Incredible India: Double Sided Coin
Indian politician, human rights activist, former diplomat and writer Shashi Tharoor said:
India is not, as people keep calling it, an underdeveloped country, but rather, in the context of its history and cultural heritage, a highly developed one in an advanced state of decay.
Regardless of your thoughts on the above quote, India is very much to me like a double sided coin. On one side there is such richness of culture, commitment and development, yet on the other side of the coin there is vast and unbearable devastation and poverty. Both sides are evident if you look close enough, many times you don't need to look too hard at all. The bulk of the Indian population is still overwhelmingly poor and those living in rural India are faced with significant challenges including extreme changes to climate. Despite this, India succeeded in officially eradicating polio on January 13th of this year. Bill Gates claims this as "the greatest global health achievement" he has seen.
So in a country of contrast and surprise, it was fitting that on a recent visit to Delhi I spent the day visiting girls and women in the slums and having tea in the evening with the wife of the Vice President Salma Ansari. In the lead up to this day I felt uncomfortable by the concept of that scenario and I wondered how I would feel sipping tea in a palace after chatting to young women who fear their personal safety when they walk outside of their homes. With the motto that you should expect the unexpected and in fact it is better to not expect at all, I went to bed that night feeling incredibly inspired by the tenacity and willpower of the individuals I met in the slums. Their eyes lit up when they discussed their desire to learn, gain confidence and to work with each other to fight against the adversity they experience. I cannot wait to see these young women again during my run.
Media commentators have called Salma Ansari a "woman with her own mind". A woman who is often criticised for being unmindful of political correctness, protocol strictness and insubstantial refinement. To be honest, I was excited to meet this forthright and strong woman. As our visit carried on I discovered and felt the depth of Mrs Ansari's sadness and the challenge in her personal plight to positively impact the lives of India's poor children through education. She runs and personal funds a charity education chain in the slums and villages of Aligarh. Through her immense experience she was candid in her perceived bleakness to many of India's challenges.
In moments during our visit and afterwards I felt disillusioned that the complexity and enormity of the problem was too great. However, I also felt resolved that new energy and innovation invested into development is key to keeping progress moving forward. As we walked down the palace steps and into our car, Mrs Ansari grabbed my hand and said "I feel like I can breathe again after meeting you."