Education that is Multicultural - Exploring the neighborhood

This blog is authored by Study Abroad India student Aminata Diop who is a Ph.D candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. She is also the Executive Assistant to the Dean of Education at City College. This is her first time visiting India.


January 1st 2017 was the first day of our winter class in New Delhi, India. The morning started with breakfast at the Southgate Hotel followed by a quick meeting in the lobby where Professor Gupta gave us a general overview of the history of India and the history of education in India. Discussing the power of spirituality in India, we could confirm its significance by just looking around the lobby of the hotel. On the far left corner right next to the newspaper stand was a framed picture of the goddess Jagad Dhatri (also called Sherawali) riding a tiger. She is a powerful figure in Hindu religion and spirituality and symbolizes the feminine creative power of the universe. Next to that were brass idols of Krishna and Ganesha, two popular Hindu gods. As we wrapped up the conversation about the history of India, we set off on a walking tour to explore the "colony" as neighborhoods are referred to.

As we walked we saw a man in his 60s ironing clothes by the roadside, on a makeshift table, and placing them in a pile on a red mailbox next to him. This iron was filled with hot coals, far different from the electric irons we are used to in the U.S., but seemed to iron just perfectly. In the absence of sidewalks we walked on the roadside in a single line, one behind the other, to maneuver incoming traffic. We passed different types of stores (e.g., Fortis Health world, Chitrumai Jewels, Café Coffee Day, beauty salons next to each other, couple of spas, electronic stores, many fruit and vegetable vendors, etc.). As we walked the local people frequently stared at us, while a couple of beggars aggressively asked us for money. A number of street dogs lay around sleeping in the sun. Further on, we saw an old man seated on the ground surrounded by his baskets of orange, red, white, and yellow fragrant flowers - jasmine, marigolds, and roses. In a very calm and smiley way, he threaded different flowers into short chains called gajaras intended to be worn by women in their hair. Not too far away from the flower man were a couple of familiar western fast food chain stores: a Pizza Hut and a Dunkin Donut. We saw a large number of autorikshaws (also called scooters in Delhi) - green and yellow three-wheeled vehicles for local transportation. The rickshaw drivers stop wherever they see people on the streets and honk to get their attention looking for passengers. As we circled through a very quiet residential street, we saw a broom-seller wheeling a bicycle loaded various kinds of colorful brooms,as well as a vegetable seller wheeling his cart full of fresh vegetables. I learned later that small merchants such as these contributed to a very high percentage of the national economy.

In light of the current state of demonetization in India, as the deactivation of certain currency bills have sent the cash flow in India into quite a downward spiral, I wonder the impact on small business vendors such as the garland seller, the ironing man, the broom seller….no doubt their income will be deeply affected. In this current cash crunch situation no doubt these vendors are more likely to see their sales plummet resulting in less revenue, which can affect them financially as they work so hard to survive and take care of their families.

This thought stuck with me later as we ate one of the best Indian cuisines I had in my life, but then again what else should one expect when in India?

14 responses
Thank you for this informative blog entry Aminata. Who knew there's Dunkin Donuts in India? For now I'm joining your trip through the blog--I'd like to go for real in the future.
Hello from India at 11 pm !! yes, Megan we will definitely try and organize a study visit to India for faculty :). Thanks for your comment on the blog - Amita
I felt the same way when thinking about the demonization and how it either affects the small vendors financially or maybe it doesn't because I did notice that sometimes if you don't give them exact change, they don't have change for you and if anything they're making a 5rs profit.
I couldnt of summed up our first day here in India any better! To encounter and live through first handly what is happening with their money, India is in a current state of demonetization! Can not even begin to think about the street vendors, people and their business as well as those who pay rent are going through. The deactivation of certain currency bills have sent the cash flow in India into devastation! I even experienced scavenging looking to exchange my USD for some rupees but it was close to impossible here! It was only the first day and I believe we all soaked up a drastic amount of exposure here. Finding a way to fully and critically explain it may be something that is very difficult! Actually, I think that’s the secret about visiting India! You need to be here to believe it!
Great reflection on today's experiences! I couldn't have said it better myself. As I read through your blog, I was able to relive the moments! India's current financial situation makes me think back to just last week. I went to the bank near my house only to find out that both ATMs we out of order! How livid I was after finding this out! But because the U.S. is a little more developed technologically, I was able to easily maneuver around the obstacle. As I stood near ATM lines here in India and even had dufficulty exchanging currency myself, I noticed the different temperments of the people. They had a more "go with the flow" response in comparison to my response two weeks ago in the U.S. This observation as allowed me to think in a more humble when when things do not go my way !
Great reflection on the encounters we made throughout the day Aminata. I also thought deeply about how the demonetization effects small vendors such as the flower seller. Your entry made me truly think about how different and in some cases, similar, India is to America. The vast difference in the utilization of technology can be seen simply through the clothes Iron, and yet, I was amazed at the efficiency of the coal powered device. Like Megan said, who would have ever thought there would be a pizza hut or dunkin donuts over here? One wouldn't think of these subtle similarities that India shares with home.
As you also said it Ms. Jennifer, I agreed with the fact that people here in New Delhi are able to just adapt to the currency situation going on and not panic. It is not an easy thing to go through these changes, but they seem easily adapting well to the circunstances; which I think it is a cultural thing. If this situation would have happened in places like New York, the stress would be at a maximun level. I think I took the situation not so bad, because I think they make it seems as such that "not so bad, we got to keep living and going".
Yesterday in Janpath market, I got to experience waiting in line for the ATM along with the locals. I found myself becoming impatient after waiting for 20 minutes, but noticed everyone else seemed to be very calm. I had a conversation with a local who said she lived close by. She began to tell me these long lines for the ATM happen everyday. As she began to tell me the reason for the demonetization, I noticed she did not show any frustration. It made me realize her, along with the people of India has accepted what has happened and is getting used to the change. Even with this "downward spiral" happening, the locals seem to be accepting of what has happen and is carrying on with daily life.
Thank you for recounting the day's events so beautifully, Aminata. I was able to walk through the entire day from your description. What I have gathered from my three days in Delhi is how resourceful and adaptive the people of India are. Given unideal circumstances, whether it be the demonetization of the currency, lack of education or extreme poverty, they all seem to find ways to keep going. I find this very inspiring and it makes me realize just how fortunate (and entitled) us Americans are.
Christina kindly stood on an ATM line with me yesterday in which we both witnessed an older male push me and go ahead of me for the ATM, then while inside of the bank a bank teller told me to wait and made it seem like she was fixing the machine then all of a sudden she withdrew money from three of her cards. The community here experiencing this demonetization may seem calm, but experiencing firsthand the aggressive factors that can occur I feel as if there is an underlying stress with the recent monetary changes. Calm and unbothered are two very magical words that are being used to explain this situation, there is a sense of calmness but there also seems to be this need for survival, even if that means pushing a younger woman to get to the ATM first.
Reading about India's spirituality prior to our trip was extremely informative, but there is nothing like actually being here to see how it manifests in people's day to day lives. From the hotel lobby to the flower vendor to the hindu images on the school walls, spirituality is at the core of Indians's everyday lives. Walking around the neighborhood Sunday you could feel that profound spiritual ethos... a feeling of tranquility juxtaposed against the chaos of the city.
I agree with almost all of what you have posted. We are really feeling the impact first hand on the issue of demonitization; right away while I was trying to exchange currency I ran into some interesting road blocks that were not expected. Even though there were some bumps in the road I managed to keep a positive attitude, and I was just very excited to be in India!
Many things that I saw on the first day reminded me of my country; the broom seller, the fruits kiosks, American restaurants, most things seemed very familiar to me. I grew up by a market in Manta, Ecuador and seeing the many similarities made me feel at home. The nature walk definitely eased my anxiety.
I think while it was frustrating going through everything, in a way I'm grateful - because it forced me to slow down more that I wanted to and prioritize and get more creative compared to how I would normally go about a trip. It's also one of the few times, where I'm not just reading about something in the paper but experiencing a significant moment in history [plus it occurred the same day as our Presidential election].