Friday, December 29, 2006

Helping everyone read

Bookshare.org is built on the efforts of great volunteers. One of our terrific volunteers is Matthew Devcich, who chose to do his Eagle Scout project on scanning for Bookshare.org.

One of the key ways we can help reward volunteers is to help acknowledge their efforts. Thanks to efforts by our Bookshare.org team and our communications director, Ann Harrison, we were delighted to see Matthew's efforts highlighted in an article in his hometown paper, entitled Helping everyone read.

Of course, we hope additional people who love books are inspired to volunteer for Bookshare.org thanks to Matthew's example!


Friday, December 22, 2006

Protecting Guatemala's National Police Historical Archive

Protecting Guatemala's National Police Historical Archive
A Guest Blog By Ann Harrison
Benetech Communications Director

Since 2003, Benetech's Martus information management software has helped human rights activists create encrypted databases and back up their data remotely to their choice of publicly available servers. Martus has been used in fifteen countries to secure sensitive information and protect witnesses.

Last month, I had a chance to visit the largest Martus project which is unfolding inside a mammoth warehouse in Guatemala City. Discovered last summer, the warehouse contains approximately 80 million records from the archive of the Guatemalan National Police. These papers, books, photos and floppy disks contain critical information about police procedures during Guatemala's 30-year internal armed conflict that claimed an estimated 200,000 lives. This data is now under the protection of the Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman, Sergio Morales, who is researching human rights violations that occurred during those 30 years.

Room filled with file cabinets and stacks of documents
When the National Police were disbanded after the country's 1996 Peace Accords, police officials denied that any records existed. Guatemalan government investigators eventually found stacks of documents soaked by rainwater from broken windows, inside a decaying building overrun by rats, bats and cockroaches. Portions of the archive were still used by the police. During my first visit to the archive eight months ago, Dr. Patrick Ball, director of Benetech's Human Rights Program, developed a plan to collect a scientific random sample of the jumbled documents and secure them with Martus for later analysis and public access. Working together with the Guatemalan Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman and several Guatemalan NGOs, the largest human right archive project in history was launched.

Worker scanning documents
When I visited the archive again last month, I walked into an efficient and orderly data gathering operation equipped with copiers, cameras and flatbed digital scanners. Escorted by assistant project director Alberto Fuentes and IT manager Jorge Villagran, I toured immaculate storerooms of crated and shelved documents. Workers in lab coats and dust masks sat at long tables meticulously cleaning fragile papers some of which date back to 1889. Technicians in adjacent computer rooms have entered data from these documents into more than 10,000 encrypted Martus bulletins backed up to secure servers outside the country. According to Fuentes, three million documents and 2,000 books have already been examined and approximately 400,000 pages have been scanned.

The archive workers are racing against time. In March the Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman is up for reelection. The project must take full advantage of the current Ombudsman's unconditional support while he is in charge. In a country that has a long tradition of impunity and denial of justice, prominent figures may feel affected by the archive investigations. The destruction of the archive by those who would rather not see its secrets come to light is always possible.
Three workers on PCs using Martus

Villagran notes that he expects to find financing to expand the 141-person archive staff from one to two eight-hour shifts. He points out that many archive workers originally came from civil society groups. During my visit to Guatemala, I spoke with a woman named Juanita who supports the archive project. In 1971, when Juanita was three years old, two plainclothes men burst through the door of her house in the Guatemalan state of Retalhuleu and took away her father who was a schoolteacher. Juanita's family never found out what happened to him. Like so many others, he simply vanished. "It is a hard thing to think about," said Juanita. "It took place years ago, but it still hurts."

Juanita says she hopes that the archive might contain clues about her father's disappearance. But searching for the historical truth still carries risk for those involved. Juanita chose not to give us her real name because she believes that it might put her in danger.

Two archive workers sitting in stacks and stacks of documents taller than they are
The Guatemalan National Police archive project is expected to take years to complete, but members of the international community have stepped in to provide assistance. Switzerland has donated more $2 million to clean the archive and support the staff. If you can help donate to Martus development or the archive project, please get in touch with us. Protecting sensitive historical data - and those who provide it - is an essential step in pursuing social justice in Guatemala and around the world.

"For the family of the person who is lost, it is very important that his relatives know something," explained Juanita. "Personally, it would be extremely joyful if there is some finding about my father. It is a little too late for the people who have relatives missing, but it is a little bit of justice."


Ann Harrison's journey to Guatemala was financed by Transparency International, an anti-corruption organization that held their annual conference in Guatemala City and invited Benetech to present a Martus demo there.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Benetech Analyzes Key Bangladeshi Human Rights Data

In my recent blog postings, I documented personal impressions during my recent trip to Bangladesh. This post takes a look at how Benetech is helping to document human rights abuses in that country. Objective and scientific evidence of human rights violations gives voice to victims and witnesses who have the courage to come forward and tell their stories. Romesh Silva, a statistician with Benetech's Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG), has provided key statistical analysis for a Human Rights Watch report issued this week documenting torture and unlawful killings by Bangladesh's Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), an elite anti-crime and anti-terrorism force.

Silva's analysis presented in the report, "Judge, Jury, and Death: Torture and Executions by Bangladesh's Elite Security Force." HRW concludes that between June 2004 and October 2006, the RAB killed at least 367 people in Bangladesh and tortured hundreds more.

While researching these incidents, HRW compiled a database of reported RAB killings based primarily on reports from Bangladeshi media, Bangladeshi human rights groups and HRW’s own research. Of the 367 reported killings, 77 percent (284/367) were reported as "crossfire" killings in which the victim was allegedly killed as a bystander to a gunfight and 11 percent (42/367) were described as "killings during shootouts" in which the victim allegedly took part in a shootout with the police. "Thanks to RAB operations," reads the HRW report. "Bangladeshis commonly use the word 'crossfire' as a verb meaning to murder or kill." The data cited in the report concludes that the monthly rate of RAB killings climbed steeply in 2006 and identifies specific RAB battalions responsible for the majority of the deaths.

While I was in Bangladesh, I asked people about the RAB battalions, and found that it was a sensitive subject. One conversation that stuck in my mind centered on corruption in the justice system: that if a corrupt system would allow bad people to escape justice (through bribery), then the RABs were accomplishing what the system could not. Of course, they seem to be doing it in a way that violates international human rights norms. As Bangladesh approaches its crucial election in the near term, it will be interesting to see what the next government does differently. However, Benetech's job is not to advocate for specific policy changes: our job is to use science and technology to help illuminate the truth to better inform social, policy and justicial processes. Our long term view is that is the best way to support the international declaration of human rights.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Waste Concern

People often ask me what is the benefit of being identified as a social entrepreneur? My answer is two things: it helps me raise money for Benetech and the people I meet who are also social entrepreneurs are my closest peers in the world.

When I travel to new places, I always try to connect with other social entrepreneurs. With this in mind, I got in touch with Iftekhar Enayetullah and Maqsood Sinha of the social enterprise Waste Concern. When I first met them several years ago, Waste Concern was processing organic waste from Dhaka into fertilizer, and generating jobs for the poor.

The amazing thing I learned on this visit was how much more was going on with these guys. It turns out that their work generates carbon credits, and so they've been able to attract millions of dollars of investment. They are not just in Dhaka, but a dozen other cities now. The topic of hybrid for-profit/nonprofit enterprises is a big one for me, and these guys are busy setting one up to greatly expand their operations. Plus, they are expanding into other areas of sustainability work, such as solar powered water pumps in rural Bangladesh.

As usual, I leave meetings with other social entreprenuers with my head spinning about where the world is going. In a great way!

Vinod Sena in memoriam

Vinod Sena in memoriam

I had a very unfortunate reminder of the fragile state of each human being this week. Just after returning from India and Bangladesh, I received word that one of my key contacts and hosts had suddenly passed away.

Professor Vinod Sena was a retired professor of English literature at the University of Delhi. Visually impaired his entire life, he was a tireless advocate for the blind and visually impaired as well as a shining role model. He has been described as the pioneer of Talking Books in India, and had been campaigning for a copyright law change to make it easier to provide access to accessible books. While I was in India, I picked up the newspaper and saw that he had just received a Helen Keller award for his work.

Professor Vinod Sena and Jim Fruchterman

I know that the advocates for the blind and visually impaired will continue his work, initially with a heavy heart, but with the confidence that they are following in the footsteps of a great man.

Monday, December 18, 2006

bracNet

A very exciting part of my visit to Bangladesh was meeting with the team at bracNet, a for-profit internet company that is partially owned by BRAC. I had met Khalid Quadir, the CEO, when he was doing a Reuters Fellowship several years ago at Stanford. In Dhaka, I got together with Khalid several times, as well as meeting most of the bracNet management team.

bracNet has the exciting air of a tech startup around it. So often, I get to see tech companies here in Silicon Valley in their early stages, and you wonder what they will grow up to be. bracNet has so many possibilities in Bangladesh: will they be the Craigslist there? the Yahoo? the eBay? a nicer version of AT&T? They are already off and working on a plan to bring WiMax (the wireless broadband standard) to all of Bangladesh, at the same time they are building commercial website capabilities. They've partnered with Google already, and I'm sure more Valley companies are on the way. 140+ million consumers are increasingly interesting.

Of course, if you can come up with commercial reasons to establish such an infrastructure, then the social sector can take advantage of that to achieve major social goals. I'm sure that's one reason BRAC is involved.

Friday, December 15, 2006

BRAC

My primary destination in Bangladesh was to meet with BRAC, which is the world's largest NGO (nonprofit organization) with nearly 100,000 employees. BRAC is run as a social enterprise, and generates over 75% of its own budget through earned income. BRAC is one of the social entrepreneurship field's best example of what a results-oriented team can accomplish even in the most difficult and poverty-stricken environment.
Jim Fruchterman and Fazel Abed
I was able to meet with quite a number of that dynamic team, starting with BRAC's founder, Fazel Abed. Abed has accomplished an incredible amount since founding BRAC more than 30 years ago, but he is charging forward with expansion both inside and outside of Bangladesh. In an action-packed hour meeting, I heard about BRAC's efforts to create jobs, change the educational system, expand access to microcredit and other exciting ventures. All of this with a culture of accountability and results at a massive scale. The distinct impression you get is that if some organization or capability was needed, BRAC simply invents it. For one thing, they have roughly 50,000 schoolteachers working for them around the country, addressing the educational needs of those who otherwise would be missing out on a primary education.

One of the most exciting parts I heard about with my interests was BRAC's expanding network of libraries around the country: more than 1,000 with 300 of them with PCs. However, the PCs are not currently connected to the Internet. That's where another BRAC affiliate comes in: BRACNet is planning on bringing WiFi to the entire country. More on BRACNet in another post!

Bangladesh is politically activated these days, with a major upcoming election and a lot of protests. After I met Abed I was able to observe a large march on the street below.
Marching protesters on a street

I also visited BRAC University and met Dr. Mumit Khan, who is working on optical character recognition and other linguistic technology for Bangla (Bengali), the main language of Bangladesh. It was a technical pleasure to sit down and talk with an expert working in the field in which I started my career, and see how the work of his students was going to lead to technology that could help people with disabilities.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Bangladesh

My next stop after Mumbai was Dhaka, Bangladesh. I flew to Kolkata (Calcutta) which is very close to Bangladesh and then took an older jet to Dhaka. In today's era of armored cockpit doors in the U.S., it was surprising to see the flimsy door fly open on landing!

Billboard for Grameen Phone

Bangladesh is distinctly poorer than the potions of India I visited, but it was also had simultaneous pockets of wealth and poverty side by side. Grameen Phone had quite a presence: apparently they had just introduced a new logo and 40% of all billboards I saw were for Grameen Phone. Grameen Phone is of course a dramatically successful social enterprise started by Muhammad Yunus, this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Children sitting outside TV shop, watching TVs inside

I walked around when I arrived and got a feeling for Gulshan, the wealthier part of Dhaka city. There were nice shops along with gigantic shanty towns. I particularly loved seeing half a dozen kids sitting on the street outside the window of a TV shop, all riveted by a Tom and Jerry cartoon on a half a dozen screens!

The TV shop was around the corner from the BRAC building, which was my main destination for my visit. Between these two was a bridge over a lake, and the lake was also a transportation hub. Boatmen would ferry people across this garbage filled lake to reach the giant shantytown.

Lake with shantytown from high above in office tower

Boatmen on lake in Dhaka

I only spent 48 hours in Bangladesh, but they were jam packed hours. More in my next blogs on what we're doing and what I learned in Bangladesh.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Tata Consultancy Services in Mumbai

The reason I came to Mumbai was to visit Tata Consultancy Services, the giant outsourcing firm. I had an introduction to the one of key leaders in India's outsourcing revolution, Mr. F.C. Kohli, who was the driving force behind TCS.

We had a great conversation high above south Mumbai in the Air India building, which overlooks Mumbai's peninsula. We discussed literacy and access for the blind, and I learned about one of Mr. Kohli's passions, which is adult literacy. Citing a lack of trained teachers, TCS had built a
PC-based curriculum for teaching reading in 40 hours. The program focuses on mainly teaching a core vocabulary of sight words in the the desired language, so that adults are able read the local newspaper. TCS has built this curriculum in a handful of Indian languages, and I'm looking forward to receiving a CD with several of these so that I can try my hand at this!

This is the sort of unexpected learning that I've come to expect. You aren't sure where a meeting is going to go, but you can count on it being interesting.

Traveling to Mumbai's Suburbs

After my meeting, I was picked up by a TCS car and whisked off the the suburbs. Mumbai's traffic is such that it could easily take 90 minutes during rush hour to get to the zone where much of the outsourcing work occurs. As we pulled into the outsourcing zone, my laptop was registered at the gate. It was late afternoon and thousands of employees were leaving many different companies, walking to their transportation, which seemed to be fleets and fleets of buses.

I was meeting with the Exegenix team, part of TCS that is working on XML document conversion technology. Exegenix takes PDFs of documents and outputs XML of those documents through a human-assisted pattern recognition process. Since pattern recognition was my career prior to Benetech, I was fascinated. Getting a demonstration from the development engineers made a huge difference to my grasping of what could be done with this technology to help blind and print disabled people through Bookshare.org.

So, I left for my return drive to my hotel with a brain buzzing with possibilities.

Never on Sunday

Never on Sunday

I arrived in Mumbai (Bombay) on a Sunday, and decided to do a bit of tourism. I walked around the old town, seeing the sights (the Gateway of India) and doing some shopping. I had read about a restaurant, called Khyber, that I wanted to try, so I headed over there for a late lunch/early dinner. When I arrived there, it was only 630 pm and the door was locked. A waiter mimed to me that the restaurant opened in an hour. And, so my adventure in understanding cultural context began.

Killing time, I wandered up and down one of the main drags. Shopped out already, I started looking for a beer, but the pickings were slim. Finally, I saw a place with the words "beerbar" on a sign out front, and a couple of bouncers standing out front. Going in, one of the bouncers held me up with a gesture and these words "Ladies Service Bar." Now, in the airports in India, they frequently had ladies-only security lines. So, I asked if men weren't allowed and if this was a ladies-only bar. But the first bouncer's English had been exhausted and he just repeated himself. Finally, the second bouncer broke the impasse by gesturing me inside.

We passed through a good sized simple but empty room with benches and then entered a nicer room at the back. No problem, there were already eight guys sitting around the edges of this smaller room, and a mix of male and female waiters. I quickly order a Kingfisher (one of those delicious double size beers) and settle in.

Next to me is "George," who is the singer for the evening. Great! I'm going to get entertained by the local lounge singer. He has a backup band setting up a keyboard and percussion. The evening was just getting going here. George and I chat while one of the wait staff goes around lighting incense sticks and setting up them on the slightly raised area at the center of the room. George starts singing, and he's good (to my taste). The staff have brought me peanuts and sliced cucumbers with a mild red chili powder dusting. I've really lucked out!

Of course, I haven't really gotten the ladies service angle, because there aren't any women customers. But, there does seem to be a reasonably constant stream of people, mostly women, in and out of doors at the back of the room near where I'm seated. A young woman comes in and bows to a small altar on the wall, and then starts circulating around the room, ending up on the raised area in front of George while he's singing. Gradually, more women filter in and do the same bow on their arrival, with kind of a "we who are about to die salute you" air about them.

By this time, even my thick skull has begun to start grasping the essence of what this enterprise was really about. It made me think this was just like Miss Kitty's saloon in the Gunsmoke TV show of my youth, exactly what kind of establishment was being operated here?

Shortly, all doubts were removed as one of the ladies on the dais walked over, rubbed her thumb and forefinger together in the universal symbol of money, and gestured to the door in the back of the room. I politely declined, finished my beer, and escaped out the front door to the grins of the bouncers. And now, dear reader, you too know what the euphemism "ladies service bar" means in Mumbai!

Monday, December 11, 2006

American India Foundation

My last stop in New Delhi was to visit the American India Foundation, which is the largest Silicon Valley/India foundation. Founded in 2001 in response to the Gujarat earthquake, AIF now runs multiple programs. The one I was most interested in is the Digital Equalizer Program.

Digital divide programs are notoriously difficult to run successfully. They typically run out of steam when the funding runs out, assuming they worked at all. Of course, people are reluctant to talk about the failures, but a few people have studied this issue. I had just read a paper about the LINCOS project in Central America, so this was fresh in my mind.

AIF is definitely part of the social entrepreneurship movement with a results oriented culture that appeals to the tech entrepreneurs who are some of the main funders. Lata Krishnan, the CEO, co-founded a billion dollar a year revenue company in tech before turning her hand to the social sector. She's very sharp!

Three schoolchildren in brown uniforms

The AIF team in New Delhi took me to visit a school that was part of the Digital Equalizer program. To my delight, the Akshay Pratishthan school had a focus on teaching students with disabilities: roughly half the students had disabilities and were mainstreamed with students without disabilities. This school is run by an NGO (a nonprofit) and provides free education to children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. They are very focused on education linked to vocational outcomes: the goal is to help these children move up the economic ladder with real job skills. The school has almost a dozen different social enterprises that provide access to these job skills.

Children getting on schoolbuses, some with physical disabilities including crutches and wheelchair users

One of those areas is of course computers, and that's where AIF comes in. The school is in its third year of the DE program. There are several ways AIF works to make the DE programs sustainable. First of all, they provide training for school staff and teachers on using the computers in education. Second, they focus on project based learning, where students use the computers to complete projects. I especially like this one: I never learned anything on the computer unless it was to accomplish something. I was shown an particularly nice student project in science on the physics of airplanes (lift, drag, etc.) : just the sort of thing I would have loved at that age. Lastly, they phase out their financial support over three years, requiring the school to gradually pick up all of the costs of operating the computer center over time.

The students and teachers were quite enthusiastic about the program, and were quite specific about why they like it (from the students' perspective) and why it's effective (from the teachers' perspective). Students get at least two computer sessions a week.

I was able to meet with the chair of the school's board, Mrs. Aruna Dalmia, and talked about the challenges of running a tuition-free school. The social enterprises often pay for the entire cost of operating a certain vocational department (like their beautician classes), but the core costs of running the school has to be raised from donors.

Three students
The children were simply delightful. Even an engineer like me softens around masses of enthusiastic kids. The philosophy of mainstreaming and full involvement for almost all of the disabled students resonated with me.

We wrapped up with a lunch back at the AIF offices, where I got to meet Shankar Venkateswaran, the head of AIF in India, and many of his team. Our talks covered a wide range of topics including AIF's work around helping people obtain good livelihoods in general, as well as challenges around adult literacy. I felt very much at home with the dynamism of the organization, and the focused way they go about obtaining results in India. For me, it was very much a learning experience as we explored how Benetech might be able to assist the work of AIF. Looking forward to going back with something useful in the future!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Delhi University

My next stop in New Delhi was Delhi University. I asked the folks there if they knew of less expensive accommodations, since the Taj Palace Hotel where the India Economic Summit was held was fabulous but also more than I'd ever paid per night in the U.S.! So, I was able to stay for several nights at less than one tenth the price in the University's International Guest House, which was a great change of pace.

Professor Vinod Sena and Jim Fruchterman
I came to Delhi U. for meetings thanks to Professor Vinod Sena. Prof. Sena is a retired English Literature professor who has been visually impaired all of his life and continues to work avidly for people with visual impairments. The meeting was held at what used to be the Viceroy of India's lodge in New Delhi, and steeped with history. Lord Mountbatten proposed to his wife in that building and was later the Chancellor of the University as the UK's last Viceroy to India.

We had a wide array of key people at the meeting, including the head of IT at the university, another blind professor, top librarians, the heads of NGOs serving the blind and the head of library services for the blind [check titles]. As a university with a strong commitment to serving students with vision impairments (having over XXX such students), the U is very interested in participating with Bookshare.org.in. Plus, the demand for English accessible books is especially acute at the University level.

I joined another blind professor, Jagdish Chander ("Jags" to his American friends), for beers later that day, and I learned about life as a blind professional in India. Jags chose to come back to India rather than stay in the U.S. In India, he can afford several domestic helpers to drive and operate his house. His motorcycle driver zoomed over to the guesthouse and picked me up. Pretty exciting. ("Helmets, we don't need no... helmets.")

Jags and I then joined a blind technical/professional couple for dinner: Dinesh and Madhu Kaushal. Dinesh has programmed for Freedom Scientific and now works for the Codefactory in Spain, and Madhu works for IBM. I quite enjoyed our discussions, which ranged from Bookshare to the need for open source screen readers.

Sunrise with birds in bare tree

A couple of days later I had breakfast with my host, Professor Sena, and we talked in depth about the need for copyright changes in India, a cause he had been championing for years. Before breakfast, I got up before dawn and wandered around the campus. The sunrise was deep red, and there was a lot of dust (and/or smog) in the air. This is the dry season in Delhi, and it was actually pretty cold: probably in the 50s while I was walking around.

I was impressed by the number of people out getting exercise by walking around or doing yoga in the park. It's a huge university: more than 100,000 students including their open university extension. And, there was a cow or two on my sojourn!

Cow in front of Geology Department sign at Delhi University

Bookshare.org.in (India)

Bookshare.org.in (India)

My South Asian trip is mainly exploratory, with one notable exception. Bookshare.org is going international, and India is one of our focus countries for this expansion. My first visit after the India Economic Summit was to National Association for the Blind (India) to see Dipendra Manocha. Dipendra has been a subscriber to Bookshare.org for our O'Reilly technical titles, but we're trying to move beyond these into serving a full range of books with publisher and author permissions.

I've met with Dipendra in other places like Tunisia and Redmond, Washington, and he's well known on the international blindness technology stage because of his tech leader role at NAB and in the DAISY consortium (the international digital talking book standard that we and most other libraries for people with print disabilities either use or are going to use). I was able to tour the facilities, which included at least three digital recording studios using the DAISY software for human narrated books. Narrators were recording digital audio books in both English and Hindi while I was there. I'll have a ton more to say about Indian languages over the next few days!
National Association of the Blind (India) building with three people hanging around in front.
Dipendra and I have been talking about working together for years, but during this meeting we were able to get down and plan out our work phase by phase. We're going to write a more detailed document together on this by email over the next month (we hope!), but the outlines are pretty clear.

1. Benetech makes the engineering changes we have planned to make Bookshare.org adapted for the needs of international users, mainly around easy display of those titles available to international users. We get the 3,000 books we have permissions for through our processes and in our collection.

2. Trusted partners in India (like NAB or affiliated organizations) provide the main support interface to people with print disabilities in India, including subscription payments (likely to be much lower in India), proof of disability and customer service. Benetech then acts much more like a backend partner rather than a retail partner as we are in the U.S. and people start getting access to English language books in 2007.

3. Groups in India start providing English language books for inclusion in Bookshare.org for global distribution, for those books that are freely distributable (especially textbooks from India) and those where permissions have been granted. We believe that there is tremendous value in accessing content from India.

4. Leaning almost entirely on India's technology skill base, the work needed to make the other 22 official Indian languages accessible starts. Technology we take for granted in English nowadays needs much more development, including optical character recognition, data entry, searching and voice synthesis. The initial idea is to continue to use the English Bookshare.org interface while posting books in these different languages.

5. Assuming that the preceding steps have been successful and there's lots of takeup, consider further advances such as other language web interfaces, cell phone readers (instead of using PCs) or having a server located in India.

As you might imagine, this is very exciting stuff for me. I really want to see Bookshare.org transcend borders and ensure that all people who need access to books around the world have them. By partnering with the groups in each country that have the expertise, relationships and especially trust, we can work together to realize this vision!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

New Delhi

My visit to India has been incredible, and more than I can cover in one post. As an India newbie, I had all sorts of mental pictures of what India would be like. Of course, since I am only visiting New Delhi and Mumbai, I haven't seen the rural side of India which is the largest aspect.

New Delhi is full of tree-lined boulevards. From something I had read, I had an image of people sleeping on every available square inch of space. There are people who appear to be homeless, but that occurs in Palo Alto, too. Like Palo Alto, they tend to be in downtown areas and not so much around much of the city that I toured. Talking to people, it seems that most of the slums are in outlying areas. And, there are cows hanging out on the median strips of boulevards and wandering around, seeming perfectly at home in the urban setting.

Of course, the traffic makes a big impression. Delhi's roads are full of cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles, bicycle rickshaws, people and these three wheeled little taxis called autorickshaws.

Three wheeled autorickshaw

Everybody jostles for space in the road. I didn't see a single collision, amazingly enough. People cross everywhere with vehicles zooming around, actually threading their way through many lanes of traffic. It is amazing, and I'm sure dangerous. I have a hard time imagining how blind people would get around. I saw one visually impaired fellow just trying to make it across one lane of traffic with his hand in the air, just hoping for the good will of the crazy drivers (who seem to have an excellent sense for avoiding hitting things as well as people).

The Indians I talked to noted that New Delhi is the capital and has many government, business and military people. It definitely comes across as a confident and growing consumer society.

More in future posts on my meetings in Delhi and then it's on to Mumbai!