Subscribe to SLJ
Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Another Road and I See How I Wrong I Was

Today we drove from Jaipur to the nature preserve at Rathambore. To days earlier we drove from Delhi to Jaipur. That trip showed me what a limited site of the new India we had on the road to Agra. India knows that the Taj is a unique treasure and to preserve it, no industry is allowed in Agra. So crowded as it was, dense as it was, filled with new building as it was, it said nothing of what is really going on here. The trip to Jaipur was exactly like visiting the US in the 1880s as railroads turned the Great Plains into bustling states with boom towns. This was hundreds of kilometers of new high rises under construction — even as the road still had camel-pulled carts, and sheep and goats and in towns the odd roaming pig. You feel here a pace of growth that surely has existed in few places in the world — outside of China today. This is the expansion of the 19th century married to 21st century finance and technology.

And yet. I brought a book about the Mughals and it mentions how many ruined cities India had even in the 1600s. And there is some sense here that everything is simultaneously crumbling and being set in new foundations. This might be seen as the land of concrete and crumbling walls — everything in some simultaneous process of endless collapse and endless busts of astonishing growth. So even as the road here puts American energy and development deeply into the shadow, there is a background hint that someday these same buildings may add their layer to the fallen walls and abondoned sites. Indeed we drove to Jaipur because of a strike linked to the complicated politics of caste in India that blocked the trains the day we left and has since blocked the very road we drove. So there are rumbles alongside the vast development — not least the question of where the water for the future hundreds of thousands if not millions of people who will live here will come from.

That is one possibility. The other is that the billboards showing minimalls and shopping plazas really will be the landscape here in 10 years. It is as America went from being sod houses to Walmarts into a decade — I really mean that. That is what I see here. It is sad in a way — not the poverty is nice or should be maintained as local color for tourists. But minimalls are not that great. One wishes that something could be kept.

Next post will come when I again get to a computer — I want to explain what I’ve learned from Indian driving — it explains everything.