Growing up in rural NH and having lived in Maine, Vermont, and now back in NH, I am used to a rural lifestyle. My husband, sons and I live in a small house and own 25 acres of land with a large yard, a pond, hiking trails, forest, and we can’t see anyone from our property. My commute to school is an easy 2 miles. For other major services like gas stations, banks, grocery stores, and so forth we have to travel between 3 and 20 miles. We do a lot of driving but driving is easy because there is little traffic unless we drive in a more urban area. The region is beautiful in every season and we enjoy spending time outside with only the sounds of the birds and wind. The population density of Orford, NH where I live is 9 people per sq/km. The population density of the state of New Hampshire is only 57 people per sq/km.
Then I went to India for 3 weeks and spent time in Bangalore, Kolkata, and Delhi. Life is different.
Now, this wasn’t my first experience visiting a city as a country mouse. I’ve spent time in many American cities like Boston, New York, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, and Seattle. None of those cities really compare with Indian cities. The combined populations of those American cities doesn’t match up to Bangalore, Kolkata, or Delhi.
Let’s start with population and density:
|Bangalore, capital of the Indian state of KarnatakaKnown as the Silicon Valley of India||8.52 million with the greater metro area above 10 million(this is similar to the New York City metro area)||10,100 people per sq/km(New York’s density: 2,000 people per sq/km)|
|Kolkata, capital of the Indian state of West Bengal. Former capital of British India. Oldest operating port of British India.||4.4 million in city proper.Greater metro area is 14.1 million and still rapidly expanding.||24,760 people per sq/km|
|Delhi, capital of the Indian nation.||16.3 million people in the greater metro area and still expanding.||11,050 people per sq/km|
It is an understatement to write that there are a lot of people in India and especially in these rapidly growing urban areas. People are everywhere.
There is little evidence of organized city planning. There are some grand boulevards, green spaces, major monuments and temples, modern airports, multinational corporations, luxury shopping, all mixed in with slums, middle class neighborhoods, hotels and restaurants, schools, local businesses, and sidewalks teeming with food carts, tiny businesses, tea stands, and people living and sleeping on the streets. People of all stations in life just go about their daily business.
I mentioned traffic in an earlier post. Traffic in Kolkata and Delhi is even worse than in Bangalore. Horn honking contributes to the noise and is used as a means of communication to warn pedestrians, rickshaws, and other obstacles of your oncoming vehicle. In the US, horns tend to be used more to express a driver’s anger at a particular driving situation.
Trash is another ubiquitous sight in Indian cities. Every vacant lot that I observed was filled with trash. It was common to see a loose cow or dog rooting through trash piles evident on the sides of roads and sidewalks. While there were trash bins in some locations, they weren’t as widely available as they are here. Waste disposal is one of India’s many paradoxes. For a country that has such massive human resources in science and engineering, waste disposal and clean water are still an issue.
Another urban paradox were the museums. Our hosts generously took the time to bring us to the Indian Museum and the Marble Palace which are 2 of Kolkata’s major museums. Both had priceless artifacts and paintings but the methods of artifact preservation really need to be upgraded. The impressive Marble Palace was not air conditioned and given the heat and humidity of Kolkata, the extensive collection of paintings were not in good condition. The Birla Industrial and Technology Museum had some of the best science and math exhibits I’ve ever seen in a museum. This was the first time I’ve seen exhibits with manipulatives that explain different aspects of electricity or calculus. While I didn’t understand everything I was looking at, it was still pretty awesome.
Prior to this experience, I viewed cities through my American “lens”. Boston, New York, and Philadelphia are three of our oldest cities and all have had their growing pains. There are always issues with trash, traffic, people, etc. in any city. Driving in Boston is chaotic and doesn’t always make sense but when one spends enough time there, it starts to make a little more sense. This is true for Indian cities as well. By the end of our week in Kolkata, we could walk around with a much better understanding of our little neighborhood, what was going on there, and that people go about their business of living their lives.
India is a dichotomy on many issues especially women’s issues. There is a big push for female empowerment which was evident in the school. The young women we interacted with were very academically successful, well spoken, and aware of a variety of global issues. We had the privilege of attending a Women’s Empowerment Panel Discussion where 4 students had been asked to give speeches on the topic and then lead a question and answer session.
Indian culture is a patriarchy. Many students not only live with their parents but also their paternal grandparents and dad/grandfather generally have the final say on issues although many girls are starting to speak up more in the home. This is not the norm though. The two big things that I noticed were: most men that I saw in the 3 cities that we were in wear western style dress. In Bangalore and Kolkata, women wear saris or salwar kameez which is the more traditional dress. The few women wearing western business attire work for the multinational tech firms or were flight attendants in uniform. In Delhi, some women wore skinny jeans, shirts, and heels and I even saw a few women wearing shorts. I wonder why women wear traditional dress and the men don’t. Because we flew from Bangalore to Kolkata and then from Kolkata to Delhi, we had to go through airport security for domestic flights. There are “women only” lines for going through security and I was not allowed to go through the men’s line in Kolkata and had to walk over to the women’s line to be body scanned with the hand scanner by a female TSA type officer. If the country is pushing for more equality and empowerment, why are there still separate lines? We also experienced this going into different cultural attractions and restaurants. Apparently there are also female only train cars for train travel. How is the concept of “separate but equal” going to bring true equality to both genders in India?
Here are 2 articles that take the issue more in-depth.
Shri Shikshayatan School’s culture is strong. Students are proud to attend what is one of Kolkata’s best preK-12 private schools, they want to do well, and exhibited great respect for themselves, each other, and their teachers. We learned through a walk through of the primary grades that students learn early to stand when a teacher enters or leaves a room and to say “Good morning ma’am.” Leadership is stressed and students had a variety of opportunities to practice speaking in public, get involved with a variety of co-curricular activities, and engage in community service.
The young women with whom we interacted asked excellent questions and were so interested in talking with us and finding out how we liked their school and what our schools were like. Because students have to wear uniforms it was difficult to tell who the in and out groups were and with 4000 students in one school there must be a great number of cliques. Grouping patterns weren’t obvious to me during our 5 days there but human nature certainly says that they exist. I also wondered about the level of bullying and harassment and didn’t have the opportunity to ask that question.
I really enjoyed the time I had to talk with students in class, observe their learning and co-curricular activities, examine their student work, and see their smiling faces first thing in the morning. They are adolescent girls who want a good education so they can attend college, they care about global issues, have pride in their country, like Katy Perry and One Direction, and spend too much time at night on Facebook. These young women are one of India’s most vibrant and important resources.
Here is what it really looks like:
This morning there was little traffic. Usually crossing the street is a life threatening experience as cars/rickshaws/motorcycles/trucks don’t ever stop unless the traffic light gets backed up. There are people heading to work, others begging on the streets, girls in their school uniforms walking to school, street vendors getting their day started among the blaring cacophony of honking horns, construction in nearby buildings, and people talking on their mobile phones. Entering the school gates brings some relative peace and the business of the streets is closed out.
Our host teacher Tansuree Ghosh asked my Social Studies partner Kim and I to each conduct a Social Studies professional development workshop for social studies teachers here at Shri Shikshayatan School. Kim modeled the Paideia Seminar with the workshop participants. I chose to focus on Social Studies Inquiry with Primary Source documents and used the set of documents I had put together about colonial reactions to the Stamp Act. This was a tried and true lesson that I taught to my 9th grade American Studies students and did as a quick professional development model for my colleagues at a faculty meeting last year.
Leading 20 Indian teachers through this lesson was really fun and engaging. Like my students, they were concerned that their responses to the prompts were correct and wanted to share their thinking with me. The follow up discussion focused on how to modify this activity in a variety of ways and how to assess student performance.
At the end of the workshop, teachers were talking amongst themselves and I heard some of the same comments I hear from US teachers, and have even said myself, at the end of PD sessions, “I don’t have time to do this, I already have so much to teach.” “My class size is too large” “My classroom doesn’t have enough space for this” “It takes too much time” and so forth. There are teaching challenges everywhere, there is never enough time, but we need to make the effort to try new things to benefit student learning.
Four students at Shri Shikshayatan School gave speeches on Women’s Empowerment at a formal panel discussion this afternoon. The speeches were incredible. See for yourself!