Sunday, February 25, 2007 – Jaipur, Rajasthan India
This city of three million, the capital of Rajasthan, was built only several hundred years ago. Outside the city is
the Amber Palace and Fort, one of the most amazing sites we have visited. Unlike the Taj Mahal, the Amber Palace was built as the home to a royal family. Its three foot thick walls hold running water that cools rooms in the summer, and the entire palace collects rain water for the nine month dry season. There was even a system to heat water for bathing.
Construction was started in 1592 by Raja Man Singh I, army commander of Mughal Emperor Akbar and was completed by Mirza Raja Jai Singh and Sawai Jai Singh, over a period of about two centuries. It is a classic fusion of Mughal and Hindu architecture, built in red sandstone and white marble.
Returning to Jaipur I was drawn back to the markets of the old part of the city. There is a similarity to these markets, the food, the inexpensive clothing, shoe repair, spices, fresh fruit and vegetables. There is also a huge amount of people in a very small space. There is often no where to walk that provides protection from the traffic. We are advised not to give money to the beggars and instead to donate to the local charities that provide food and clothing. A minimal level of medical care is free to the poor. For housing, they are on their own, as evidenced by the many tent cities and countless souls simply living by the side of the road.
My growing affection for this amazing country is also giving way to an overwhelming sense of sorrow for the disparity between the comfort of my hotel and those living just outside its gates in crude structures made from plastic tarps that rest on the ground and are raised a few feet high by what ever sticks can be found, leaving just enough room for one to crawl in and out. These people, as is much of the city, are surrounded by endless amounts of garbage dumped by the side of the road, seeming to benefit only the animals that feed on it.
Our guide is licensed by the government and considers himself an ambassador for his country. He was born and educated in Jaipur, receiving advanced degrees in linguistics and history. His knowledge of this country is vast, from business and history to culture and politics. In America he would more likely be a University professor than a tour guide, a profession that he is very proud of. Whether my question is about India’s literacy rate (around 43%) or the home of the founder of Tata, one of the largest conglomerates in India, (an extremely modest two bedroom apartment in Mumbai), his pride for India is irrepressible. The poverty that is hard for me to look at is a vast improvement over the country he grew up in. Yet with 47% of all children malnourished, one wonders how deeply the country’s financial success will penetrate into society. Is it an inherent truth that in all capitalistic countries that the poorest will always be left behind? Is a more socialist leaning government, as many European countries have, necessary to ensure that wealth is more evenly distributed?
As Thomas Friedman documents in The World is Flat, India has become an international financial powerhouse. It’s power is driven by education rather than natural resources. This is one of the most promising trends on the globe: the discovery that intellectual capital is an alternative to the sale of natural resources as a way to create wealth. India, perhaps more so than any country on the planet has invested heavily in education, creating MBA’s, engineers, software designers, and others whose skills rival anything that MIT or Harvard produces. This is a lesson that has escaped most of the developing world and much of the developed world from the USA to Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. But intellectual capital has yet to solve the issue of poverty.