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India in the 21st Century

Since she was a teenager, Maxine Davis dreamed of traveling to India. Her mother had been there many times, and the films she took had given Max images she held in her mind for decades. For her 50th birthday, she took a month off and finally got her dream trip. Later, she sent us this postcard.

India in the 21st Century
by Maxine Davis

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Dear Rudy, We arrived in Bombay in the middle of the night. It was hot and humid. The crowds outside the terminal were crushing. That first night, as jet lag ruled out sleep, I drank sweet chi, watched CNN and discovered Indian rock videos. From then on, I learned this was not the India I had imagined. It wasn't Ghandi's India or the Beatles'. This is India in the 21st century.

The 737 we flew from Bombay to Fort Cochin was meticulous, but the international airport is dingy and smells of urine. In Bangalore, some streets look like Toronto. It lacks neither ATMs nor a Nike shop. But drive an hour outside this Silicon Valley of India, and buffalo pull carts to cane fields. Women, brilliant in flowing cottons, balance elegant brass jugs on their heads.

Late one afternoon, I was walking down a small street in Maduri looking for an email shop. Tucked between a tinsmith and sari store, was a four-foot wide by 16-foot long Internet space. There were four computers sitting on four small school desks. A 10-year old was helping everyone get their hot-mail and we all sat sweating and connected. As I left, lying directly in my path was a very contented soft brown cow. Next to the cow was a small woman in gold, whose only job was to care for and feed her.

We took trains and planes and automobiles; boats and carts and rickshaws. We followed rich locals in Mercedes. We passed beggars. We rolled through the onion fields of Maharashtra and bought savory snacks from street vendors. Along the way were billboards for the sitcom "Friends", the Gap and dot-coms promising to help families make a match for their waiting bride.

When I landed here, India was a photo frozen in time. What I learned was layer upon layer of the modern cannot hide a vibrant, ancient culture. Even if their kids wear blue jeans, Indian women cling to the stunning and useful sari. Her leaders wield the bomb, but her billion people pray to a hundred Gods.

Now I see not what India was, but what she is: more beautiful and baffling than ever.

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