A Dust Over India

A Dust Over India

Share & Comment
As your plane descends upon New Delhi, a soft orange haze engulfs you, drawing you in. A cascade of shanty-towns drift below, clogged arteries of traffic dividing the landscape into innumerable scattered shards of populace. If you land in the evening, the haze throbs over the country with a dull
glow in the speckled city lights. If you land in the afternoon, then the haze is a giant mass of incomprehensible dust — some amalgamation of smog, smoke, dirt, and fog — and no matter how far away you go, or how far you get, you never completely escape it.

I have been to 40 different countries. Yet India made the most indelible impression of any of them. And not for all of the right reasons. Frankly, it’s not a pleasant place to be. Anyone who tells you otherwise lacks perspective. India’s full of contradictions: horrors and delights, achievements and atrocities, often on the same city-block. And despite the immense history, the monuments, the spectacular sites of human ingenuity, one can’t help but ask themselves repeatedly what they’re doing there.

The first thing that strikes you about India is how dirty it is. In a word, the place is disgusting. All of it. The entire country. Never before have I seen mountains of garbage the size of a small house stacked on the side of a road, in broad daylight, in the middle of a city, repeatedly. Dumpsters tipped over and overflowing. Mounds of trash — wrappers, cups, papers, napkins, strewn all about, mixed with sludge from the soda and urine and spit coagulated from thousands of daily passersby.

Like the dust, the garbage never ceases. And along with the garbage, there is an unending stream of humanity. It is impossible to spend a full day in the middle of a major Indian city without lobotomizing yourself trying to figure out where the hell all of the people come from. I’ve been to Hong Kong. I’ve been to Manhattan and Beijing. I’ve been to Mexico City. And the swarm of humanity crawling through India’s cities is unparalleled. There’s no comparison. Many streets more closely resemble a bee hive than a functioning human society. When I flew into Mumbai, there were homeless people sleeping on the tarmac. Take a moment for that to sink in: the city is so crowded and disgusting that people decide they’d rather sleep on the airport runway.

And that is the second thing to strike you about India. The poverty. It is legitimate take-your-breath-away poverty. Like the kind you see on TV charity ads but far worse. And far more real. Limbless men stewing about in their own feces. Emaciated children playing on a piles of garbage. A man with his leg literally rotting off to the bone, maggots and all, laying on the curb. It’s everywhere. The amount of suffering is indescribable. And it is unceasing. After a couple days, I was excited to hire a driver to go to Agra because I figured I’d be able to see some countryside and escape the stench and horrors of the city. But no. The entire four hours between Delhi and Agra was an unending stream of people, garbage and cars, with billows of dust drafting in our wake the whole way down.

My initial reaction the first few days was pure shock. But it quickly evolved into anger. How could a place like this be allowed to exist? How could normal people walk around with a clear conscience with so much shit and squalor festering about them? I felt indignant. Where was the social accountability? Where was the charity? Where the fuck was the government?

I’m no expert. And god knows my own country has plenty of problems. I’ve been to plenty of developing countries and seen plenty of poverty. But this was something else entirely. The sheer magnitude, more than anything, wrought a deeply emotional response out of me.

For the first time in my life, I finally grasped what inspires people to drop everything and move to a dirt-hole in the middle of Africa and start feeding people. When confronted with that much suffering, it seems insane NOT to do it. People like Mother Teresa or Princess Diana or Bill Gates didn’t seem like such foreign actors anymore. I could feel what they must have felt, even if just for a moment. With my driver taking me on a full-day trip to Agra, I watched the endless poverty scroll by like a demented video game. I had an overwhelming urge to stop at an ATM and withdraw 25,000 Rupees and start handing money out to people at random. I started doing the math in my head. That’s roughly $500. I could hand out $25 to twenty people. $25 could probably feed these people for almost a month. How much of my monthly income would I be willing to give up to feed 20 people each month? At what number would I no longer be willing to do it? At what dollar-amount did my morality begin and end?

The numbers began to make my head swirl. I was calculating my personal morality. I felt pathetic. And powerless. Like Oscar Schindler at the end of Schindler’s List sobbing that his gold ring could have saved one more Jew, self-pitying yet noble at the same time. That Big Mac I had in the airport could have saved one more Indian! Damn you, value meal!

Things only got more surreal from there. At a security checkpoint a kid brought up a real live cobra to my car window, scaring the living shit out of me and my fellow passengers. He then asked us for a rupee. We didn’t give him one. In another scenario, a Swedish girl in the car with us mentioned she should have given some starving boys her box of cookies. When we asked her why she didn’t, she calmly replied that little boys shouldn’t be eating cookies, that it’s bad for them.

In a Pizza Hut, every table had its own waitress. When I ordered hot wings as an appetizer my waitress duly congratulated me on making such an excellent culinary decision. Seriously. That’s what she said. As I looked around the restaurant, I saw each table occupied with fat, well-dressed Indians. I was reminded of the line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

“He must be a king.”
“What makes you say that?”
“He doesn’t have shit all over him.”

In Pizza Hut, the Indian people did not have shit all over them, therefore I assumed they were kings. That and they all conspicuously had their Blackberry’s out for one seemingly nonchalant reason or another, silently bragging to one another across the restaurant between garlic sticks.

Meanwhile, out the window in front of the restaurant, a homeless boy (covered in shit) was attempting to pry open a boarded-up hot dog stand, presumably to find some scraps of food left inside. Stray dogs licked their open sores nearby. Trash milled about, blown by dust. And we, the fat, rich kings of Pizza Hut had our appetizers congratulated by personal staff. The mind boggled. The contradictions mounted. My cognitive dissonance flared. When the manager came by to ask me how I was enjoying my meal, my first thought was “This is fucking Pizza Hut. What’s wrong with you?” But I didn’t. I smiled and said “Fine, thanks.”

But the bizarro world of India didn’t always lead to anger. It could be charming as well. At the Taj Mahal, I was approached by an Indian guy my age who asked me to take a picture. I said sure and reached out to take his camera, assuming he wanted me to take a photo of him in front of the monument. But instead, he stepped away from me, pointed the camera at me, and as four of his friends surrounded me and draped their arms around me, snapped a photo. Minutes later, a small family of four requested the same. And then another family, but this time just me kneeling with their kids. Then a group of teenage boys who wanted a picture with my tattoo. As a tourist, I became part of the tourist attraction myself. Here we are at the Taj Mahal. And here we are with a white person. And here’s little Sandeep flexing his arm next to the big white man. Soon a crowd had gathered. Many of them hung around, nervously trying to speak English with me. Some of them simply stared for minutes on end. All of them beamed smiles of excitement.


The dust pervades every city and town, some with a smoggy golden hue, others with a gentle grey haze. It cakes the cars, the streetlights and the dead stray animals. It scratches at your throat and turns your snot black.

Indian culture itself is quite disorienting. The people can be incredibly warm and hospitable, or cold and rude depending on the context and how they know you. The conclusion I eventually came to is that if they already know you, or if they’re somehow benefiting from you, then they can be incredibly warm and open people. But if they don’t know you, or if they’re trying to get something out of you, then they are a prickly, conniving bunch.

The local I got to know the best was Sanjay, the 20-something year old who ran a hostel I stayed in. He had studied in London and been all over Europe so he was fairly westernized. He and I would stay up late together drinking cheap vodka regaling each other with our travel stories. There was little else to do after nightfall in India but get drunk. And little felt more appropriate.

But what Sanjay told me about Indian people is bizarre but true. He said Indians will rarely, if ever, resort to violence. As a foreigner, you never have to worry about being robbed, or having a knife pulled on you, or getting beaten up by a gang of thugs and having your kidney carved out of you. And this is true. I’ve been to many shady parts of the world. But never did I once feel unsafe in India. Even late at night.

BUT, Sanjay said, an Indian will lie to your face. He’ll say anything to get what he wants from you. And most of them don’t see it as immoral or wrong. So on the one hand, they won’t stick a gun in your face to take your wallet. But they’ll hand you fake business cards and offer to sell you something that they don’t actually have, so that you’ll voluntarily empty your wallet to them on your own accord.

And I have to give them credit, they’re really convincing salespeople.

In Agra, our driver brought us to a handcrafted rug shop. Inside the shop I immediately knew what was coming: a “tour” of the rug factory where we would be cornered (literally) and pitched to buy one. I had seen this before in other countries and here I saw it coming a mile away. Yet the man came across as so unassuming, so genteel, so incredibly polite, it was impossible to not be won over. He showed us the individual thread counts of the rugs, how the rugs are meticulously woven by hand. He showed us how they design the patterns on elaborate grids and then translate them to their wooden weaves. He then took us downstairs, gave us beverages and launched into one of the most impressive sales pitches I’ve ever heard in my life. The man should be selling luxury cars in the United States. By the end of it, I was busy deciding which rug my mother would like the best. After some gentle bargaining, and some friendly gestures, I made the purchase and arranged to have it shipped to her in the US.

It was about an hour later in the car when I realized what had just happened. The elaborate setup. The way packages with American addresses had been set out just right for us to see. The pictures of “satisfied customers.” I knew what they were, and they were good. My stomach dropped. I’d been had. My mother would never see that rug.

But with only a couple hundred dollars lost, I got away fairly unscathed. An 18-year-old Canadian kid staying in our hostel got taken for thousands of dollars. A couple Indians stopped him on the street, and with perfect English convinced him they worked for a travel agency. They then led him to their “office,” where they handed him “brochures” and “planned” out over a month’s worth of traveling and lodging, telling him the entire time that they were getting him the best deals and that they would pre-arrange every relevant tour. By the end of the hour, he had spent close to $2,000 and felt good about it. By the time he got back to the hostel his face was white. He realized what happened. He asked Sanjay about it and Sanjay told him to immediately call his bank in Canada and cancel the card. Tell them it had been stolen. There was no trip. No lodging. No travel agency. Just two Indian guys with silver tongues.

The scams aren’t limited to high-end tourist items either. Pirated DVD’s that don’t work. Taxis that let you off at the wrong place. Hotels that add suspicious “fees” at the last minute. You get harassed constantly on the streets: vendors following you for half a block trying to hock their useless shit to you. Luckily, I learned long ago the perfect remedy to street touts: iPod + sunglasses. Crank that shit up to 10 and just keep walking. What you can’t hear or see can’t bother you. Would-be harassers and hagglers bounce off you like flies.

But, to be fair, many Indians will go out of their way to be honest with you. There were multiple times where I thought the guy had asked for 50 Rupees when he had actually said something else, and instead of taking the extra money he gave it back. Or like the time a taxi driver offered to show me a famous Minaret for free, for no other reason than because he was Muslim and thought I should see it. Or the kid in Gaya who rode me all the way back to my hotel on the back of his bike, for no other reason than he was excited to practice English with me. Or Sanjay, who on our third night drinking together, surprised me with an entire home-cooked meal made especially for me. Or my tour driver, who after dutifully driving us around for over 13 hours straight, teared up and hugged me when I gave him a 50% tip.

Like anywhere else, Indians aren’t all good or bad. You simply get more of each social extreme. It’s unpredictable. Not to mention emotionally draining. The constant need to be on-guard is taxing on one’s psyche.

In Bangalore, I snapped. My taxi driver from the airport “forgot” to turn on the meter. Realizing this, I watched his odometer and counted the 30 kilometers we traveled. When we arrived, he tried to charge me for 50 kilometers. A shouting match ensued. I threw the money for 30km at him, grabbed my bag and walked into my hotel. He followed. He began pleading to the hotel clerk that I had refused to pay and that his price was the appropriate price. Now, with four people watching, I pulled out my laptop, connected to the wireless network, loaded Google Maps, and showed him that it was, in fact 30 kilometers from the airport to the hotel. My hands were shaking with anger by the time it finished loading. Luckily, he took my money and sulked off. At the door he turned around and said, “But you need to sign the receipt.” I shouted back, “Go fuck yourself.”

I moped into my room, frazzled and bitter. After almost three weeks of dealing with such nonsense, I was reaching my wit’s end. I would not be surprised if I ended up punching someone over something menial soon. I lost it with the taxi driver. And when I did the math in my head, it was just $4. I freaked out over $4.

Luckily I was leaving soon, heading to Singapore in a few days, back to civilization. I laid out on my bed, took a deep breath and opened my laptop. In the inbox was an email from my mom: “Thanks for the rug, I love it!”


In the northern foothills of the Himalayas, the dust morphs into an awkward haze. It sticks to the horizon. Trash still permeates the small villages, although in smaller heaps, many of them charred from their daily burnings. The beggars seem less down-trodden. Cows sprinkle the roadways in between tuk-tuks and overflowing caravans. For the most part, the crowds have dissipated.

India attracts a wide variety of spiritual-seekers, lost western souls criss-crossing its geography in search of meaning or of themselves. India is the cradle to two of the oldest major religions in the world: Hinduism and Buddhism, both of which, unlike their western counterparts, focus predominantly on a first-person perspective of spiritual development. Having been interested in Buddhism for over a decade and having spent much of my college years meditating and attending retreats, my interest was piqued by the plethora of ashrams, gurus, and Dharma groups available.

The reality was a let down. There’s no other way to describe the phenomenon other than what it is: spiritual tourism. Which is somewhat of an oxymoron, especially in Buddhism. And also disheartening as it falls victim to the same scam-inducing practices as India’s other tourist markets. Scattered around places like Bodhgaya and Goa, flyers are shoved in your face, street peddlers try to convince you that they can take you to the best ashram in town (as if there’s a “best” way to do yoga). Some even promise enlightenment… for 10,000 Rupees a week. Now, I’m sure there are legitimate and profound retreats and ashrams in India. But the whole process felt cheap and inauthentic.

Children tried to sell marijuana around yoga retreat centers. And it was apparent why: the dreadlocked, tie-dyed, mid-life-crisis’ed Western clientele who streamed through enthusiastically buying from them told you all you needed to know about the scene. Two westerners I spoke to in Bodhgaya, where I considered sitting in on a retreat for a couple days, told me that they had never meditated before and were excited to learn it in India. When I mentioned that one could learn to meditate in 10 minutes at home to see if they actually liked it, they replied, “Yeah, but it’s so much cooler to do it in India.” My mind’s eye could just see The Buddha face-palming at that statement.

One girl tried to brag to me that she had had visions of Krishna in the northern mountains and that she thinks she may convert to Hinduism. When it came out that she had been smoking local hashish every day for weeks on end, I pointed out that these two things may not be a coincidence. She didn’t like hearing that.

Perhaps it was my own arrogance, but it saddened me. My belief has always been that spirituality is something that is experienced personally, not measured, compared, or quantified. Meditating on a loud bus in Chicago can be just as profound as meditating under the Bodhi Tree itself. In a religion whose whole belief system revolves around impermanence, unattachment to the material world, and equanimity, making a 4,000 mile pilgrimage to a tree in the middle of Nowhere, India, for bragging rights seems, well… counterproductive. I can see the interest historically, and perhaps emotionally, but spiritually, there’s not a whole lot of difference. And so as I passed the flyers, and the hippies with their braids and skullcaps, it became harder and harder not to be a little bitter. I understand that pilgrimages and capitalizing on your most holy site are pretty standard for all of the world’s religions. But I guess in my mind I held out hope that Buddhism was different. And actually, Buddhism IS different. Its the followers who aren’t.

(Or maybe I just don’t like hippies.)

But I can’t help but feel that the volume of poverty in India is related to the solipsistic tendencies of the religions based there. I also can’t help but feel that foreigners regularly mistake being pushed so far out of their cultural comfort-zone as some sort of spiritual experience. When the human mind is presented with paradoxical conditions, it usually reacts with inexplicable feelings and often invents a supernatural explanation for them. And India is rife with paradoxical conditions.

The most beneficial effect of traveling that I’ve found is that it forces you to become more confident and independent in a million, tiny, unnoticeable ways that add up to a great, noticeable whole. The more difficult and exotic the culture, the more it challenges you, the more it engages you on an emotional level, and the more you grow in intangible and personal ways.

Perhaps there’s nothing inherently “spiritual” about the sub-continent, it’s just the most extreme cultural experience a westerner can subject themselves to and as a result grow from.

Every country we go to, our natural inclination is to search for some kind of greater meaning. “China’s finally making the leap,” or “Latin culture is exceedingly passionate,” or “Corruption dominates Russia,” — all of these trite little platitudes that we bring home with us and spill amongst our friends and loved ones to show that we did something significant, that we learned something interesting. This is where I went. This is the meaning. All in one or two sentences.

There’s no single sentence for India. The place is a fucking mess. And it’s the only country that I’ve ever been to where I left more confused than when I arrived. My search for meaning came up empty time and time again.

One day in Bodhgaya, a small town of maybe a few thousand people, I ate at an outdoor restaurant in the town square. Beggars, shirtless children and cows littered the square, along with a few assorted street vendors. I had just returned from touring the temple built for the place The Buddha had become enlightened. Looking out over the town square from my large plate of curry, I watched the beggars stew about, completely ignored by the townspeople. By this time my search for meaning in this land had become frantic, and my emotions fried. I looked at the mound of food before me. It had cost $2.50 US dollars and could feed multiple people. I called the waiter over and ordered another one.

The two nearest beggars were an old man and woman together, huddled on the ground, clothes tattered, white hair and beard matted and dirty. They looked up at me with their emaciated arms outstretched in cups, the same cupped hands one would use to drink from a river. Their eyes sank into their sockets. They seemed to look beyond me. I put the second plate of food down in front of them like a pair of dogs. They looked at it wide-eyed for a moment, and began shoveling the food into their faces as fast as they could.

Curry dripped from the man’s beard. Rice mashed into his black fingernails. Bits of chicken spattered on the ground below them. I stood there watching for a few seconds, expecting something. What? I don’t know. But I wanted to feel something. I wanted to feel like there was some purpose to all of this. That I could walk away with something important from my whole experience.

But instead I felt helpless. It was like I had just put a band-aid on the Titanic. He’s going to go digging through garbage again in a couple hours. He didn’t even look at me. What’s the point?
Obviously, I’m no Mother Teresa. And it’s just as well, Mother Teresa couldn’t save this society from itself. Sometimes human systems become so large that they hurt people, not by design, but by inertia. And it’s beyond any of our ability to grasp, let alone control.

The townspeople had seen what I had just done. And within seconds, a boy approaches me and asks me to buy him a soccer ball. I tell him no and begin to walk away. He follows. Then another man comes up wanting to sell me pirated Bollywood DVD’s. I also tell him no. He gets upset, “You give food to a beggar, but you won’t even buy a DVD from me? Why not?” He felt like I committed some terrible injustice against him.

A crowd was beginning to form around me, looking for handouts. I quietly put on my headphones and sunglasses, turned my iPod up to full blast, and walked through the dust.

Update: I want to thank all of the Indian readers who commented (yes, even the criticisms). I have promised to return to India one day and give it another chance, this time doing more research about the country and spending more time in the non-urban areas.

[magicactionbox id="11709"]

Print Friendly

Did you like this article?

Every couple weeks I send out a newsletter with new articles and exclusive content for readers. It's basically my way of keeping in touch with you and letting you know what's going on. Your information is protected and I never spam.

Subscribe below to stay connected.

730 Comments

Leave a Comment

  • Reply

    Parihar

    9 weeks ago

    Dear Mark – Your review of India is absolutely correct from a tourist perspective. You have successfully nailed down the negatives of India. However, to experience the positive side of India, a “tourist” visit is not enough.

    Westerners/tourists generally visit one or two states and starts summarizing their visit as “INDIA EXPERIENCE”. Each Indian state is like “mini country” with its own distinct culture, traditions [thousands of years of civilization…Evolution]. You will have to visit each state and experience the life to give holistic review of INDIA and in some cases it’s even deeper than state level. Right now your experience is as if an Indian visited ITALY for few weeks and summarizes it as EUROPEON UNION experience [German, UK, France].

    Now about your experience:
    All of what you saw as unacceptable (dirt, filth, beggars and list goes on) can be summed up in one word “POVERTY” and lack of resources.

    It is amazing how a country which was referred to as “Golden Sparrow” 200 years back by foreigners is now being referred to as “Filthy,dirty,third world” .
    And irony of the situation is that if you look at the scriptures dated 200 years or old, you will notice Middle Eastern and Europeans were referred to as Mleccha [Sanskrit word – for uncivilized and barbaric] by Indians, same way as you are referring to Indians as filthy and dirty in your post.

    Not sure you care but I must elaborate, how did India get to this point?

    First reason -Mughal invasions for centuries resulted in slaughtering of men, raping women and forcible conversion to Islam. Looting of wealth and destruction of intellectual property (Vedas)

    Second reason that finally broke camel’s back was British invasion – who initially came as “Spice Traders” and eventually slaughtered Indians like animals and robbed them of their wealth.
    East India Company sucked all of the wealth from India and transferred it to England and in process ruined it with man made FAMINES, Poverty, dirt and filth that you saw and wrote about in your blog. These guys even took the swords of the princes to display it in their museum. Kohinoor Diamond on Queen’s crown is an example of the loot. Even in 2014 British royalty proudly wears their looted Indian possessions [Princess Katherine wearing necklace that she received as gift from Queen and Queen in turn received it as a gift (read “Robbed”) from Indian Prince].
    So in nutshell vacuum of wealth that Britishers created is what “tourist experience” in today’s India.

    Third and most important reason – INDIANS
    Until and unless INDIANS, learn from past mistakes and turn their “peaceful” image (read it as timid, weak, non aggressive, inferiority complex from thousands of years slavery, turning to God for everything) into a “non peaceful” image (read it as Pride of their heritage,Confident, unified society, Aggressive, fierce foe, unforgivable enemy), there are going to be many more “Filth filled experiences”

  • Reply

    Kate

    7 weeks ago

    Hello Mark,
    Just came across your article. I appreciate your honesty about your experinces in India. I totally agree with your views about India, Indians etc. These experiences get worst for a female travelling in india. You have no idea how unsafe and horrible it can get.
    Talking about spirituallity or this universe in general, your experinces are part of you. They represent you. They mirror you. They guide you. May be this is the experience that you needed at this point in your spiritual travel. And as you peel layer after layer you will get different experiences altogether, by just keeping an open mind. All the best for your next journey.

  • Reply

    Jason Goveas

    7 weeks ago

    Dear Mark,

    I am not the kind of person to make excuses and I’m not the kind of person who looks to shift the blame and hence I accept that for you coming from your “Advanced” country and “clean” prosperous society, India may seem dirty and filthy. However, when you have formed an opinion and jumped to a conclusion already, there is not point in narrating your experiences as they are all seen by you with a film of the same dust and flith over you eyes.

    Personally, I think you seem to have a flair for drama and should have been a screenwriter as you have the ability to paint a powerful and vivid image through words. Everyone is enttled to having their own opinions but in my opinion, your opinion just stinks. (If you think India is stinky, mangify that stench by a factor of about 10. That how much i think your opinion stinks).I think you would do better writing scripts for dramatic movies with just a movies cos you do seem to be quite a drama queen.

    I hope you carried a camera with you on your travels and assume that if you were asked to support your observations with evidence, you would be able to. India has problems. Lost of problems. Poverty, corruption, dirt etc are known problems and these are being worked upon in whatever measure possible. However, as you yourself have pointed out, not all indians are out to kill you or harm you or even fleece you.

    I have family all over the globe but I have stubbornly refused to move out of India. It isn’t the fear of racial abuse or a new culture or the comfort of a familiar environment that stops me from moving out. It is the belief that there is a breed of young Indians who are making a difference and taking a step in the right direction. I believe that India has the potential to get out of the screwed up situation it is in. (Even though the picture you have painted is extreme and I do not agree that the picture is that bleak) I believe that progress is being made in the right direction and progress no matter how slow should neveer be criticized.

    Yes we do not conform to the norms of behaviour that people from “advanced” countries expect. Yes we do have some issues about maintaining the sanctity of public places. But to see how much an average Indian values hygiene, you should visit a few indian houses. The insides are spotless. (try living in and cleaning a non-airconditioned house in a country as dusty as india for a week and you will realise what a task that is)

    If you are such a warm, generous, Mother Teresa like figure, you would try to understand the problems a little more and then would’ve written something more constructive. Your article was highly infuriating and having lived in this country all my life, one argument may be that one who is born in shit knows no other smell. However, I have lived across the country, and have spent signficant amounts of time in places ranging from Mumbai to Bhuj, from Pune to Udaipur, from Delhi to Jabalpur, from Jaipur to Ahmedabad, from Aurangabad to Moodabidri and have travelled and visted places all over the country and i never ever managed to see the sights you saw.

    Either your views are jaundiced or all of India conspired to give you an unforgettable experience. You are one of those peoiple who gives a lot of advice right. Heres my two bits of wisdom for you. Next time you go somewhere and you wanna write about it, spend your time there without your sunglasses and i-Pod. That may help you see better and will definitely let you hear reality.

  • Reply

    LapinBlanc

    7 weeks ago

    Heated debates indeed…

    I would just like to say that I am from France, and that I travelled for two months in India, with nothing more than a map of the country to find my way around. I quickly realized that arriving as an enthusiastic white foreigner somehow precluded having the chance to visit non-”touristic” places where you could actually lean back and say “By Jove! This must be a fragment of India, and I am blessed to be able to see it!”. Indians advising me on my next destination thought that I would rather enjoy seeing precisely those touristic places because those destinations represented progress in the eyes of many Indians. German bakeries, yoga lessons, etc…etc…and I don’t blame them! Maybe our typically Western desire to find the “authentic”, to return to the “land”, to feel that we are in a genuine place is a cultural phenomenon specific to our globe-trotting, tech-savvy, alienated that is foresaking a feeling of belonging for digital worlds.

    Instead of feeling confused, or disgusted, or appalled, I perceived India as a place blessed with such mind-boggling diversity, history, culture etc…etc… that I merely felt humbled by the sheer magnitude of the place.
    A place that I could visit dozens of times without ever being able to say, “OK! Got it…time to head somewhere else.”
    Sure, I got ripped off by Kashmiris, I encountered the chillum-smoking enlightenment-seeking Westerners…who cares? The phenomena you observe, Mark, are but ripples on the surface of a SUBCONTINENT that has been growing, evolving, disintegrating for millenia.

    And if we look at the contemporary ills of India that shock you so, well, let’s talk agriculture, about the FAO, World Bank and state-induced “Green Revolution”, which forcefully mechanized Indian agriculture, encouraging farmers to buy fertilisers and pesitcided and tractors on credit, growing hyprid seeds that lasted a year, and then had to be bought anew. This may seem secondary, but hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers have taken their lives as a result of this brutal change. Market economy applied to subsistence agriculture…there is no more to add!” Many of the poor and fetid things that you observed during your travels are, I think, the “fruits” of rural exodus. Desertification and water scarcity are also rising problems throughout the land, as the legacy of the Green Revolution makes itself felt.

    And the smog? The plastic? Everywhere, sure. Heaps of trash, of plastic packaging for lays chips, coke bottles etc…smog coming from the fires that burn the trash, from the cars that everyone wants because they are now a status symbol, just like the pizza hut crap you feasted on, which is causing rising obesity and diabetes in India. These problems are but the most extreme manifestations of a sick world system, driven to its most shocking form in countries that don’t have the “carrying capacity”, i.e. to bear the impact of massive populations that we as, Westerners, have no idea of. These countries might simply be emulating an unsustainable model that we are constantly refining, to the level of an artform (and I include France in that group, this is not an anti-US rant…).

    Well, enough said…if you spent time meditating, than think back, and remember that one of the ideas is to avoid judgement, to be in acceptance, maybe wonder, and even awe. Sunglasses and Ipods never help; they don’t protect you, they insulate you from the reality you so sought to depict in your article.

  • Reply

    Will Navidson

    6 weeks ago

    This explanation from a group of young Indian guru devotees, ‘on stage’ during my own spiritual adventures in SE India 2007-2008,
    and with which I wholeheartedly agree:

    - India is the culture and country which basically ‘invented’ religion but then misread what was appropriate by leaning towards the
    ‘you are not entitled to the fruits of your labor’ aspect of the Bhagavad Gita. In other words the country has been historically
    an outcropping of what happens when a culture believes that life’s plan is set in stone and that God will take care of them without
    the necessary co-creative part of doing your duty. (Which is also probably the central tenet of the BG) -

    This of course is changing in the modern era but several thousand years of a ‘she’ll be right, mate’ mindset is gonna take some work
    to put it mildly.

  • Reply

    Krishna Khandelwal

    5 weeks ago

    the only missing point is that western culture was thrurst upon India making it lose its own pristie culture which had all the virtues which you find lacking in India od today!

  • Reply

    Dilliwala

    5 weeks ago

    Of course this is a much exaggerated article, like those television shows out to grap extra attention. However, the issues are certainly existent and rightly highlighted, not to the extent mentioned in this article, but yes they do exist.

    For example, the author’s description of the Indian countryside is totally out of place. You don’t find ‘streams of humanity’ along the Indian countryside and neither is there garbage stewn across, unless of course, the author decided that he visit some shanty on the way. There definitely is dust but it’s not there on the country’s major highways; Delhi-Agra highway (NH-2) which the author cites as his experience could have been extra dusty at the time he visited, because many highways in North India have been undergoing lane-expansion and sprucing-up jobs in turn since around 2007-08. Perhaps, he travelled NH-2 at the wrong time! Otherwise, his entire description of the Indian countryside is totally flawed.

    I didn’t have the time and intent to go through such long article and stopped after some 7-8 paragraphs, but it has given me an insight into what he’s trying to convey here. It’s the opinion of the author here, otherwise not all foreign tourists lambast India in such tough words, and there are millions who visit India annually. Like I’ve said, there are issues, many of them, but they are definitely not as severe as portrayed in this article, many of them not even close, while some totally non-existent, like maybe one-offs if he’s actually faced them!

  • Reply

    4 weeks ago

    This article is so fucking corny. Nope, you don’t come off white, privileged and ignorant. Not at all!

    For all the people on the comments that are dissing other folks for bringing up history, British Colonialism, etc, as if India should’ve gotten over it already…please. Spare me. As Sid mentioned in the comments a month ago, think about the amount of theft the 1st World has stolen from the 3rd, and maybe that will give you a slight insight on why you were compelled to write this trash piece in the first place. Or the World Bank microloans that someone else mentioned, which caused many farmers to commit suicide. Or the IMF in general. If you want to venture out from PUA self-help advice (which fwiw I think you have some good insights) and venture into politics and culture, then I have some advice for you…get a fucking clue.

    Look at at the skin bleaching creme that is sold in India and tell me they’re not still feeling the effects of colonialism. Or when I stayed at a semi fancy hotel in Aurangabad they had framed pictures of random English generals etc etc. Yup, lets frame the folks that were oppressing us, celebrate them on the walls. THIS is what I notice when I went there.

    Did I have a seven year old holding a 1 year old trying to hustle me for cash? Sure. Did I also want to punch out yet another cab driver trying to rip me off after 3 weeks being there? Absolutely. Sacred cows eating garbage on the side of the road? Check. India has some extreme poverty, and a corrupt government. News at 11 here. Our government is just peachy right? No poverty here right? Yes its on a bigger or more obvious scale then in the US. So that makes the whole country just a big pile of shit, right?

    When that’s ALL you talk about, and you don’t talk about anything else, you come off like a absolute tool. I went out in Mumbai on a number of nights and had a great time, including swimming on a posh rooftop pool. I had some of the best meals of my life there. I went to the Ellora and Ajanta caves, which is pretty much the most amazing thing historically that I have seen on this planet. I met some really great people and even scored a stack of vintage Bollywood LPs.

    ‘Would-be harassers and hagglers bounce off you like flies.’
    I wonder why? Do you think they can afford to go to America, on vacation? Have some fucking context. Yes its annoying to be harassed, but in the end you’re dissing an entire country based on one trip, a country that has been around for 1000s of years. As stated earlier…you don’t come off ignorant at all. Thanks for sharing indeed.

    ‘all of these trite little platitudes that we bring home with us ‘

    cos essentially that’s what travel is to you right, trite?

    ‘My search for meaning came up empty time and time again.’

    sounds like you’re looking in the mirror.

    ‘But I can’t help but feel that the volume of poverty in India is related to the solipsistic tendencies of the religions based there.’
    Ignorant. Not the first time you’ve brought up the problems of Religion. Wouldn’t surprise me if you were a fan of bigoted clowns like Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris.

    ‘He had studied in London and been all over Europe so he was fairly westernized. ‘

    thank god! someone who’s been ‘cultured’ right?

    ‘Luckily I was leaving soon, heading to Singapore in a few days, back to civilization.’

    sorry dude you really come off like a racist twat here. India, the ENTIRE country, every bit of it, its just so ‘uncivilized’ right? They’re just ‘savages’, right? So tired. As I said, stick to the post PUA theses, cos this piece has more garbage in it then on the side of the road in India…

    • Reply

      Meghna

      3 weeks ago

      Until I read your comments, I didn’t think the article was racist (and I am an Indian). I guess that’s because we are fairly and openly racist as a nation (fair vs dark, high-caste vs low-caste, etc.). But thanks for the support anyways.

      I agree with you in certain things but I can’t completely discount the article either. There is no denying that India is confusing, maddening, and a culture shock, sometimes even to Indians living here. I will admit to deliberately closing my eyes to those more unfortunate than me, but when it is unavoidably thrust upon me, i have the same feelings of helplessness, guilt, and anger. But I have to live here, and I know it is selfish, but I had rather not have those feelings. So I turn away, donate some money and do my best to forget.

      Have you noticed that even people traveling together have different memories of their trips. I guess its because they remember what they choose to. The side of India shown in this article is true too, but its not the only side. India is too multifaceted to be summed up in just an articlele. This is only the side that the author preferred to remember.

    • Reply

      Anita

      3 weeks ago

      $¢, this was an awesome post.

      I’ve never been to India, but went back to Bangladesh in 2002 and in 2012 and had my moments in the city (especially when my flip flop covered foot stepped into human feces) but loved the country side, the tea gardens, the temples (not a lot of non-desi tourism there), the shopping markets, and most of all, the young activist communities I got to socialize with. I took a boat ride over to Myanmar, learned to make pithas, play with the monkeys who kept trying to steal my change, and received hand made gifts from indigenous tribal members, where our facial features are alike but our access is not. I met some hustlers, but no different than the ones who try to hustle me when I visit NYC. I saw some slums, but I see that when I visit Louisiana too.

      The activist groups I got to meet are people in their late 20s who helped to recently bring about museums, art galleries, tribal art preservation groups, and advocacy in a country that is still recovering from massive genocide when our parents were teens in the 1970s. Bengalis are the artsy fartsies of the Desi bunch, but a lot of those traditions and practices are getting erased due to rising fundamentalism and westernization (one being encouraged by the other).

      I saw a huge sign on the Cox Bazar beach during the last time I was there. It read, “We were fine till you got here” and I remember thinking that this sign would’ve really hit the mark a few centuries ago.

  • Reply

    Suman Ramesh

    4 weeks ago

    Hello Mark,
    I read your “A Dust over India”, I simply felt that you are over exaggerating the whole experience. I am a resident of India but the explanations that you were giving were alien to me. I have also traveled to many places in western and eastern world but could not find any meaning to spirituality out side India. May be you were extreme in your views.

    -Suman

  • Reply

    Ahmad

    4 weeks ago

    The author has done a tremendous job of portraying India exactly the way it is. Being an Indian, i am not shy to point out the fact that my country really is dirty, and instead of abusing and criticizing others for depicting its true picture, we should do something about the EXTREME poverty and ignorance we have here. It is NOT unpatriotic to criticize the GENUINE ills of your country; abusers and emotionally retarded people should went their inner frustrations elsewhere. Go take a dip in the Ganga y’all.

  • Reply

    Ankur

    3 weeks ago

    Hi Mark

    First of all, unlike most of my Indian friends, I don’t have any extremist views for or against your article. I have been to a few places outside India in the last couple of years and I understand your perspective. And I also understand the perspective of fellow-Indians (who clearly by now Hate you) ;).
    My personal experiences with poverty have confused me as well (I am not rich by any means, though). But I have felt helpless, really helpless at times. And yes there are people who try to rip you off (and if you are a tourist, then for them you are an easy target). Having said that, I have been ripped off in cities like Chicago and Singapore as well. And I think the reason they approached me is because I was an easy target.
    I think two of the biggest problems India faces are over population and lack of education. Everything else is a ripple effect.

    But there are quite a few positives in India as well. These might not be apparent or relevant to a tourist but they are interesting:
    1. Financial Planning: You will be surprised to see and understand how much can an average American learn from an average Indian here. I was reading your article on 10-life-lessons-excel-30s before this one, and Indians have some of these traits in their genes.
    2. India is a Retirement Haven: I can’t think this from a foreigner’s perspective but I think India has a good overall offering for retirement. The big cities may have some dirty and filthy places but at the same time they also have some great places and neighborhoods to live. And if you have good retirement pot, banks offer rates of interest as high as 10%. And I think this is quite incredible (although I personally think, this is a part of the problem)
    3. Great Medical Facilities at Affordable prices (for foreigners): There are some really good hospitals in the country and some really incredible doctors who offer medical facilities of great quality at very reasonable prices when compared to countries like the US or UK. There is a whole booming industry around medical tourism.
    4. Another point I want to make here is that although some people would try to rip you off in India, but because of things being so cheap (as compared to the US), it’s actually not by that much (as you yourself highlighted $4 cab thing). What you call as ripping off, the people who do this think its just smart and sometimes necessary for them. Imagine your Taxi driver; Had you been an Indian passenger, he might have been asked for a discount.
    In your article, yourself you saw the flipside, Your mother did get the rug..
    5. Quite an Open Society: I understand there are sections of people in India who are still narrow minded (but I think they are everywhere). But apart from that as an Indian, I feel the level of freedom in India is sometimes too much.
    6. Some Great Places to See: Yes there are too many of us, but still there are some great places in India to see. What makes India different is its diversity. Just like the US, there are quite a lot of different culture spread across which you can experience here. The Rann of Kuctch (http://www.rannutsav.com/), Pangong Lake (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pangong_Tso), The Sunderbans (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sundarbans), The backwaters in Kerela (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerala_backwaters) are just a few.

    Once again, I am not saying that what you have written is not true. And here are my two cents for all those issues as well:
    1. Dirt and Garbage: I agree the country is on an average dirty. And I hope that changes soon. But I also think there are some nice neighborhoods and some awesome places with great scenic beauty.
    2. Poverty: I feel helpless about it and I think it will only go away with education. Till then we can only help as much as we can.
    3. Cheats and Cons: Well I think the general advise here is to use common sense. And don’t pay money without taking delivery of the goods. If you are buying a service, check your options and buy from people with at-least some branding. And if the amount is not that big just consider as a small tip :).

    Would like to hear from you..
    Ankur

  • Reply

    Aaina

    3 weeks ago

    “Sometimes human systems become so large that they hurt people, not by design, but by inertia. And it’s beyond any of our ability to grasp, let alone control.”

    I think there are many intelligent insights in your article (the above being very well-said and a point of reference for this comment) and that overall you write with a keen eye and an open mind. As informed by the limitations of your perspective, which given what’s here I have no doubt would expand were you to spend more time in India and with its history. The history, as some of the other commenters have noted, is key. Have you read The Age of Kali? It’s short and it will blow your mind, read it. What India was as a country before being ravaged by invasion, and where it stands (or rather, rests) today is a contradiction so profound that in this context, each outrage or hopelessism begins to make sense. Further, empires, people, ways of life, generally when conquered were crushed. But not so with India. Perhaps due to its resilient and proud nature, it is the one civilization where relics of the past have lived on, eroded without systematic support into something cheap and out of place.

    And yes, that does largely refer to the social effects of the caste system, which for its evils anathema to modern notions of justice and human rights, must be acknowledged as the basic glue that allowed India to flourish with the music, the art and the streets lined with gold. A caste system is completely different from a despotic, tyrannical, or even monarchical rule, which I think is something that people forget in attempting to understand why India has unfolded so distinctly from every other civilization in the world. And with the resources of India being what they were, many people were allowed to thrive under this system (not just the top), so it was a socially peaceful existence to the detriment of the few. There was no revolution, no Cromwell or Robespierre. A foreign power came in and displaced the entire system, throwing its carefully aligned pieces into total chaos, or rather, a total fucking mess.

    Speaking of resources. Yes, there are many territories in the world that promised greedy western civ precious resources, but who so beautiful, alluring, and developed as India? The holy grail for the “alpha male” of Europe. And while plundering a young field virgin might be fun for some spoils, bedding the wild queen, adorned with more than you could ever offer, intelligent and feminine and superior to any woman you’ve met, well that’s a different and – when it comes to the ruthless white men of yore – more ravaging quest. So, imagine such a queen, raped and plundered of everything but her pride, which has condemned her to survive in the world of her conquerors. The analogy ends here, I won’t try to extend it into particulars but I think it’s an interesting way to consider India in its proper context. No, this history doesn’t change the practical effect of the sordid and corrupt reality on its citizens and the global economy today, but is relevant when forming opinions and judgments overall.

  • Reply

    Anuraag Reddy

    3 weeks ago

    Ok! India is all fucked up. It’s true. It’s poor, uneducated, resourceless, and barely surviving. Not too long ago, for more than 200 years, over generations, India has been subject to colonial hegemony, and economic policies against its interests, and its people. It has been degraded, deprived, and it is still recovering. It missed the Industrial revolution, it missed the renaissance, and it missed the enlightenment which changed western culture, and ideology by whose standards you are judging us.

    I think it is you who lack perspective, and not those travellers who see the positives in their journey. If you really wanted to learn from your experience in India, you would have researched its history, the cultures, the languages, its architecture, the cuisines, the politics, or even the life of most of its people, their customs, their festivals, clothing, and I could just keep going. You could have travelled beyond the crowded cities, where everyone is competing to succeed, beg, borrow, steal, chasing a dream perhaps, and instead you should have travelled to places where you could see how stable life really is.

    I agree with you, that you could have had what you believe as a spiritual experience anywhere, and I bet you didn’t find it in India because you weren’t even looking. While I am an atheist myself, I believe Indian religions, mythology, folk stories are just schools of thought about the mind, and consciousness, and they are so diverse because they are just theories, and methods to inquire by yourself.

  • Reply

    Maya

    3 weeks ago

    Mark, that was a pretty ignorant article and you generalized way too quickly. You only visited a certain number of cities. have you ever been to kerala? by your article i am assuming not because kerala is actually a very clean state. It depends on where you go. i have been to both south indian cities and north indian cities and although i do agree about delhi and mumbai being “dirty”, it still doesnt give you the right to say “india” overall is dirty. you need to choose your words and descriptions wisely.

  • Reply

    girish

    3 weeks ago

    I started reading your articles and after reading this article of yours I can definitely, without any hesitation say that you are FUCK NO kind of a sick personality.

  • Reply

    Poppy

    3 weeks ago

    Mark,

    I think you botched your India experience. I say this as someone who is not Indian. I’m Nigerian, and I’ve lived in the U.S. for over a decade, and traveled to many parts of the world, including India. I’ve seen poverty (and happen to work in a job that allows me to contribute to its alleviation), and having grown up in one of the toughest places in the world (Lagos), I know that many parts of the world don’t have clean streets and responsible governments and low crime, yet people find a way to thrive and survive.

    I find your article incredibly emotional (angry), and I agree with the posters who think it stems from disappointed expectations that may have arisen from a privileged upbringing. I know you mention the many parts of the world you’ve visited or lived in, which for some reason seem to exclude the African continent….but that’s another story. Is it possible you prefer countries where you can comfortably have a semblance of privilege without having to be confronted daily with the fucked up-ness of human misery?

    II went to India for 3 weeks and spent time with friends who introduced me to their families in West Bengal. One of my friends is a PhD student at a school located in the “rock capital” of India (such a thing exists) up in hill country. I visited another friend living with her family in Kolkata and got to see how a wealthy Bengali family lives, eating some incredible food. I stayed in a quiet little town called Middle Bom Bosty where you could sit on top of a hill and look out and just see more hills for miles. The air was incredible. I have never been so happy. And unfortunately I couldn’t go to places like Goa or Sikkim that are rumored to be picturesque.

    Mark, there are parts of the world that you just cannot enjoy without knowing someone there. Most countries in Africa fall into this category, and so does India. Local friends will make sure you’re safe, cook for you, introduce you to their circles, and take you to the best spots. Maybe I loved India because I come from a country that is worse. That does raise a point about perspective – it all depends on what you are used to.

    Anyway, my advice to you is to visit India again. You can’t let India defeat you! Given that a good size of your readers are Indian, and that India has become a major player on the world scale, your “global” cred is kind of at stake here. And returning will give you a more complex analysis.

    I’d start small – Goa or a hillside like Darjeeling.

    And in the meantime, try some Indian films. NOT bollywood. Did you know India has an independent film scene? Try watching thoughtful movies like Udaan, The Namesake, The Lunchbox, Billu and The Japanese Wife. One of the best ways to understand a country is to be curious about what its people think of it. What do Indians like about India? What are their frustrations? What do they seem to enjoy?

  • Reply

    dev garg

    3 weeks ago

    Mark.. You are absolutely right on all points about India.. Hence it is India. But I suggest that you must look at India what england was in 1750 s .. Rich are extremely rich and poor are extremely poor. Indians lack one thing but which even then English didn’t that is courtesy for your fellow mates . I expect that you by now might have changed your view .. Further I would like you to read about Victorian england and you will find many similarities between that and present India. Good luck.

  • Reply

    Lata

    3 weeks ago

    Hi,

    I read your article and all I felt was, I have never had the eloquence like you to describe what I felt about my own country all my life. You could not have put it across any better. I think most of the problems arise from the caste and religious mindset of the people. The government knows that, and until they keep politicising these issues they can getaway with other issues like giving us a clean city, smooth roads or better governance. People are happy if the politician represents his caste or religion. It is disgusting to see such a sad state of issues but I dont know what to do or how to correct them. :(

  • Reply

    Swati

    2 weeks ago

    Hi Mark,

    Visited your blog. Reading it for two days. Came to this article, because it has ‘India’ in it, and I’m an Indian. No, the comment is not a hate comment. I think you wrote a wonderful account of the visit to the country, as a tourist, a foreign tourist. People coming in from the West should know what India is ‘today’ and what to expect from their visit. Your account acts like a mirror to us Indians because while we see this everyday, a lot of it has stopped being visible to us. I’m not sure if we can actually do something about the bad here. Or, if whatever we’re doing, will be noticeable in a short time. It’ll take years for us to reach a point where we’re even just a ‘clean city’. But yes, we’re working on it. Slowly. And, till the time, all of this makes us who we are today, as a person. If we’re apathetic to it, then there’s a reason. If we’re progressive, or resilient, or professional, or extra-cautious, or whatever, then there is a reason to it. And, I’m proud of my roots. I’ve traveled to some countries and I never felt to be at a disadvantage because I’m an Indian. Going through those hardships, seeing those miseries, those people around, makes me more humble towards poor people, and it makes me more thankful to God to whatever He has given me.

    Thanks for visiting India. Hope you visit again.

  • Reply

    Shyam Shyam poppy Shyam

    1 week ago

    Mark,

    India is dirty (not all of it is, but you can hold onto your opinion if it makes you happy), but its not the only place in the world where tourists get taken for a ride. This happened to me on my 3rd visit to the United States. At JFK I’m looking for the GoAir Shuttle, when this man suited up with a walkie talkie in his hand comes up to me and offers to show me the way. I get into the shuttle and along the way the driver makes small conversation about India etc. He drops me at the entrance of my hotel (not inside) and says it’ll be $250. I was told by my Indian colleages that the shuttle would cost me about $30-40, and that’s when I realised that this wasnt even the airport shuttle.

    We’re no saints, but neither are you’ll or the rest of the world. So please save us your sorry stories.

    Shyam

  • Reply

    rajapandian

    1 week ago

    I think you are right!

    “back to civilization” – these words is would have been avoided.

  • Reply

    prakriti

    1 week ago

    hello mark,
    I always enjoy reading a foreigner’s perspective on India and have read one before yours. I did enjoy reading yours, but felt a bit sad about things that happened to you, emotions you went through(being helpless, can’t change the world in a day right?), but I want you to come again and see the beautifull places , eat amazing food, meet people from so many different cultures, know their languges,lifestyle…everything, and have an experience better that last one!

  • Reply

    antonio areal

    1 day ago

    Hello Mark,
    18 years ago I went to India for the first time. I travelled mostly in the South, the farthest North I got was Mumbai. Your article has brought back many of the same conclusions I reached when I was there. Things have changed, I hear. Back in 96 the hotels used to offer you complimentary Indian newspapers in English. Nice touch I thought, but the joke I shared with my wife back then was born out of the headlines, where often things like “India to put man on the Moon” and such were “news”. After many such news we laughed of course. Our question being , “yes, but WHEN?” to any news/claim in an Indian newspaper. Now I think one headline could have read “Things to change in India” (yes, but when?). Have things really changed in all this time? for the better ? I am due to find out soon as I plan to go to the North with my son. He is 12 and is all excited so I will let him form his own opinion. I sort of brace myself for the blast of the combo of medieval and modern humanity one gets in India. A few things stick in my mind from my experience there that you might have also experienced,
    - the child asking for a “school pen” anywhere, anytime. Seriously, once from one side of a canal in Kerala where the only way for a BIC pen to make it there would have been to fire it with an M16. But those kids hopefully tried to score, Ganesh on their side.
    - the delicious biriyani anywhere, anytime,
    - the absence of any interest of middle class or wealthy Indians to make contact with us
    - the overwhelming interest of the poor to make contact with us
    - do you want to buy a baby Sir ?
    It was a pleasure to read your blog. The thing about America too.

  • Reply

    Amit Mehta

    3 months ago

    Mark Manson’s article on Dust over India was the experience that all those who either stays in India or who are visiting India undergoes. I am an educated Indian and this is my home country, Reality is even more saddening then what Mark has written!
    His first day experience (Any well educated foreigner’s experience) face to face with the reality here is a nightmare! They all feel so terrible and sick in this environment that they regret that they had taken the decision to come to India! They so desperately wish to be back where they belong! Some of them I knew fell sick for at least two, three days. They have only one thing in their mind, how can they help improve the condition here? They all leave the country with a sigh of relief that at last they are going away from dirt, poverty, filth and disorder. After a while they forget about the whole episode! Baring a few like Mother Teresa and Dominique Lapierre, Bill gates.
    As Indians, we learn to live here by being less sensitive yet knowing all the time, that this is life. Few days back I came a cross a You Tube video of Budhistgeeks talking about ending the suffering through meditation. It talks about being less in pain and suffering once one starts experiencing the suffering and it says that more experienced meditators some time starts avoiding the experience knowing that they are into state of observation!
    Mark rightly points out “There’s no single sentence for India. The place is a fucking mess. And it’s the only country that I’ve ever been to where I left more confused than when I arrived. My search for meaning came up empty time and time again.”
    Let all of us try to answer some of the questions:
    Which you think is the cleanest and the most sacred place?
    Where do we all belong?
    What can be done to improve the situation? How can we get rid of the poverty and illiteracy from India and all other developing countries? Will globalization or democracy help getting rid of it? If not what will get rid it?

  • Reply

    sUNdar kumar

    3 months ago

    It is amusing to see all these NRIs (Not Required Indians) vying with each other to bad mouth their homeland. Please refrain from coming to India. Nobody asked you to do so. When you feel the need to “connect” to your homeland you can fulfill it by eating at the local indian restaurant or at the indian mandir.

    As far as what the people in the USA/U.K think of you, do check out the comments that are posted in response to any article regarding India on CNN. You will know what you are worth and what people really think of you and say behind your backs.

  • Reply

    Prats

    3 months ago

    I think the article is exaggerated but can any Indian say those are incorrect? No. We have a lot of good things and a lot of messy things. Those who have travelled the world would tell you its ‘easier’ to live, work in most other countries than India and I hold the same opinion. But, India is our country and its our duty to clean the mess.
    And that starts with accepting that there is a problem first.

    Thank You

  • Reply

    bwjohnson49

    3 months ago

    NRI – Non-Resident Indians. They live in other countries and visit India only occasionally. They cost India billions of dollars a year in lost revenues. They could do so much good for India if they stayed and helped re-build the broken infrastructures and contributed their talents in virtually every profession – from medicine to accounting to engineering to business. But they choose to live abroad and they turn away from their homeland.

  • Reply

    angel kumari

    21 weeks ago

    you are an idiot if you cant see how bad india is. i say that as an indian so there…

  • Reply

    Sneha

    11 weeks ago

    You are kidding me !!!!! Why would any person in thir right mind correlate, India’s obvious problems to it’s food and culture. We never said anything about food or culture or tradition. believe me , one can tolerate anything about India , the dirt, the garbage , the pollution , but crimes against women that too severe terrible horrible crimes , no not tolerable at all .

  • Reply

    bwjohnson49

    3 months ago

    Prats – If only there were about 700 million more of your countrymen as honest as you are about India’s problems. Part of the problem that I saw when I was living in your country was a widespread acceptance and apathy of the status quo. “This is India” was a refrain I heard over and over again.

  • Reply

    Vivek

    3 months ago

    That really made me laugh.

    Do you recall Mitt Romney’s recent comments on the London Olympics? How he was concerned it would fail because of admin screwups and lack of enthusiasm.

    He was not applauded for his honesty. He was called a wazzock and a wanker. Why do you think that happened? Do you see how that is relevant here? I suspect you might not.

    Mark goes to India. He is shocked to find the country is poor. Poor! And dirty. He sees Shit everywhere, even through his shades. He searches for Life’s Lesson in all this. Not finding it, he turns up his iPod and returns disheartened – only to turn to his poison pen to eviscerate that disgusting land.

    According to you, I must read this tripe and break down: “You know Vivek, we should really bathe more often! clean the shit! And while at it, feed the people! Not just the fat ones. Everyone. From tomorrow morning!”

    Because Mark awakened me to the real problem and I was blind to it previously.

    What really worries me is that our leading lights have taken the US neocon philosophy to heart: Hoard personal treasure chests. Create private Elysiums. Screw the people. Lame duck the government. Dodge / grease the bureacracy. As the recent electricity fiasco suggests, that really isn’t any way to run a country of this size. But you could start the Tea Party – India chapter over here in a heartbeat.

    Look forward to more wisdom from your side. Not the empty recital of statistics. If you have solutions, and not statistics, that would make for much better conversation. (Else find another village to spread the Good Word.)

  • Reply

    Vivek

    3 months ago

    Sorry, that note was meant for BWJohnson49.

  • Reply

    Anurag

    14 weeks ago

    > Mark goes to India. He is shocked to find the country is poor. Poor! And dirty. He sees Shit everywhere, even through his shades. He searches for Life’s Lesson in all this. Not finding it, he turns up his iPod and returns disheartened – only to turn to his poison pen to eviscerate that disgusting land.

    Nailed it man.

  • Reply

    bwjohnson49

    3 months ago

    Vivek – If I hadn’t just spent months working in India (your country, not mine) trying to help, I probably wouldn’t feel inclined to comment. I met many Indians with your attitude. You were usually making all kinds of excuses for the misery, corruption, crumbling infrastructure, and disease of India. Tell me, Mr. Vivek, have you ever stepped foot into a ‘public hospital’ in India? Have you ever spent a day in a ‘public school’? Have you ever done any kind of service work anywhere in India? May I suggest that you begin in one of the hundreds of Leprosy Colonies in India? Or perhaps you can tell me all about India’s inept, incompetent, irrelevant educational system after you have spent a week or two teaching children rote memorization of worthless facts. After that, you can visit a maternity ward in an Indian public “hospital”. Be prepared to wear a kerchief over your nose. The stench is overwhelming. Perhaps you can attend a funeral for one of the many small children that fall into your sewage drainage canals and drown every month. Unlike you, I did become part of the effort to make India a better place, not for Indians like you, but for the millions upon millions of impoverished poor who wouldn’t know what a computer is, let alone how to use one. Why don’t you stop whining about why foreigners find your country so distasteful and put your talents to work trying to solve India’s overwhelming problems? Why exactly IS India poor and why exactly IS India a filthy, over-crowded, run-down, broken country trying to pretend that it is emerging as a world economic power? Without the billions of dollars in foreign aid and the help of NGOs, India’s poor would starve to death – and I suspect they would do so without much sympathy from you. Until India can take care of her own problems, she will remain a BEGGAR at the table of international economics and human rights. It’s no laughing matter, Mr. Vivek. Get up off of your comfortable couch and DO something about your country instead of expecting the world to dig you out of your trash and filth. By the way, I served your countrymen long and loyally and I did it all for NOTHING. So much for hoarding treasures, eh, Mr. Vivek?

  • Reply

    Vivek

    3 months ago

    Oh, you’re such a bleeding heart, BWJohnson49.

    If you had any good intentions, you lost it when you chose to make your case on this blog – a rant by a disillusioned tourist.

    Did you really help us? The kind of help that you shout off rooftops? The condescending and calculating “give with one hand; take with another” we see so frequently as part of international aid? Was religion part of the offer?

    A few assumptions you make here, BWJohnson49, without knowing the first thing about me:
    - I do not spend any time in community service
    - I am not the product of a public shool
    - I have not spent time in a public hospital
    Really? Stereotype much, English teacher?

    My turn now:
    Whatever you are, you’re certainly not one among the hundreds of thousands of social workers who toil tirelessly to alleviate suffering. You’re probably that hypocritical creature – the international social worker tourist. Who, after a few days of visiting the “bad places”, shivers with moral outrage and takes to the internet to vent. Your intentions are pretty clear from your carping post.

    India is a beggar – in your dreams. Try saying that out loud when you are around Indians next. But you’re too craven for that, aren’t you, tiger?

    For your next travel plans, try Belgian Congo. Or Zimbabwe. I hear they need moralists and guilt-inducers to get their population moving.

    Oh and if my email is a whine (ha ha), yours is an unhinged rant. Thanks for all the wonderful advice.

  • Reply

    bwjohnson49

    3 months ago

    Actually, Mr. Vivek, I was and am among the hundreds of thousands of social workers who toil tirelessly in your country to alleviate the suffering your own government chooses to ignore. I do not shout it from the rooftops unless I read drivel like yours. Then I just can’t resist.
    Yes, I have actually told people just like you in person that India is and will always be a BEGGAR at the international table until she can step up to the plate and take care of her own people.
    As for my comments being an unhinged rant, I may be a bit prejudiced here, but your response sounded more like a rant. Rage always induces name-calling, disparaging remarks, and judgement calls that have no basis in fact. I suggest you get your rage under control.
    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an English class full of your countrymen waiting for me. I read your last remarks to them as a fine example of how NOT to write a proper English rebuttal and introduced them to a new vocabulary word: Diatribe. You embarrassed an entire class. Progress in India. Slowly, but surely.

  • Reply

    Vivek

    3 months ago

    BWJohnson49, are you really in India now? Because a few posts ago, you said you had been to the place earlier. Make up your mind.

    Lest somebody thinks yours is the voice of Jesus, coming through unfiltered, via Mark’s blog, I had better try and put a face to you:

    - We’ve just established your senility. If you were born in ’49, that makes you ~63 years.

    - Female, possibly spinster? Or widow? That carping tone can only belong to one kind of person.

    - Mormon or Evangelist Born Again? My bet’s on the former. How many souls have you collected so far?

    - English teacher, retirement funds in peril. No wonder you hot-footed it to India.

    - And internet troll to boot. Your wonders never cease.

    Those kids who learn from your hand? Do they know you think so poorly of them? Because scarcely three posts ago, you were badmouthing their English – as if the “low-born” commit a sin to speak poor English. Poor kids!

    (You can teach those kids a new word: troll.)

    So senile-Mormon-lonely-old-woman-troll, I suggest you try Prozac (double strength) instead of spewing venom the next time.

    Signing off now – my sincere condolences to that class of children, if they exist. But I really cannot bandy words with a troll; that would be a waste of my time.

  • Reply

    Aid is the last thing we need

    2 weeks ago

    Ma’am,
    Please leave India. We’ll manage on our own, honest. You are doing no one any good by going to India. Aid cannot help the people there. Please leave.
    An Indian

  • Reply

    Jay Kumar

    3 months ago

    @Johnson,
    Please ignore Shri.”Vivek’s” outbursts. and check link from another “Vivek” “Swamy Vivekananda” which is given below. The link is compilation of lectures on India and her problems delivered by Swamy Vivekananda nearly more than a Century ago which is true even today. Kindly go through the same. No one has Criticised India as Swamy Vivekananda has done and at the same time no one ever has came to her defence as him. India has forgotten her youthful Patriotic Icon today…
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/45589945/Swami-Vivekananda-on-India-and-Her-Problems
    @Mark and Johnson, Kindly spare some time and go through the above link..
    @Vivek, If we Indians wish to see ourselves as being respected by others first we should better accept our own reality. There are so many ironic things that We, Indians refuse to accept or even have the courage to face up to the issue. As long as Indian keep delusions like this India will never make it anywhere. We have the liberty to criticise Indian Government/Indian Railway system/Indian Civic administration/Indian Judicial system/Indian Power supply system and what not.. And when a foreigner criticise them, we, majority of Indians get angry.. on him/them. Why you come to the defence of such inefficient administration which is inexcusable…

  • Reply

    bwjohnson49

    3 months ago

    Vivek – WRONG on every count. And, in defense of my class, they speak, read, and write better English than you do. No one was spewing venom except you.

  • Reply

    svarghese

    1 month ago

    Vivek, I simply do not understand why you should take Mark’s and Johnson’s opinions so personally. They came to India, saw and experienced things which they could never have imagined happened in the world and commented on that. Most of what Mark wrote was exactly what any Indian in any tier-2 or tier-3 cities would experience normally unless you would choose to keep your eyes closed and ears shut.

    Let us not be given to extreme nationalism, let us not deny that there are extremely serious issues, but let us keep doing the right things and avoid the wrong ones. Let us spare some money and effort in any small way possible to get this country out of the mess it is in now. Who knows our children can live in better India and we can spend our sunset years in a much decent place.

  • Reply

    Vivek

    3 months ago

    Hon’ble Shri “Jay Kumar” (since you chose to embellish my name)

    I absolutely welcome an honest conversation about how to get this country going. If you listen for it, there are a million such conversations on – from how to clean up your neighbourhood to treat your maids well and eliminate child labour. The 4-year famine cycle is behind us, but there’s a long long way ahead. Belittling ourselves is not the way forward.

    I have two issues with talking about such issues on this forum in particular:

    - The nose cringing manner in which this subject has been brought up. Do you really think you and I will be clean enough for the likes of Mark and BWJohnson49? That we’ll ever speak English to their incredibly awh-sahm standards? That we’ll ever be “good enough”? No, what is happening here is classic Western supremacist talk, passing judgment on a whole country, i.e. “let me show you what a shithole you live in”.

    - Second, people like you, dear “Jay Kumar”, are always happy to fawn over and accept observations without a thought about underlying motive. There’s a word that describes people like you: “sycophant”. I submit that the disease is endemic to India (especially so in the public sector) and blocks us from original thought and progress. I suggest you begin to think for yourself.

    Thank you for sharing the thoughts of Vivekananda. He had very similar thoughts about wogs and sycophants himself – you may not have liked to meet him in person.

  • Reply

    bwjohnson49

    3 months ago

    Thank you for the link, Kumar. I will be happy to read the link you provided. I am always interested in all things Indian. I have travelled to India three times since December 29, 2011 for a total of five months in your country just this year. My time has been spent teaching English in some of the poorest areas of India including cities and rural areas. I have also treated dental patients and assisted in Maternity wards. At the moment, I am teaching English in a small village about two hours south of Chennai. I appreciated your comments and also your restraint. I know it’s difficult to hear hard things about one’s country from someone who is a citizen of another country. I hope everyone reading this blog understands that I did not visit your country as a tourist. I have never visited any of the popular tourist sites in India. I went to India to help. I’m still helping. Hopefully, that gives me the right to speak truthfully and honestly about what I see and experience. Thanks again for the website suggestion.

  • Reply

    bwjohnson49

    3 months ago

    Vivek – Treat your maids well? That tells me all I need to know about you.

  • Reply

    jay kumar

    3 months ago

    @Vivek, i don’t want to respond to you for calling me as wog and sycophant.. If you have studied about Swamy Vivekananda and about Ramakrishna mission, i think you will not stoop to such an extent. You are ready like to have fruitful discussion with Indians on solving her problem and but at the same time, when some westerners point out Indian’s defects, you go out of board and could not digest those critical views.
    @Johnson, i am herewith link in English to Swamy Vivekananda’s thoughts…
    http://www.dlshq.org/messages/caste.htm
    http://www.belurmath.org/swamivivekananda.htm
    http://www.splib.cc.cc/2011/09/swami-vivekananda-on-india-and-her.html
    -link to compilation of lectures of Swamy Vivekananda on “India and her problems”
    If you would like to know about Swamy Vivekananda, Pl. get in touch with me at [email protected]
    Try to visit Ramakrishna Mutt, at R.K.Math road, Mylapore, Chennai during your stay there… Appreciate your silent social work in India…
    With regards

  • Reply

    Vivek

    3 months ago

    Not me, old chap. The other “Vivek” had a problem with your types.

    From the Complete Works of Vivekananda:

    “That cringing, sycophant attitude common to natives even [English] sweepers do not possess…”
    Volume 7

    “…Bound hand and foot by sycophancy and flatteries…they [India] soon became a cheap and ready prey to invaders from the West.”
    “…like a flock of sheep, a string of puppets…”
    Volume 4

    Google for the complete works and you should be able to find these quotes. Blind worship of a great soul is all very well. Understanding might be better.

    Oh, and if I have gone out of board as you suggest, feel free to block/ban me. Easy. Tempting?

  • Reply

    bwjohnson49

    3 months ago

    Jay Kumar – Thank you for the website suggestions. I did spend some time reading your first website suggestion and I gained some understanding and insights that I appreciated. One of the ongoing problems I have with teaching Indian children is the relative lack of printed reading materials that are culturally sensitive and relevant to India. I did find a small publishing house in Chennai that specializes in books for children that are about India. I nearly bought them out! By the way, some people on this post have assumed that I get paid for what I do in India. I do not. On the contrary, I estimate that I have spent over $20,000 over my own money providing services and supplies. I appreciated very much your indication of gratitude. It meant a lot to me, personally.

    When I have spent some time on the websites you suggested, I’ll email you with questions. Take care.

  • Reply

    Roko

    3 months ago

    Great piece of writing Mark!! I had to read it over a couple of times to get its’ real magnitude (like a Nolan’s flick). What you have said, what you have felt is absolutely true and no one can deny it. There are still very good stuff prevalent in India but it is the usual case – the bad stuff outnumbers it and is way too glaring. The biggest fault with Indians (okay let us say most people) is they DO NOT accept reality or the fact that they are at fault. They criticize others but cannot take it themselves. Progress can be seen only when you accept reality, see for yourself what is at fault and then strive to improve them – which is impossible here. The care-free attitude and negligence of the people, the way with which they break a rule without a second thought, attitude to easily blame others or not taking up responsibilities coupled with corruption has made this wonderful country what it is now. Just saying that India was dominated for over two centuries, it was plundered are all just a farce. Celebrating 66 years of freedom is not a big deal, the only question is what did you do all these 66 years ? Wish India never got freedom at all! Lakshmi Mittal rightly pointed out that things are growing in India but not the people and I do not see it to be a super power or a developed nation in the near future. Like Gotham it has become more than repairable and with no Batman around the already waning so called “rich legacy” will slowly fade out. It is indeed sad to see that happen but yeah that is the truth.
    But all these apart, it was indeed a good read!

  • Reply

    raman

    14 weeks ago

    My humble suggestion: your comments about the countrymen you teach was simply derogatory. do us all a favour. Please do NOT help us. get out of india. let us rot in our own dung. you are not required by us. just get out.

  • Reply

    BillH

    3 months ago

    Hi,

    Although there seems to be a lot of apologists here of East Indian background, i’d like to say that he didn’t do the requisite research necessary prior to an India trip. I traveled in India for 2 months (first time there) from Dec 2011 to Feb 2012. I had a great time and India is an awesome country. It was freaking epic. Goto Indiamike.com and read all of the posts and forums. Read blogs about India before you go and read your Lonely Planet. And start in the south of the country and finish in the Golden Triangle (Delhi, Agra and Jaipur).

    You weren’t really in India long enough, nor did you visit areas outside of the worst tourist traps in the country. Even the Lonely Planet will tell you that the Golden Triangle is full of hassles.

    Even in Delhi, there are a lot of really nice neighbofhoods with malls, nightclubs, restaurants, etc that are basically no different than in the U.S. They also have Time Out Delhi, it’s pretty freaking easy to figure out. And often times, i’d just ask people. Even hot chicks. And they were mostly very friendly and helpful and genuinely happy to assist a foreigner.

    There’s a ton of people i met who spent LONG periods traveling or even living in India. I’m sure they would have left if it was so intolerable. I even met a TON of Koreans traveling independently in India. In Udaipur, they were like 40 or 45% of the tourists. I met a young attractive Korean girl traveling by herself and hadn’t even graduated high school yet, and she was having a GREAT time.

    I just had so many great experiences in India, it would be hard to sum up. But here’s my short list of tips:
    1. Visit the Golden Triangle last.
    2. Avoid the tourist areas until you have some time in India under your belt.
    3. Learn to bargain. Find out the actual price for things by asking other travelers or even ask other locals. They’ll tell you the real price.
    4. Have street smarts. Learn about the major scams on Indiamike.com.
    5. Take a mosquito net, take your shots.
    6. Buy some Norfloxacin, Metronadizole, anti diaherral powder and probiotics.

    I only got really sick once. I was sick for about 2 days and had to stay in my hotel room. By the end of the trip, i was even drinking the water in restaurants out of those rickety silver cups.

  • Reply

    aseem

    3 months ago

    yes

  • Reply

    aseem

    3 months ago

    ABSOLUTELY

  • Reply

    Anotherone

    23 weeks ago

    In 2011-12, NRI remittances were $66.13 billion ( Rs. 3,42,884.05 crore), against an FDI inflow of $46.84 billion into the country. (http://www.hindustantimes.com/business-news/nris-beat-fdi-keep-the-money-coming/article1-941337.aspx)

    It has a huge impact on the economy – bolsters India’s foreign reserves. It is almost 4% of India’s GDP.

    You need to.. may be …check facts / understand economics a tad?

    Brain drain is a different deal – but, why is there brain drain in the first place?
    Is it due to a lack of opportunities? Lack of infrastructure? Lack of good governance?

    Fix that first before blaming people for looking at greener pastures.

    Indians or otherwise, people live and strive to better their livelihood, their future, their children’s future. If there is a dreath of avenues in one place , they move to another. That is natural – there is nothing to be ashamed of that / there is no need for pointing fingers.
    (eg: poor economic situation in Bihar, drives the natives of Bihar to other states in search of job opportunities/better facilities).

    Humans as a race thrived cause we were smart enough to migrate, explore and exploit opportunities (on other shores).

  • Reply

    Sanj

    20 weeks ago

    You’re an idiot.
    The ‘lost revenues’ are used for the garlands that Mayawati wear (remember those? Made of crumpled 1000 buck notes?)
    And don’t you realise for someone wanting a better life, India is Not the solution?
    Most of us next-gen “kids” do not see it as our responsibilty. We did not fuck it up. We are tired of it. In fact, some of us ‘NRI’ haven’t even grown up here. Most of us think the exact same things Mark has written in this post. So Why would we want to do shit for a country who treats us like shit? For a country where a girl gets raped in a bus by Five people And a metal rod, where female foeticide is so common not even the police bats an eye, where all children Must be doctors, engineers, or lawyers or be called shit useless for the rest of their lives, where I can’t even Study because over 50% of all seats in all institutions are Reserved for people who don’t score, don’t study and are going to end up doing Nothing at all in that field or any related field.

  • Reply

    We do no need aid

    3 weeks ago

    I went through the article and comments. I have one reaction that perhaps many others have had. This is an entreaty for Ms. Johnson — Ma’am, please go back! You are doing nobody any good – neither yourself nor your students, nor India as whole. Please go back. Go home. Live life! Have fun! But please leave India alone. We’ll fix ourselves! Seriously! But please, you go back home! With regards from one living in India.

  • Reply

    Kartik

    13 weeks ago

    I loved your comments on this post. What a waste of time this writer is.

Leave a Comment