Taking the Jet airways flight from Delhi to Mumbai (Bombay) does not feel very different from taking an inter-city shuttle flight in the US or Europe: New York to Washington say, or Barcelona-Madrid. There are the same young businessmen, plugged into their i-pods or watching portable DVD players, while their older peers scan the business newspapers. The only difference I noticed is that the Jet Airways food is rather better.
But what makes India so startling – and unsettling – is that i-pod India exists side by side with Mother Theresa India, a country of desperate poverty and medieval technology where some 450m people still live below the World Bank poverty line of $1.35 a day.
Step outside the business and bureaucratic bubble and Mother Theresa India grabs you by the arm – literally. The other night I went for dinner with a couple of colleagues in a crowded bit of Delhi. The restaurant was down a few side alleys and we swiftly attracted a swarm of small, begging children. It was the old dilemma. Do you give? Do you ignore? Do you try and brush off the the kids, who are clinging to you and howling. Once you have made it to the restaurant, all is air-conditioned cool – and you are back among the i-pod crowd. But the child beggars outside put those traditional restaurant dilemmas – do I have room for a creme brule? – into a new light. Read more