Sunday, March 23, 2008

Travel to Delhi

     It is March 22 and the antibiotics have kicked in, everything is on hold while the infection is cured and so I went for a walk around the hotel  grounds in Mumbai.   At noon we drove to the airport and boarded a Kingfisher Air flight  to the capital, New Delhi, which people refer to simply as Delhi.  The airlines are a great example of the changes brought to India by competition.  Years ago the major carrier, Air India, had a poor reputation for service, and I recall at least one catastrophic air disaster.  The government has opened the skies to competitors and now we have flown on three fantastic new airlines:  Paramount, Jet Air and Kingfisher.  Each of them flew new A 321 Airbus planes that had comfortable leather seats, individual entertainment systems and many excellent food choices.  Interestingly all air travel in India is alcohol and smoke free.  The flight attendants were beautiful and the service prompt and with a smile.  The airport lounges are still not up to standards and the bathrooms were quite awful, but once on the airplanes it was the finest travel I have had.  My favorite of the three great  new airlines was Kingfisher.  It never fails to amaze me how competition brings out the best in a business sense.  Yet as we travel through this diverse land, I wonder what mistakes were made in government policy that created this immoral debasing poverty?  What decisions were made by the British during the colonial days that established the civil service that held so much power?  What choices during the past sixty years of Indian democracy has lead to this situation?  The dead hand of bureaucracy has made it difficult for real competition to occur here.  The promise of socialism is so far from reality. The present conditions define chaos:  rapid growth, gross air and water pollution, horrible infrastructure of roads, sewers (or lack of sewers) and a public health and education crisis.  I have spent much time in Haiti, often referred to as the poorest place in the Western Hemisphere.  Haiti is paradise compared to India. Here the very smells, the air, define corruption, decay, rot.
    We arrived at Delhi and checked in to the Taj Palace.  This is a magnificent hotel as befits a national capital.  The roads are not nearly as crowded as Mumbai and the  central part of the city looks much more prosperous.  We did pass slums but there are also many modern buildings and clean residential areas.  It reminded me of the fact that all central governments tend to become a parasite and force outlying cities and people to pay the extra cost of  developing and beautifying the capital.
     After checking in and exploring the hotel we went to the home of Keith Sunderlal, the head of the public relations company that represents Washington Apples and Pear Bureau Northwest in India.  He and his wife Saphia had a lovely home cooked Indian meal prepared for us. We sat on their rooftop patio looking over the vast city until about 10:30.  On the way back to the hotel we stopped and dropped Todd off at the main Christian church so he could attend  Easter midnight Mass with thousands of Indian Christians.  He said it was a great two hour service held outside in the grounds surrounding the church.  I was still recovering from the infection and so went back to the hotel. The streets were filled with revelers celebrating the Holi festival long after Todd returned at 2am.  People, cars and even buildings were covered with splashes of paint that will take weeks to scrub off.  In general it was a good day of learning about the Indian economy from Keith and recuperating.  Tomorrow it is off on the adventure of a lifetime.

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