Apologies, this will read like the standard Thomas Friedman column:

“Globalization!!!…America losing its standing in the world…China and India rising!!!”

Formulaic, but probably true.

After traveling the long 44 miles between Amman and Jerusalem yesterday, I’ve been catching up with cousins, aunts and uncles I haven’t seen since I was much shorter. Life in the Middle East generally, and the West Bank in particular, is closely tied up with politics. Even so, people here are still abuzz about Bollywood films and China’s economic development.

Evidence: Yesterday, I had a conversation with my 60+ aunt about her love for Bollywood films. She knew every megastar and even every starlet, from Shahrukh down to Imran.

It’s not just her, either. Bollywood is very popular here. There are several satellite channels that exclusively broadcast Hindi films subtitled in Arabic all day every day.

Today, we shifted from Mumbai to Beijing as we watched the opening ceremony of the Olmypics. Throughout it, all of my relatives were abuzz about China’s economic development and perceived increasing wealth.

The panoramic shots of Beinjing’s newly-minted Olympic infrastructure only served to confirm their perception that China is already, more or less, a developed country. And as we watched every country from Monaco to Guinea-Bissau proudly soldier their national flag, they wondered which country would take the medal count: China or the United States. No one was sure.

Don’t worry, though, they watch Hannah Montana too. America still has something going for it.

To greet a Satsangi you say Rhadasoami. To say goodbye you do the same.

I learned this – like most of the lessons I learn in India – on the fly, without any prior knowledge of what the Rhadasoami faith was or why followers of the faith are called Satsangis.

It was Sunday, the third day of our trip to Delhi and Agra. For fourth time in as many days I was up before five. Even so, we missed the Satsang service at the Rhadasoami colony. Satsang consists of prayer and mediation lead by the spiritual leader of the colony. We made it to the colony by six, just after the Satsang had wrapped up, but in time to work in the fields.

The Satsangis in Agra have attempted to create a utopian community, the sort which has faded from the American landscape but which is still common in India. They grow their own food, make their own clothes and even have an accredited univerisity within the walls of their colony. They live, work and pray together.

When we arrived in the fields, we saw hundreds of people – from the very young to very old – systematically flattening a plot of land to turn into a rice paddy. Some of the younger and stronger men shoveled dirt to form the walls of the paddy, while the rest of us drew small plows to flatten the land.

As usual, we were a spectacle, but we didn’t draw the same probing glares and the girls didn’t receive the sort of voyeuristic eye-disrobings they usually get. Everyone at the colony was concerned with their work, but more than that they seemed at peace. I saw my friend’s grandfather, who had been our contact at the colony, drawing a plow with the same serene Moses-down-from-the-mount expression he always carried.

The Satsangis believe that before one can eat they ought to sweat. After working for about three hours, we were granted the rare opportunity of meeting the colony’s spiritual leader. He spoke to us for less than ten seconds. None of what he said was remarkable – he only asked what we were doing in India – but I was struck by how deep and smooth his voice was. It seemed larger than his small frame.

The day before we had seen the Taj Mahal and Agra’s Red Fort, both sights of international acclaim and tremendous beauty. Photographs really can’t capture what it’s like to see an enormous marble structure rising up through the fog on the banks of the Yamuna River.

We came to Agra via Delhi. Delhi (pronounced dill-y by Indians; not deli) is the part of India people speak about when they talk about 10 percent growth. The city is flush with new capital and you can tell. Everywhere we went we saw the signs of new wealth: smartly-dressed IT professionals brushing past government officials, shops full of high quality wares and – above all – frenetic construction. Flyovers, bridges, high rises and highways are all being built at a fantastic rate. Sure, there are slums in Delhi, but one gets the sense that there might not be within a generation.

In Delhi,  we met up with friends from U.S. We marveled at the fact that half a world away from where we knew one another we could meet up for a casual dinner.

Two of our friends work for Delhi-based NGO that works with recovering intravenous drug users. Not only are many of the organization’s clients recovered addicts, so are many of the employees. All of this added an intersting wrinkle to their invitation to go back to their place (also their NGO’s office) to party.

Once we climb up to the roof we see 30 or so former addicts going crazy, dancing free form in a circle. Not one to avoid a dance party, I jump into the middle of the circle and do my crazy best (which for those of you who have seen me dance is a mixture of rap hits and weak imitation of bhangra). Sadly, though, the music cuts out after about a minute, ending my Napoleon Dynamite-esque solo. The guys around me shake my hand. One of them turns to me, and in halting English says:

“Good, but light. Light”

“You mean, not hard core”

“Yes, not hard core – light.”

I learn that former junkies aren’t easily impressed.

India rising: A new superpower for a new century – it’s a common theme here.

TV, newspaper and magazine headlines tell the story over and over again. And the words “My India is Great” are tattoed on the backs of the ever-present Tata buses. India may be a pluralistic democracy, but nationalism is the state religion here.

India’s papers, which judging by the ones I’ve read really are free and fair, tend to have a little bit more of a jingoistic ring to them than one would find in the NY Times or the Post. Politicians can be ridiculed and parties denounced, but India’s progress and soon to be preeminent world status is never doubted. People here want India to be respected on the world stage. Badly.

Here’s a quote from an article in the Telegraph, Kolkata’s English language daily. It’s taken from an article about the purchase of Ranbaxy (an Indian pharmaceutical company) by a Japanese company:

“Her reading is that it is the Japanese who will have to learn to adapt and not the other way around. The reasoning has a philosophical basis. The Japanese, she says, are moving to a different plane. Material things and crass corporate commercialisation matter much less than motives such as self-actualisation.

Indians, on the other hand, are descending from that plane. They are becoming more aggressive, more demanding. This is their century and they want to stomp over the rest of the world. In a fight of wills between a young, ambitious and pugnacious nation and a people committing temporal hara-kiri, the new Ugly Indian will prevail.”

Though the opinion discussed isn’t the author’s, it isn’t an uncommon one. People here hunger for national respect and success to an extent I’ve never seen before.

The question of whether India will actually be a superpower in the 21st century is an academic one that’s beyond me. I do know one thing, though: in the minds of many Indians, India already is.  

I would like to follow up Zena’s post with a similarly sentimental discussion of the work I always thought I would be doing.

I love this office, and they do tremendous work, but I never thought it would look quite like this…

the scene at the office right now

Paraguay is playing Bolivia in futbol right now.

and i’ll give you a hint – these people aren’t watching a powerpoint presentation.

also, you can probably tell the score by the face of the guy in the middle

i am slowly augmenting my catalogue of guarani swear words