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Cultural exchange leads to better understanding


Imlay City's Rotarians play host to group of professionals from India


May 21, 2008
Cultural differences tend to divide us as inhabitants of planet Earth. Yet it's these same differences, along with our innate similarities, that bind us as humans.

To help bridge the cultural gap, a team of five professionals from Bangalore, India were recent guests of the Imlay City Rotary Club.

Bangalore is India's fifth-largest city, with 7.2 million inhabitants. The city is known as a mecca for education and modern technology, and is the fastest growing area in that country.

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Members of visiting Indian contingent; Arvind Kamath, Siddharth Bose, Ranjitha Chitti, Sowmya Kuduvilla and H.R. Ananth; pose with Imlay City Rotary Club members at the home of Ted and Sandra Platt. photo by Tom Wearing.

The visitors; H.R. Ananth, a newspaper and magazine publisher; Arvind Kamath, attorney; Sowmya Kuduvilla, child psychologist; Siddharth (Sid) Bose, bank executive; and Ranjitha Chitti, architect/designer; were in town as part of Rotary International's GSE program.

On Friday, the entourage broke off into groups for the purpose of touring local businesses, banks, law offices courtrooms and schools.

Among the destinations were the offices of the Tri-City Times, where GSE India team leader H.R. Ananth was provided a glimpse into the publication's philosophy and daily operations.

Ananth, 49, has been a printer and publisher for 17 years, most recently serving as publisher of the Bangalore Press, based in south-central India.

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The Bangalore Press is a 91-year-old printing and publishing company, with a circulation of about 1.7 million.

Like many modern-day Indians, Ananth speaks fluent English; a cultural carryover from the nation's former British rule. Ananth says it's a commonality with English-speaking nations that has helped enable India to flourish economically in recent years.

Equally important to India's rise, he says, has been the government's "liberalization" movement that took place in the early 1990s.

"In 1992, we moved toward liberalization and that set the ball rolling," Ananth says. "It was a transition from our former style of government which had a lot of red tape and bureaucracy. That never really worked.

"This all occurred by a decision of the government, and that is what has made the difference."

As an example of the advances being enjoyed by modern Indians, Ananth refers to the relative ease with which one can purchase a new car today.

"Only about 20 years ago there were only two brands of cars available in India—the Fiat and the Ambassador," Ananth recalls. "It used to take three to five years to get a car; that's after it was already paid for. The wait was due to government control."

While there is greater openness nationally and internationally, Ananth says it was the emergence of technology that provided the impetus for India to make its most significant gains economically.

"Because India is so diverse culturally and ethnically, we tend to speak multiple languages and that leads to an ability to multi-task," says Ananth. "We can generally adapt to doing a lot of things at the same time."

He also credits India's emphasis on education, a reduced birth rate; and strong marriages as factors in the nation's economic success.

Not all of these things come without a cost, though, he adds.

"There is a lot of pressure placed on our students to succeed, sometimes too much," says Ananth. "To afford higher education, it requires that students qualify for our merit system, which is based on their performance. This places a great burden on our children, but it is the fashion of the day."

A college education in India is relatively inexpensive when compared to schools in the United States, says Ananth.

"It costs about $1,500 per year to pay for an engineering degree, including food and housing," he says. "The balance is subsidized by the government—which is the key. Today, student loans are slowly being introduced into the system."

Although education and opportunity are on an upswing for Indian youth, the technological boom is creating an income gap between young and old.

"The amount of disposable income for young Indians is growing exponentially," says Ananth, "but a father who's been working for 40 years earns only half the income of a 20-year old."

Social change is also impacting India's diverse population of more than 1 billion people, the majority of whom are politically involved. As evidence, more than 400 million voted in the most recent national election.

While India is experiencing unprecedented economic growth, the country's move toward Westernization is having some inevitable consequences, says Ananth.

"Although divorce is still very uncommon among older Indians, it is increasing among the younger people," says Ananth. "That has to do with modern Indian women having the option to choose or reject."

He notes that Indian families are also having fewer children; typically about two children per family rather than 5-8 children, which was common of families in the past.

Despite the myriad social and economic changes tak-ing place, Ananth says exercising one's religion remains a key component of Indian life.

India is home to 23 official languages and numerous religions, he points out, including Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and Judaism.

The diversity of religion, says Ananth, is the result of India having been invaded multiple times over the centuries; transfoming it into a religious melting pot.

"Every house has a place for private prayer," he says. "The first thing many of us do each day is to visit our place of meditation. Spend-ing 15-20 minutes in prayer every day helps us keep our lives in equilibrium.

"We believe that true happiness can only be attained spiritually," he says. "It helps us connect and gives us balance.

"It also gives us a greater sense of tolerance. We believe that through diversity and tolerance, we can better live in harmony with one another."

H.R. Ananth is married to wife, Girija, a college lecturer in commerce. They have two sons; Vishnu, an engineering student; and Sriram, who is a student in the American equivalent of 12th grade.

Home away from home

During their time in Imlay City, the five Indian visitors were housed at the homes of Rotary members Tim (Shirley) Edwards and Ted (Sandra) Platt.

Last Thursday, the Platts hosted a dinner party in honor of the Indian contingent, consisting of a menu of vegetarian dishes.

The international cuisine was prepared by Sandra Platt, Ann Sillers, Shirley Edwards, Sonja Boone, Ethel Richards, Pat Collison, Bernadette Platt, Sandy Iloncai and others. Rotarian Jim Crandall was credited with bringing the cookies.

On Tuesday, the visitors attended a Lapeer Rotary Club meeting, offering an overview of their experiences and bidding farewell to their American counterparts.

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