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Raipur and Agra – Oh my!

I’m continuing my US State Department sponsored speaking tour of India.  Yesterday I spoke in “tiny” Raipur – a state capital with a population of over one million, which doesn’t rate a single mention in my Frommer Guide to India.  My lecture was organized by Cartoon Watch Magazine and its cartoonist editor, the gracious Triambak Sharma.

I traveled from Raipur to Delhi to Agra to see the Taj Majal, a three hour drive each way from Delhi.  That’s me at the right, standing in front of Agra’s Red Fort, which is pretty cool, and suffers from being in the Taj Majal’s shadow.

The poverty here is disturbing.  I thought I had seen poverty in Latin America, in Brazil and Mexico – it was nothing compared to India.  And the fact that the poor and the rich are living so close together is stunning.  I hear a lot about America losing the middle class – India’s extremes put that into perspective (although India has a growing middle class).

I have to get used to speaking here  – so far I’ve only spoken to art college students.  They usually stare blankly and intently, but they stir and murmur when I show cartoons about Pakistan, like the one below.

The cartoon below also makes the audiences murmur here. In India, is against the law to insult the sensibilities of someone of another religion, and I’m told that they would never see such a cartoon here (although, I should mention that whenever I crucify someone in a cartoon, I get some angry mail from Americans).  It is also taboo in India to draw the president, but cartoons about the Prime Minister are savage.

The taxi rides here are like thrill rides. The traffic lights and lines in the road are simply ignored.  We barrel head on into other cars every few seconds, only to swerve away at the last moment.  The drivers whisk past lazy cows, skinny dogs, rickshaws, throngs of pedestrians and rusty bicycles, at high speed, with only an inch or two of clearance.  I’ve read that India has the highest rate of traffic accidents – this must be true.

Here’s a little movie that I made on a rickshaw ride in Old Delhi today. I think the traffic here is charming.