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Agence Future Logo 5.1: Overview - The research in India


Kerala backwaters

On the 19th of March 2002 we arrived in India, crossing the border with Pakistan near Amritsar. We stayed until the 28th of June, travelling for the most part in the South of the country but taking in Delhi and a small piece of the Himalayas as well. In three months and a half we held more than 35 conversations about the future with a range of people and took in some of the signs and images of times to come that are all around in this nation of continental proportions.

We faced similar issues here as in West Africa, where we had also found that for interviews in more remote rural areas or with illiterate men and women in towns and villages alike, it would be necessary to have a competent professional interpreter. But while in West Africa local people could help us at least hold casual talks with others in the same village, in India the English speakers in more remote areas are usually high up in the local hierarchy and they will often refuse point blank to represent the points of view of those with less status or rank. So, not only did we not conduct full interviews in the rural areas of India, our general choice of conversation partners there was limited too.

The major benefit of our time in these areas however, was that it helped us build a picture of what it actually was so many of our Indian respondents were talking about when they pointed at diversity in their country or argued the need for change in the circumstances of a great majority of Indians. India is a country where many different levels of development and many time frames exist simultaneously. The country partakes in the space age with its own satelites orbiting the planet, at the same time, much of the Indian earth is tilled with nothing but man's hands and a pare of cows. In some places these seeming paradoxes are lived out to the extreme. One lady told us how bullock carts delivered the first computers to her Southern Indian village. The author V.K. Seth insist that 'India lives in many era at once' and that this is unique and particular to the country.

books for sale in Trivandrum fragment of the Madurai temple

In the early stages of the research, in Kerala and Tamil Nadu where we talked with several academics, some aspects of Hindu thinking about time and the cyclical nature of things where highlighted. People would sometimes refer to God as the ultimate determining factor in their personal future and we talked with several Westerners in India with a spiritual take on the future. Nevertheless, in general people were not inclined to explain their religion to us, quite different to what we have found in many cases in Islamic countries. Maybe it is because Hinduism is such an unstructured and pluralistic religion.

In Madurai (Tamil Nadu) we enjoyed the contribution of a researcher at the university there, who offered to spend a day translating for interviews in town. On this occasion we had the chance to speak with an auto-rickshaw driver, an illiterate visitor of the small elephant temple of the town, the young boy who looks after removed footware in the same temple area, an old man selling flowers for offerings and deeper into the centre of town with four members of the same family living in one of the popular neighbourhood behind Madurai's big temple.

Twelve westerners living in India were interviewed. In earlier legs the number of Western respondents was considerably smaller. It is so high now because of the disproportionate number of Eruopeans we talked with in Auroville. Other than those, we spoke with two business men from international corporations in Bangalore, one diplomat and a spiritualy inspired couple in Hampi. Further, in total we interviewed six bussinesmen, three of them in the IT business, the other in business-to-bussiness services and the solar energy sector, in addition we talked with a major farm land owner in Tanjavur. We talked with seven people in academia (two of them Future Studies specialists). We talked with twelve unspecialised members of the population. We have also been able to establish contacts as points of acces to subjects in rural areas that we were unable to cover with our questionnaire. In future these might provide additional material for our analysis.

Read more on Agence Future's adventures in India:

Index | 5.2: Arrival from Pakistan >>

 

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