So I am back home safely and the jet lag is almost gone. Ahhh.
But before the tide of life sweeps away my sandcastle memories, I would like to just record a few thoughts.
The problem is that India begs sweeping epithets such as ‘chaotic’, ‘different’ or ‘immense’. But it is a place of such complexity and history as to render any comment trite. Anyway, with that in mind: here goes:
1. People were kind and polite. At the conference this may have been because I was a visitor. But many times in the street people helped me rather beyond what I might have expected in England.
2. I was not in a poor part of the city, but I saw poverty beyond anything I have ever seen in the UK: families living on traffic islands: beautiful children – perhaps 4 years old – begging on the street. I don’t have any words to say about this – but seeing the normality of it face-to-face left me physically shocked.
3. Walking back from the conference on the final evening, I saw students about my son’s age hanging around at the bus stop: boys and girls dressed pretty much like they might be in the UK. One boy was opening an envelope and as I passed, I glanced across and saw the words “CURRICULUM VITAE” at the head of a piece of paper. This made me reflect on the aspirations of these children, and how similar their situation was to that facing children in the UK. Regarding behaviour at bus stops, the Indian children were better behaved!
4. Traffic was different from England. At first I saw only chaos: the roundabouts were gigantic free-for-alls and every car sounded its horn regularly creating a cacophony of beeps which merged into a characteristic sound texture that I can still hear if I close my eyes. But in fact the beeps were more like birdsong than expressions of anger and traffic behaviour was – though very unfamiliar – generally rather civilised. Drivers were tolerant of cyclists.
5. NPL India was set in beautiful grounds, with attractive flower borders and bottle palms.
And petals from the flowers were used to create beautiful borders around the stage.
And from this idyllic setting NPL-India are trying to serve India’s diverse metrology needs, which are at the same time extremely basic, but also include a satellite industry that has launched a mission to Mars!
Summarising, after the first day or two of – frankly – panic, and after the kind intervention of the Star of India, I began to relax. And I began to see that India was a very different place from the UK: different socially, historically, economically, geographically, culturally and … well, in just about every way you can think of. But that even in the face of these great contrasts, people were people, and that kindness was kindness.
Overall, my visit to India has made me reflect on my extreme good fortune in life. My trials, challenges and tribulations are small on the scale of those facing my Indian colleagues. Overall the experience has made me resolve – if I can – to be kinder and more generous.