Monday, March 05, 2007


India, I Salute Thee
Tariq A. Al-Maeena,

Arab News

3, February, 2007§ion=0&article=91694&d=3&m=2&y=2007

Over the Haj holidays, I surprised my kids with an announcement that I
would be taking them to India for a short holiday. My distinct memories
from having visited the country with my parents when I was a child had
left me with impressions of cultures and civilizations that one reads in
history books. And then there was the Taj Mahal, one of the Seven
Wonders of the World.

And wanting to repeat that experience for my children, I decided to give
them a taste of India by planning our trip to encompass different
regions of the country - Chennai in the south, Delhi and Agra somewhere
in the central, and Mumbai in the western part of the Indian
Subcontinent. In the days preceding our trip, friends and acquaintances
of both my children and myself were somewhat alarmed and bemused and
quizzed us with the same question: "But why India?" And why not, I would
ask them. Their answers were somewhat patronizing and sympathetic.
India, they would say, is dirty, crowded, and backward and we'd be sure
to catch one of many diseases.

I would be exposing my children to viruses and bacteria of gargantuan
proportions. Malaria, diarrhea, cholera and the plague were commonplace,
and were I that insensitive or naïve to expose my children to such
deadly threats, all for the sake of seeing some old monuments?

I would patiently explain to these naysayers that I wanted my children
to see India firsthand, and not to take in the impression that
unfortunately a lot of us Saudis and others have of that country. And I
wanted to expose them to a diverse culture that they had not experienced
before. And I thanked them for our health concerns, but assured them
that we would be taking all necessary precautions.

But their concerns began to create some unsettling feelings within
myself. Was I being rash expecting to get through India without some
debilitating medical condition?

And what about my children? Was I foolishly exposing them to
transmissible diseases and possible harm? With a population of over a
billion people, was I being immature in not giving worth to my friends'

I was adamant on this adventure though, but to be on the safe side I
must confess that I did call upon the Indian Consulate in Jeddah and
inquired about any specific medical precautions that we would have to
take. "Drink only bottled water, and eat only in the hotels you would be
staying in" was their soothing reply.

Armed with that knowledge, we began our trip. But to be on the safe
side, we popped in malaria pills as an added precaution. As we spun
through Chennai, Delhi, Agra and Mumbai, my kids were amazed. And they
loved it. The hustle and bustle of Chennai with its serene shorelines
dotted with resorts and retreats offering world-class service, the
grandeur of the Presidential Palace in Delhi, the beauty of Marine Drive
in Mumbai, topped with our visit to the majestic Taj Mahal had my
children chirping in unison that it was the trip of a lifetime.

The preservation of historic monuments, unlike our own, were some of the
things they marveled at.

And from our observations, we were pleasantly surprised to find parts of
India cleaner than our own city. Their roads, although crowded, were not
run down as ours, and the Indians seemed more prosperous than imagined.

In a conversation with the vice president of marketing in the chain of
hotels we were staying at, I remarked that I was amazed that five star
hotels, once known to be the haven for only Westerners and rich Gulf
tourists were primarily being occupied by Indians today.

"Yes, my friend," was her reply. "India today is booming in heavy
industry and technology. IT, pharmaceuticals, steel and medicine are the
backbone of our economy. Education is a top priority and some of our
universities are among the leading ones in the world. People are more
affluent and spend freely. Over thirty percent of our population is now
middle class..."

"Thirty percent, that's good," I interrupted.

"Yes, my friend, that translates to over 300 million", she said with a
bemused look at me as the force of that staggering number dawned on me.
Three hundred million! And here we are, not even twenty million Saudis,
and many not anywhere near middle-class.

What right do we have to thumb up our noses on India, a country on the
move upward? Yes, we drank only bottled water, but also ate in local
restaurants. We witnessed wealth and we saw poverty. We learned about
their great history and we observed massive new projects in the works,
designed to make life easier on the Indian.

In spite of their diverse cultures and religions, India is tolerant and
moving forward, and not bogged down by what we witness
here...intolerance and rigidity on the part of a few who seek to impose
their views on the rest of us.

Indeed, India...I have to salute thee. And thanks for making my
visit a memorable one.


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