So, my favorite past time (besides writing) is working with glass. I’ve made stained glass pieces for years, but recently got interested in working with glass in a kiln. The “experiments” as I have started calling them sometimes turn out great and sometimes not so great. This past week was a huge disappointment. I used a new mold, spent an hour getting the glass in the mold just so, then set it in the kiln. The next day, when I opened the kiln….well…lets just say that this picture says it all….
The Indian people are great hosts, very loving, and steeped in deep culture and tradition. This past week, I was assigned a tour guide, Neeta, to show me the sights of Delhi. Neeta was a history professor in an earlier life and provided me the entire history of the city and country. Two things stood out strong from the places we visited. 1) Indian leaders believed in leaving behind a legacy in the form of a tomb (much like the Egyptians). The most common example in India of this is the Taj Mahal. Included with this post, you will find the Humayan, another example. Stunning in architecture, these monuments to a loved one’s life are meant to stand the test of time. 2) Religion is the center of their existence. I visited a Buddha, Hindi, and Muslim temple. There was a constant flow of people asking and giving blessings to their many Gods.
Today, I have been humbled. I work for the world’s largest restaurant chain, Yum. Here in India, we have many KFCs. Our India team decided to quietly give back to society by addressing a large problem in society. In India, there are 9 million deaf people and many more who are mute or physically disabled. Of these 9 million, only 2% ever make it through school. There are no jobs for them and many are abandoned by their families because they are viewed as a curse. We decided to employ these individuals and currently have 16 KFCs that 70% of the employees are deaf and many are also mute. The stores contain special equipment that alerts the team members when food is cooked, the point of sale system is two way in that the customer can view their order for accuracy and indicate to the team member if it is correct. The team members wear buttons to indicate that they are unable to talk. They are tremendous employees. They are very happy, service oriented, and ambitious. We have begun promoting these team members into the ranks of management. I visited a store today and met several of these individuals. I said Thank You in sign language and they showed us how to clap and do the Yum cheer. Tremendous experience! Yum is truly a company with a huge heart.
Here is something we would not hear in the US…”Mary, we are a patriarchal society in India. My husband is the leader of the house and is responsible for me.” Hmmm..now ladies, how many of YOU want your husband to be responsible FOR you. I’m thinking not too many. I guess in some sense we are still traditional in that there are roles for women and roles for men, but it is a muted issue in the states. In India, it is very obvious. My male traveling companion is greeted before me, is invited into a room before me and, if he is in the room, the conversation is directed toward him. It is not that they are rude by any means. In fact, they are painfully polite. It is just that tradition calls for the man to be the leader, not the woman. What is interesting is that this is changing. In a society where tradition has 4 generations living in the same household, modern times sees kids not returning home after college or after they are married. Their society is slowly adapting western ways. This is good and bad. Some of their traditions, like an entire village being responsible for creating an art, like silk fabric, is dying. It is being replaced by modern equipment. It reminds me of how in the states, the small town grocery is replaced by giants like Walmart. There is something to be said for tradition, but perhaps only some traditions. Patriarchy is not one I would hold on to.
I have the huge opportunity of visiting many locations as part of my non-writing job. This week, I am in Gurgaon, India which is just outside of Delhi. If you have never been to India, let me start by saying, I don’t think that, even for a writer, there is a way to express what you see. The closest I can come to describing India is that the culture is a collision of tradition and “old ways” with modern technology. And when I say Collision, I mean collision. There is not a nice blending of the two, but rather a sharp distinction between them. For example, today, on the way from the office back to my swanky hotel (that literally sits as an oasis in the middle of chaos), our brand new car, nearly collided with traditional 3 wheeled carts that share the road and we were stopped because 3 steers (yes, cattle) were in the middle of the road. Everywhere you look, you see impoverishment against wealth; a new car sharing the road with an animal driven or person pushed cart; a new highway above a road that has crumbling chunks of concrete in it. If order and chaos were in a race, chaos would win. The roads have no delineated lanes, therefore, you drive wherever there is a space big enough for your car and if you don’t fit in that space, you lay on your horn till someone moves. Remarkably, we made it safely to the office and back without hitting another car, a person (who just walks out into traffic) or a steer. I’m curious to know what tomorrow will bring and if the culture shock will wear off a bit.