~ ~ ~ First of many delayed blog entries (with WORDS)

Loopy and blurry-eyed, we de-boarded our fourteen-hour flight, and stepped onto Indian territory. The airport was eerily quiet, especially at customs, which took at least ten minutes to reach. The quiet exacerbated the size of the pit in my stomach I get when I find myself in completely foreign situations without my parents to guide me. But that pit ever so suddenly disappeared, and took the nervous butterflies with it, as we stepped outside the airport and I realized this foreign country was like nothing I had ever seen before. No more nervousness, just wide-eyed observation.

Per Hy Mariampolski’s guidelines for effective ethnographic studies, we as graduate school level ethnographers must observe Indian culture, and specifically consumer behavior, free of expectations and comparisons to our native American culture. Only after analyzing such observations may comparisons be made to other cultures, in order to free the process of bias and error. Therefore, my blog entries might follow this format, in order to relate what I have seen, heard, smelled, tasted and touched here in India back to my family and friends back home in the States free of bias.

So, as we stepped outside the corridors of the Delhi International Airport, here is what we saw: in our foreground stood Indian drivers waiting for their clients, buses and other modes of transportation just beyond them, and in the background stood many homely villages and shanties*. Perhaps the first most noticeably foreign visual for us was the wild dogs who were barking and weaving in and around the people on the street, including us. Once we and our luggage were aboard our air-conditioned bus, a forty-five minute drive to our home for the next four days, Hyatt Delhi, taught us a semester’s worth of Indian consumer behavior. Spying on Indian pedestrians and motorists from our bus windows, we learned the visual of one billion people is much more powerful than as a mere population statistic. Cars, rickshaws, motorcycles, and bicycles alike filled the streets, paying no mind to the white lines marked no the streets. Pedestrians filling the sides of the streets – be it on a sidewalk or on the road – walked past and amongst trash, water, and dirt. Gated entrances with security guards, x-rays*, bag scans, security-monitored floors and elevator floor access by room key come included with our stays at our luxurious hotels, a result of terrorist attacks. But this luxurious hotel was not part of a hotel district, posh part of town, or wealthier neighborhood – people of all walks of life walked and drove past it.

The lack of isolation this luxurious place has from people such as the “untouchables” reminds me of how Bijapurkar says in “We Are Like That Only” that during his childhood years in India, nothing was ever personally-owned, especially space. People of all economic, social, religious, and ethnic classes are everywhere – regardless of such classifications – and share it with each other.

In our orientation the next day, Atool explained how ubiquitous dichotomies, such as that between the uber rich and the starving, are in Indians’ lives. This, in turn, explains their comfort and ease with passing by children holding their baby siblings without so much as a flinch. And, especially, Atool explained, because it is an assumed responsibility of Indians wealthy enough to afford housemaids and such to see that the children of said house maids are well fed and educated.

Now, to compare this extreme proximity between the rich and the poor in India to the contact poor Americans have with rich Americans. Homeless beggars on the street make Americans so uncomfortable that it has now been outlawed. Perhaps this reflects our values of independence and belief that anyone can make it to the top, while Indians’ comfort with the ubiquity of such poor neighbors reflects their community-driven nature. Although we have not been here, nor will be, long enough to understand every nuance of Indian consumer behavior, charitable acts by the uber rich do not seem to be advertised and made known quite like they are in the United States. And this in turn could reflect the discomfort some, not all, Americans have with extreme wealth, and their need to relieve such guilt with publicly displaying charitable acts.

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