Letter From New York 03 27 15 The road to Roorkee….

It is a little after 8 at night in Roorkee, where I am to give my speech on Sunday. I arrived around 4:30 after a 4-hour road trip from Delhi. An Indian road trip is not for the faint of heart. A driver picked me up at the India International Center. Also riding with me was a young man, Dhurv Malik, who, too, was on his way to Roorkee. He manages a musical group that is making an appearance tonight.

I am sure Dhurv found my occasional intakes of breath amusing as we wound our way from Delhi to Roorkee. We seemed to spend much of the time on the wrong side of the road, facing oncoming traffic as the young man driving us worked his way around vehicles going too slowly for his taste.

The roads were not exactly smooth; there were about 50 kilometers when I thought we were going over speed bumps the whole way. It was a bit like being on the inside of a mixer.

For lunch, around 2:30, Dhurv suggested either some food from a roadside cart or McDonalds. I chose McDonalds, not wanting to test my stomach on an Indian roadside cart.

It was nicer than most McDonalds I have been to recently in the States. Very clean and the fries tasted just like home. Remarkable.

Once outside of Delhi, as soon as we entered the state of Uttar Pradesh, I knew I was back in India. Not that I didn’t know it in Delhi but here there were the roadside shantytowns of people. The dust covered the trees, making them look grimy in the afternoon sun.

Advertisements looked homemade and there were more beggars.

Surrendering myself to the universe and into the care of God, I closed my eyes, as I felt sleepy. I opened them once to see us squealing past a little boy in the middle of the highway, begging.

I said a silent prayer he would make it through the day and live to beg another day.

This was the India of pungent smells and rolls of dust scattering across the land, of people sitting on cheap plastic chairs, watching the world roll by, of men having their hair cut on the side of the road, of women in brilliant red saris, carrying babies, begging, the India that has yet to see modernization.

It was fascinating to watch it race by, my senses heightened by wondering if the young man at the wheel had the skill – and the luck – to get me safely where I was going. Dhurv was unconcerned as far as I could tell.

He made fascinating company. He works for a company in Delhi named Only Much Louder that is 51% owned by Indians and 49% owned by Hollywood types like Jerry Bruckheimer. About a month ago they were bringing Jerry Seinfeld to India for his first Asian show.

It was cancelled because the Indian government wanted approval of the script before the show. “It’s stand-up!” cried Seinfeld, and even if there were a script, he wouldn’t give it to them. He didn’t come.

Such are the tensions in the largest democracy in the world, wanting freedom but afraid of too much of it in a deeply conservative country.

I’ve just returned from a concert that closed the session for the first day of the Cognizance Conference. The first act was a Scandinavian blonde in a red dress playing a Lucite electric violin. She must be something of a celebrity in India because the house went wild for her.

Following was a dance group called “The Skeleton Dancers” and they were very interesting though a bit hard to describe, dancing in electric outfits that constantly changed colors though always looking a bit skeletal.

Since I have arrived, I seemed to have been paired with Ron, whose last name I haven’t quite caught yet. He is a Ph.D. in Ethno Mathematics. We are surrounded by a half dozen young students who see to it we are treated like rock stars. I mustn’t become too used to it.

I haven’t a clue what has been happening in the world. My phone makes calls and sends texts but it is not connected to the Internet and I haven’t perused what’s going on in the world.

There is one more appearance I seem to need to make and then I am off to bed. Tomorrow I will see what is happening in the world.

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