To me the Indian subcontinent may be the world's most exotic area. I find Hinduism and its derivative religions of Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism extremely fascinating although I can't begin to comprehend them. From our years in Cairo, I can relate much better to Islam and Judaism since they like Christianity are monotheistic and share common roots. Even Chinese Confucianism is easier to relate to since it is more a system of ethics and a way of living and not really a religion. And Africans are largely followers of Christ or Mohamed mixed together will a little animism or paganism and vestiges of European colonialism so were easier to understand.
There are many aspects of Indian religion and culture that are extremely interesting. For example, did you know that both the "swastika" and the "Star of David" are also common Hindu symbols? Of course they have different names and meanings but they are virtually the same in appearance. One often sees stickers with the Indian version of the Swastika on the back of cars but it has nothing to do with the symbol made infamous by the Nazis. Here are some links providing more information on this subject.
Although India legally banned its ancient caste system several decades ago, caste still plays a role in Indian life, especially in rural areas. Urban Indians still make occasional reference to the caste they descended from but now intermarry and seem to regard it as past history. But I'm told it still greatly determines the quality of life for rural Indians which even in today's booming India make up 70+ percent of the total Indian population. And many peasants are among the "untouchables" which is something they may never be able to overcome.
There also seems to be a permanent servant class in Indian cities that I would guess have emerged from the old caste system. These servants are readily evident everywhere one goes in Delhi and become a bit irritating for Westerners. I spent the last week in the Taj Palace Hotel in Delhi and here are some of my experiences with the servant class:
1. When I arrived at the hotel from the airport on my first day, I had been traveling for about 8 hour in my wrinkled jeans. Nevertheless I was met taxi side by about 20 hotel employees all dressed in their finest and performing deep bows towards me as I got out of the car. Several called me by name and wished me a wonderful stay. One would have thought I was the King of England and I was frankly embarrassed. It was really over the top.
2. I felt really harassed by the young man who performed the "turn down" service in my room each evening. Instead of doing it while I was out, he would wait until I returned from work and then follow me down the hall and into my room before quickly starting all of his little tasks and asking me lots of little questions about how I like the hotel, his service, etc. After the second day, I finally had to tell him to take care of his duties when I wasn't there and to stop following me around.
3. In the hotel gym was a young man whose job was to do such things as adjust the seat on the stationary bike to my desired height, to put the pins in the weight machines where I wanted them and to push the buttons on the treadmill to get it going at the rate I wanted it at. Now how's that for an interesting career? But somehow he seemed happy doing it and was absolutely joyous when I thanked him or paid any attention to him.
One last comment on servants in India: A friend who was one posted in New Delhi told me that household servants are extremely specialized and territorial and refuse to do things they don't consider their duty. Ironers only want to iron and cleaners only want to clean which means one has to have several servants on a full or part time basis to get all the household tasks taken care of. He said it also drove him crazy to have so many people around the house. The servants we had during our days in Africa were much more flexible and we generally got along quite with them. And before you say, "what, you had servants!" you need to know that we didn't have a lot of the amenities we have in the US such as dishwashers, dryers, etc. And besides, why not -- wages were cheap and we provided employment for several people.
Click on the following link for just one more interesting story about servants in India http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/
Ok, that's enough. Now I can't wait to get to a country where I am allowed to do a few things for myself.