knowledge

On to Lucknow where my best friend Rajanish lives, and we hang out and talk, argue, eat and drink. Meet several other railway colleagues, and again enjoy the fellowship of friends, all the time. More excellent food and drink (some very robust beers)

On to Kolkata. Now I start my more serious activities. Visit Lavinia House where destitute Christian girls are rescued and educated (CTR sponsors 16 girls). The nuns' chief request was to get a cooler for summer. I am emotionally devastated by the disparity of life. Visit Loreto Entally where CTR sponsors 40 Anglo-Indian girls and treat all the 168 boarders to lunch. The joy and excitement of the girls getting special food was reward enough for my entire trip. Meet CAISS the group that helps Anglo-Indians in Kolkata (CTR sponsor seniors and children) and am so impressed by their dedication and service. We only collect money, they do the work. More friends and good food. I have one foot in a world of poverty and the other in a world of affluence and the two are not in touch with each other. Kolkata city summed up: Horrendous traffic, noise, garbage and congestion.

Next is Chennai. The elements seem less extreme than the other cities but only marginally. I sponsor a Youth Forum (which is organized by a very capable Anglo-Indian Women's Forum) and am encouraged by the Anglo-Indian youth who are studious, have ambition and are entrepreneurs. Visit “Smile Cares” that looks after destitute Anglo-Indians (CTR sponsors 35 seniors and 25 children) and am touched by the caring attitude of Sharon and Justin Emmett. Also visit “Vine Trust” (CTR sponsors 75 seniors) and spend time with Grace Shrimpton and John Dhanaraj. I am quite emotional (and guilty about my own fortunate circumstances) in these visits, with so many old folks being so grateful for so little. I spend time with Harry MacLure the editor of Anglos in the Wind the quarterly magazine which is responsible for keeping the international community in touch. Make a quick and enjoyable trip to Pondicherry with Cheryl Ann Shivan

Finally I am in Bangalore. Here I attend the pension distribution, organized by our CTR coordinator Sylvia Bosen (CTR sponsors 50 seniors) and go through the same feeling of helplessness – of being able to do so little, while having so much myself. Spend time with many friends and am entertained in very luxurious environments. Get looked after by Rama Rao, a fascinating person. The city is better laid out but has the same traffic and congestion problems. Make a trip to Ooty to meet my brother and sister in law. Lovely hill country, full of tea gardens and greenery.

Back to the US of A on the 19th and spend the next few days consciously enjoying the fresh air, the open roads, and the space around me, the quiet and the cleanliness of the surroundings. All of which we take for granted.

So what are my conclusions? India has a great heart and its people are kind and helpful. There is a palpable energy of millions of people, all striving to do better amidst huge handicaps of corruption, bureaucracy and limited resources. Women are empowered and are finally being treated almost on par with men (for centuries Indian women were second class citizens). Airports and airlines are exceptionally clean and efficient. The average person struggles every day from morning to night just to stay afloat (reminiscent of Sisyphus). There is very little observance of rules or civility – one has to break rules and take short cuts just to survive - or get slightly ahead.

We in CTR have 8 projects providing monthly pensions to about 300+ seniors and helping educate about 200+ children. A drop in the bucket, but a drop that does make a difference in the lives of many. I tried to impress upon the CTR coordinators that they need to develop local funding as CTR (and I) are not going to be around for much longer. Their response is that Anglo-Indians and Indians do not generally contribute to organizations helping the poor (Anglo-Indians or Indians). I try unsuccessfully to get some contribution from affluent persons. I leave, sadly, with no permanent solution. The hope is that the need will be reduced, or, that with the advancement of the community it will go away. My final thoughts are “Que Sera Sera” i.e. “Whatever will be, will be”!

I did enjoy India and did understand its desperate struggle for living. It was certainly kind and generous to me and gave me whatever it could. It is an incredible country that has exceptional issues, on a scale not been experienced by any other country. India is a unique experiment and needs all the help it can get from its middle and upper socio economic citizens, not only in debate and argument, but in action oriented effort. I saw a disconnect between this group and the poor! I will always be interested in India's progress and be involved in helping in any way I can.

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