Saturday, January 6, 2007

Day 4: Meeting the President of India

Tuesday, January 2, 2007. 10:00 PM IST (Indian Standard Time). WOW! There really is no other way to describe today than in sheer amazement. It is a day that will not be forgotten. We began the day with a visit to the Secretary of Biotechnology, Dr. Bhan. I was amazed and impressed by the openness of the government officials. Their willingness to sit down with us for an hour or so and share their vision for the future of India was incredible. I had expected very nice and ornate buildings for the Cabinet-level officials, but was surprised to find the buildings to be run-down by US standards. The meetings with the government are a good reminder that powerful minds are still at work even when the buildings and facilities are not as impressive.

Following this great meeting we tried our hand at more negotiations with the vendors in India. It is amazing that bargaining has become an ingrained part of the commerce culture here in India. In fact, after some group members were surprised to learn of prices or not sure whether they wanted to purchase, the vendors would tell them, “I’ll quote you a price and then you will get a discount off of that.” They even admit that they will quote a high price expecting to negotiate. This is incredibly fun. The best part is getting back to the bus and learning that you got the best deal or that you were completely taken. I have not done too much buying yet, so luckily I have had the advantage of learning from the others! It is amazing how you tend to tune out the “noise” that occurs all around. From shop vendors calling out their wares to you, to children begging for money, the streets of Delhi are alive with so much.

After lunch and shopping, we boarded the bus to prepare for the evening activity, a meeting with the President of India, Dr. Abdul Kalam! This is perhaps the most amazing and inspiring part of the trip. We were able to sit with the leader of the second largest country in the world! This is a meeting very few are able to secure – and perhaps one that many of the CEOs we will visit would love to have. And yet, we were able to sit with him and ask any questions we would like. While it took much arranging in advance, we were treated as honored guests. The reception included tea and snacks and a brief tour of the Moghul Gardens on the property – the president’s backyard. Unfortunately cameras were not allowed, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

The President sat down with us and for about 20 minutes discussed his vision for India by the year 2020. It is quite exhausting and yet inspiring to listen to the plans that this man has for his amazing country. He is an energetic little guy whose words and actions have the enthusiasm and energy of a young child. I truly do believe that in just over 10 years, India will be a completely different country.

The energy and passion that this 75 year old man has for his country is so incredibly inspiring that I am honored to have been able to spend even this short period of time with him. Perhaps I should give George a call now…