Money for Weapons-not for Schools, Isolated Luxury (1/3 =$1/yr), Ghandi and Perceptions, Etc.(Dallas Smith from India-Number 3)

Dallas’ Third TravelBlogue

Blog 3-January 27, 2008, Bangalore, India

Summary: India’s Republic Day and our biggest concert of the tour

I’m not certain of all the historical details, but Republic Day is one of the year’s biggest holidays, comparable to America’s July 4. As I understand it, India (and its subcontinent, which includes current Pakistan, Bangla Desh, and Sri Lanka) achieved independence from colonial England in 1948. This was followed quickly by the horrendous partition of India and Pakistan, which occasioned massacres and millions of displaced Hindus and Moslems from both new countries. Republic Day celebrates the founding of the Indian constitution in 1949. [Readers of this blog more informed than I am may correct the details I’ve outlined above.]

The band flying out early on Republic Day from Delhi to Bangalore, being driven to the airport around 7:30 in the morning. There were literally thousands of soldiers posted around the city. Roadblocks had been set up seemingly every few blocks. Each roadblock would start with a barricade which forced the taxi to slow to a crawl. An armed soldier would peer into the car, to make sure we weren’t potential terrorists. On the other side of the barricade would be a couple of more soldiers with guns, in case any car might try to drive through the barricade without stopping. It was a little intimidating.

There was to be a big parade in Delhi, which is traditionally a big military show, with soldiers marching, armored vehicles parading, and jet fighter planes flying over. This year’s special guest was French President Zarkosy, in Delhi to negotiate the Indian purchase of around 160 new Mirage jet fighters and to discuss contracting with the French to build new nuclear reactors. India is an established nuclear power, having tested atomic bombs several times, with its missiles pointed at its traditional enemy, Pakistan. (Pakistan has responded in kind.) The military industrial complex of India has plenty of money for such weapons systems, while at the same time at least a third of its population (a number equal to the population of the US) lives on less than a dollar a day. Money for weapons, but not for schools. Meanwhile, in press coverage leading up to Zarkosy’s visit, the talk was all about whether he would travel with his famous model/singer girlfriend or not, since local morals and diplomatic protocol would frown on him sleeping with a woman to whom he was not officially married. (He ended up traveling alone.)

Pardon this digression for a short political rant: It’s relatively easy to look down on India for neglecting its population in favor of weapons systems. But the US is little different. It’s just that our 47 million uninsured with no healthcare are less visible than the poor of India. Has anyone really analyzed what our invasion and occupation of Iraq has cost, and how much healthcare coverage and general infrastructure improvement those wasted military funds could have paid for? As I read it, all the Republican presidential candidates want to expand the military presence in Iraq in order to “win”. With the largest US embassy complex in the world being built in Bagdad, it’s clear that Sen. McCain and others seriously want the US to remain there for decades, similar to Korea. And yet, as American deaths in Iraq approach the 4000 mark, the war has supposedly declined in importance in the minds of voters, because the military proponents have assured us that the troop surge is “working”. I could go on, but it disturbs my blood pressure.

Thankfully, there is a free press in India, indeed, one of the freest in the world. There was an article in the paper saying that India’s internet access is one of the only totally uncensored ones in the world. The US censors child pornography. Also, the newest Bush security proposals call for more domestic internet spying, looking for terrorists, of course. Will they stop there? Given the US government’s history of spying on civil rights leaders, student activists, etc., I think we can assume that Michael Moore is constantly spied upon.

One Indian journalist made an interesting point, which is that elected Indian government officials are perceived as being corrupt and self-serving, whereas, the most respected institutions are the unelected military and the courts. His question was, is democracy really working in India? In neighboring Pakistan, General Musharraf overthrew the elected civilian government in favor of a military dictatorship, and the general population celebrated, due to the perceived widespread corruption of elected government officials. Our US government certainly has no problem supporting Gen. Musharraf, because though he may be a dictator, he’s “our dictator”, similar to our support for the Saudi royal family, the Egyptian government, and other allied dictatorships. In fact, ever since Nixon used Pakistan as an intermediary in opening US relations with China, the US has tilted toward Pakistan against democratic India. India has been shunned by the US government for charting an independent course, leading the “non-aligned” nations who were unwilling to become surrogates for US military interests against the former Soviet Union. So much for the US supporting democracy…

The Big Concert

Our Indian booking manager had originally lined up three big concerts like this one, but unfortunately, two of them fell through. The concerts were corporate events for one of India’s biggest banks. In this case, our Bangalore concert was attended by approximately 3000 people, with chairs set up in a large field, and a humongous sound and light system, complete with side video projection, smoke machines, etc. There was an opening dance act, and then Mynta performed , being joined mid-set by Indian superstar vocalist, Shankar Mahadevan. Shankar has most recently been touring with guitarist John McLaughlin’s group, Shakti. His vocal artistry is impressive. I had bought a small camcorder for this trip, and I managed to set it up to video the concert from one side of the stage. The musical balance is not the best, but at least it documents the memories.

Part of the experience of doing these big concerts is that the organizer puts us up in the ritziest of hotels. In this case, we stayed Bangalore’s Taj West End hotel, where the double rooms cost 20,000 rupies, $500 per night. It was a great room with every imaginable amenity, but I feel guilty staying in a room that costs more for one night than a third of the population earns in a year. Since the high-tech boom has come to Bangalore, which includes many American companies, Bangalore has supposedly some of the highest hotel rates in the world, based on the shortage of available rooms and the influx of foreign money.

Mynta had stayed in the same hotel two years ago. At that time, our gig was to be the featured band at the roll-out of a new car model, the Ford Fiesta. Detroit stages similar events, for which they hire big name rock acts. In Bangalore’s case two years ago, Mynta was the big out-of-town musical act. We had to play split into two groups on each side of the staging area as the new car drove into the room in a cloud of smoke and strobe lights. We would just hate these corporate gigs, except that they pay better than the artistic concerts. We needed the bank gig this time to pay the plane tickets. The two previous trips had benefited from the tickets being paid by the Swedish government, when we had played for the king of Sweden one year and the landing of the sailing vessel, the Gothenberg, the next year.

Now that the big gig is over, we moved today to a less expensive hotel, another in the Taj group, in which the rates are only 10,000 rupies, or $250 per night. I think that the prices are totally exploitative. For example, the restaurant prices are equal or more than one would pay at home, i.e. easily averaging $30 or more per meal per person. We just sign it all to our rooms, and the organizer pays the bill. Christian met three Swedes in the restaurant who have been in the hotel for several weeks. They are in Bangalore working for Motorola. They freely sampled hundred dollar bottles of French and California wines every night, just because the company pays for everything. I would estimate that half of the guests are foreigners and the rest Indians. So there’s no lack of rich Indians who are willing to pay top dollars/rupies for insulated luxury.

Thoughts at large about India

There are a great number of security guards employed by residential areas and businesses. All upscale shopping areas have guards at the street entrances, who keep out all would-be street sellers or poor people. There are overnight guards who stay in small huts and houses positioned just outside the businesses or residential areas. Most of them were asleep as I drove though Delhi in the middle of the night upon my arrival. Leaving for the airport in the early morning, many of them had built small bonfires to warm themselves in Delhi’s chilly morning fog. Such numerous open fires contribute to the poor air quality of India’s large cities.

Every city has large slums consisting of many huts and shacks built of scrap materials. But beyond the slum areas, when one drives through the cities, one sees small rows of tents and improvised dwellings behind walls, under bridges, and by the roads. Most are inhabited by country folk who come into the cities looking for work. It is clear to see that education is the key to any kind of economic success or security. Without education, the only jobs available are some kind of manual labor, and there is an excess of people looking for that sort of casual work, thus keeping wages very low.

The main point of adjustment about traveling to India is to get used to the tremendous number of people everywhere. Traffic is often gridlocked. Now that India will be producing the world’s cheapest car, at $2000, the Nano, one can expect the roads to be even more choked with traffic.

The weather in Delhi was unusually cool, i.e. in the 40’s at night. It made our opening outdoor concert rather difficult to play, particularly since the low temperature made my clarinet play very flat. The weather in Bangalore, however, is perfect. Temperatures were in the upper 70’s (F) today and around 60 in the evening. People wear shorts and sandals. Bear in mind that these are mid-winter temperatures. Summers are very hot and humid. That’s why the concert season is in the winter months.

One of the most chilling recent newspaper reports is of poor migrant workers being lured into vans to be taken supposedly to jobs. Instead, they are drugged and have kidneys removed for the underground organ transplant market. There have been numerous such rings busted over the years. It’s been big news every day in the paper. This latest particular criminal ring had supposedly stolen several hundred kidneys from poor victimized young workers. It was done with the local police having been paid off to ignore the enterprise. The victims were threatened with death if they were to go to the police. And they were paid nothing for being so horrendously violated. Today’s paper carried an article saying that since it seems to be impossible to stamp out such activities, that the government is considering setting up a regulated organ donation system, where at least, there would be compensation and sanitary medical conditions for those poor people for whom the sale of a kidney would represent a financial windfall.

In conjunction with Republic Day, there were numerous articles about the originator of non-violent political action, Mohandas P. Gandhi. I was reminded that Martin Luther King, Jr. had come to India for six weeks to study Gandhi’s work. Gandhi was truly a revolutionary figure in history. Besides developing his theory of non-violence against racial repression in South Africa and later against the British colonialists in India, he identified economic exploitation as a type of violence. There was a lament in one article that observed that Gandhi spoke for the oppressed people everywhere, which in the mid-20th century applied primarily to the victims of European colonialism. When he mounted his campaign against the British in India of his day, that applied to the whole sub-continent, not just present day India. However, Gandhi’s place in history has been diminished as he has come to be regarded as simply an Indian activist, no longer an international spokesman for oppressed peoples everywhere. Gandhi’s other problem is that he promoted “socialism”, in the personal sense of dignity for the common working man and an awareness of what is good for society as a whole. The word socialism has been discredited by the communists who used the word as a smokescreen for concentrating power in a dictatorship. It is a shame that so many people in our time miss Gandhi’s message because of his use of a word that in American English has fallen into disfavor.

Finally, an Indian newspaper reporter wrote of his visit to China in anticipation of the summer Olympics that will take place there. He admitted that the Chinese are ahead of the Indians in terms of modernizing their society and raising the economic conditions of its poorest citizens. He gave the example of the Chinese government forbidding certain parts of Chinese society from driving on certain days, in order to reduce air pollution. (These measures will be expanded at the time of the actual Olympics.) The writer said that if the Indian government tried to forbid a certain group from driving, that most of that group would certainly protest the order by driving, just to prove the point that they wouldn’t allow themselves to be pressured by the government. This is why the Chinese have been able to successfully institute their one-child rule to curb unbridled population growth, while India has not. Score another advantage for totalitarian government as opposed to democracy. India is projected to surpass China as the world’s most populous country.

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