Social Programme - Mumbai
Don’t be silly and think that just because the meeting schedule was full that I didn’t find time to ‘socialize’. Thursday night the hotel put on a very nice cocktail and dinner in the back gardens with some quite nice Indian Sauvignon Blanc – the Chardonnay not so much but the Sav was nice and crisp. We lounged in the garden eating the consistently wonderful Indian food. Their Black Dahl which was lentils cooked for 8 hours, spices and creamy yogurt was to die for.
We ventured out to a local nightclub the Blue Frog for some live music – from an American from LA it turns out, Terra Naomi.
On Friday, straight after we played soccer with the kids we headed to a panel discussion put on by the Young Indian’s Organization. Our group didn’t have time to go back to the hotel to change so they had arranged for us to go to a Tea House so we could cool down in the AC, have some tea and ‘freshen up’ in the loo. I think we over did it – 4 of us women were in the rest room in various states of undress when a poor Indian woman opened the door and quickly retreated. Sorry.
The panel discussion was a bit disappointing as it was the 1st time that we saw the elite of the elite. And every single person I talked to came away feeling that there was a HUGE disconnect between these ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ we had been interacting with. There is a long way to go for social cohesion/equality when things were said like: “They are happy living on the streets waiting for the government to give them a house" and then bragging about the 125 million dollar building this gentleman’s son was building in Dubai.
The one person who was fascinating was Nandan Nilekani who left a very lucrative corporate job to take on the government project of implementing a registration system like our Social Security system. Currently there is nothing like that in India so even if they did provide social security they would have no way of distributing it. A good 1st step. An estimated 1.2 million people have no official identity at all, no birth certificate, driver’s license, school certificate, library card let alone a passport, as a matter of fact only 500 thousand of the 1.2 billion have a passport.
The dinner after was at a very fun somewhat bohemian club. I didn’t eat dinner as by the time we made it upstairs I had partaken of quite a few of the drinks and appetizers that they were passing constantly. The drinks included – shots in test tubes, mojitos, champagne cocktails, cosmos, kiwi margaritas, beer, martinis and I finally had to stop and switch to my safe G&T before the body shots started. Fueled by the drinks it made sense to head to an after party. We went to a different nightclub from the night before, we mistakenly thought was called “Toad”. It was really cool with wood on all walls and ceiling to look like a 3 dimensional rock wall with gold grout. I met a very nice professional golfer and we have exchanged phone numbers and hope to keep in touch.
Saturday morning, 2 ½ hours after I went to sleep I woke up, showered packed and made it to the lobby to catch one of the buses. We were headed out to the conference center and camp for the Magic Bus program. I didn’t pick up on the fact that it was a 2 ½ hour drive so wasn’t too worried when the only bus left was one of the authentic the Magic Buses – as in a school buss with average shocks and grates on the window as opposed to the luxury motor coaches with AC that most were on.
It was an experience – we drove through the town, past more and more slums, by the dump and a rotting river and someplace where there were a whole lot of chickens. We saw many Muslim areas preparing for the Hajj when they would slaughter goats later in the day. As we drove the air quality got better which was a good thing because our eyes were stinging from the dust and debris and at least I was wondering how to throw up through window grates with some of the smells. My Catholic upbringing was telling me that it was payback for overdoing it the night before.
Once we got to the site I realized that it was worth the trip. This was the only time we got to see the beauty of the country. I can only imagine what the kids who come through here from the slums might feel – freedom, awe, possibilities.
Overall I think that is what was so special about India – the belief in the possibilities. It might not be now and it might not even be in the future but there is no question that everything is a possibility.