How to defend India?

I’ve been provoked and I can’t stop thinking about it.

Incident 1. It all started on Day 2 of my Singapore trip (Dec 23
Sun) when a hotel owner was too friendly. Maybe he didn’t have much
work, but anyway, he got pretty chatty with us and was asking about
how we like Singapore. All we wanted to do was eat noodles.

He started talking about his visit to India, and like most
Singaporeans, he had been on a Buddhist pilgrimage to India. I can
still remember the angst in his voice.

He said that the central government in India is good but the state
governments are bad. Strike 1. I had to agree.

He said that it’s not a safe place for businessmen to invest money. He
said one of his close friends made huge investment, but when the
government changed, the policies changed and the friend made a huge
loss. Strike 2. I don’t know much about such things, but I can imagine
that it is possible.

He said that India hasn’t advanced enough, there’s still too much
poverty, there’s still so much chaos. He said ‘take a look at China’.
For example, if the parents invest some amount with the government,
they’ll give back 10 times the amount in 10 years, or something like
that, and this is guaranteed by the government to safeguard the
child’s future. I don’t remember the numbers he used but I was
impressed with what he said. Strike 3.

I was beaten and didn’t know how to fight back.

I’m not a patriotic guy. I don’t go around burning boards written in
non-state languages, nor do I go around speaking only in Hindi and
refusing to speak in English. But I believe in the concept of India
as a nation and I instinctively feel that I should defend my country
when someone makes says negative about my country.

But I was stumped. I was completely caught off-guard. I didn’t know
what to say. I just nodded. I desperately looked for things to tell
him. But I got nothing. Throughout the trip, I kept thinking of things
to go back and tell that hotel guy that India is a great country, but
what do we really have?

Specifically, the question is:

Post-independence, does India, as a nation, have achievements to
be proud of?

I’m not talking about our ancient history or ‘culture’. I’m not
talking about what some Indian did when he went to a foreign country,
or even someone who went out of his way to achieve something within
India (like the paeans being written about Tata Motors and their Nano
car).

I’m talking specifically about the 1. post-independence era and the 2.
‘as a nation’ part.

A week after that incident, I was still trying to forget about it. But
the same thing happened again on Day 9 (Dec 30 Sun) with the store
owner of a bookstore that Abishek and myself randomly walked into. We
had a long conversation about Buddhism and our beliefs of God and how
we pray. It’s surreal that we randomly started talking our intimate
spiritual beliefs with a complete stranger. But such is life. And then
she mentioned the same exact things that the hotel owner did. She
specifically mentioned that she was appalled at the poverty when she
went to Bodh Gaya.

Yes, we are talking about poverty, not just about the beggars on the
busy roads of Bangalore, but he fighting-for-food kind, the kind that
we saw in ‘Swades’ movie.

Incident 2. After visiting the Kaala Chakra
exhibition,
I realized how influential India has really been, especially to most
of South East Asia, from language to politics to trade, Indian-related
stuff is everywhere in South East Asia. I used to wonder about why
Tamil is such a common language here in Singapore, and only after
I visited this exhibition, I realized that this goes back to the B.C.
ages!

Notice the irony that I got to know more about Indian history and
influence when I’m outside India.

Probably because there is such importance given to history and culture
in Singapore. But people in India have no time for such things, we are
still fighting and struggling for our basic needs.

This immediately reminded me of “Maslow’s hierarchy of
needs”:

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

We are still struggling in Levels 1-3, that’s why we are just touching
Level 4, and we’re a long way from reaching Level 5 of Self
Actualization. At least, my point of view.

Incident 3. I know there will be lots of people that say that I’m
wrong, and that everything’s fine in India. (It reminds me of Rahul
Bose in the “Everybody Says I’m Fine” movie.)

The problem is that everything’s fine as long as nothing bad happens
to you or you witness it, only then you realize how bad the situation
is. God forbid, you end up in an accident, only then you realize the
problems with the police, the hospital, the insurance, and so on. The
situation is the same everywhere, irrespective of the aspect of life.

I don’t know how better or worse we are compared to other countries,
but that doesn’t mean we can’t be in a better situation. There is
simply no reason to! We have the money, the people, the resources…

Incident 4. I came to know recently that at a premier medical
institution in Bangalore, teachers are openly telling students that
if they don’t “help” the teachers (i.e. pay them money), they will
make sure that 30% of the students will fail! I am not kidding
you, this is for real. Where’s the sanctity of education? Where’s
the concern for the students’ future? Where’s the concern for
encouraging future doctors (especially because the number of
doctors is already dwindling)? Where’s the concern about setting
precedents for future of medical profession? Even if they don’t
think long term, how will students afford this? I know many
medical student friends who have struggled to pay the hefty fees,
what about these students who simply cannot afford to pay bribes
to teachers?

Incident 5. Similarly, lecturers in PUC colleges have stopped
teaching in college and they tell students that they are anyway going
to tuitions. If not, they should join their own tuitions! What happens
to all those students who can’t afford it?

Incident 6. Abishek’s close friend and special effects friend Osmand
is a third-generation Indian. When he was about to fly from India to
China to visit his relatives, he was abused that he was a Chinese
person, and this for a person who’s born and brought up in India his
entire life! The difference in attitudes was telling when the Indian
immigration officer made him wait for 3 hours to prove that he’s an
Indian compared to when he explained, that he’s a third-generation
Indian originally hailing from China, to the Chinese immigration
officer, he said “Welcome home.” Now, Osmand is as Indian as it
gets, irrespective of how it looks. Tell me, who’s the racist here?
Osmand is so fed up of this attitude that he wants to go back to
China.

Incident 7. Abishek and myself were sitting by the river in Clarke
Quay in Singapore on new year’s eve waiting for the clock to strike
midnight. The atmosphere was full of revelry with all the Singaporean
youth spraying foam on each other or boozing away or chatting. What’s
amazing is that women freely walk around without any fear. I’ve seen
women in Singapore walk at 2 am freely with clothes that redefine what
‘mini skirt’ stands for.

On the other hand, Abishek pointed out that in India, at new year’s
eve, there were incidents of molestation in
Mumbai,
eveteasing by Railway Minister Lalu Prasad’s
sons,
Patna boys barge into a girls
hostel,
Kochi revelers molest a 15-year old Swedish
girl
and so on.

Oh, and this is not just inside India. As churumuri puts it, you can
take the Indian out of India, but can you take India out of the
Indian?

Incident 8. When I was in PUC, I had many a time seriously considered
politics as a career (all that “desh ke liye kuch karna hain” funda)
but goondaism isn’t my cup of tea, so I dropped the whole idea.
Seriously. If you want to survive in politics in India today, you have
to know some rowdys or goondas to back you up, or you’re gonna end up
in pieces in a ditch somewhere. We all know the familiar story of
S Manjunath who ratted out on how the Mittal petrol pump in Lakhimpur
Kheri, Uttar Pradesh are doing adulteration and he got shot by the
owner’s son Monu Mittal and his goons.

Politics in
India
is simply
terrible.

On the other hand, Singaporeans may have less press freedom and such,
but I am okay with that compared to the
circus that
we have
here.

Incident 9. Another incident I have to come know of is that there
was some random old person who was suffering from a High BP attack and
was going in an auto to his hospital where he was undergoing
treatment. First, the auto guy literally dumps him on the pavement,
takes the old man’s money and runs away. All this in broad daylight.
IIRC, that too in Koramangala, one of the posh areas in Bangalore.
Second, there are 10-20 people who surround and watch him and do
nothing. Third, nothing happened until Vikram (Abishek’s friend) was
passing by, shocked at all this, talked to the old man, who somehow
was able to convey which hospital he was going to. Vikram took him to
the hospital on bike. Fourth, the hospital said they can’t admit
without some identification! Vikram said “He’s your patient, please
look up your records and please treat him urgently.” They repeated the
same statement. Fifth, Vikram who was fed up, says “Maybe Times of
India would like to do a story on this.” Suddenly, the hospital staff
spring into action and look up his records and take the old man in to
the doctor. Sixth, Vikram comes out shaken and calls up Abishek and
asks “What if this is my father tomorrow? What would happen to him?
What kind of city do we live in?” Pop quiz : How many things are
wrong/sad in this picture?

These are real incidents, real stories. Seriously.

Incident 10. What can we do in a place where people have to bribe to
get death certificates? Aren’t the families mourning enough already?

Again, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We are just struggling for the
basics of life, maybe that’s why we can’t seem to go beyond that.

Sportspersons are fighting for basic equipments, for basic facilities.
No wonder they can’t move beyond to think of fighting against the
competition. Cricket is an exception for exactly this reason – because
the cricketers are so well-paid, they move to the next level in
Maslow’s hierarchy and actually concentrate on the game. This
becomes a virtuous cycle and hence the game is flourishing.

Apply the same concepts to the other aspects such as political or
economical, and you’ll notice that we’re still fighting the same
everywhere.

Let me repeat, Post-independence, is there anything to be proud of
India, the nation?

I can’t think of anything. And what’s worse, I put this across to
a few close friends, and they didn’t offer anything too. In a way,
I was glad that it’s not just me, but many others feel the same way
too. The sad part is that many others feel the same way too.

Incident 11. The Press likes to make it a point to hail people of
Indian origin like Lakshmi Mittal (Mittal Steel) or Indra Nooyi
(Pepsi) or Vikram Pandit (Citibank) and how they have risen to those
powerful positions.  But why is it that they were able to do it only
when they’re out of India, not when they are here in India? Isn’t this
a common refrain?  I again trace it back to Maslow’s hierarchy. Most
talented people I know all want to get out of India so that they can
do serious work. Sad, but true. Including Abishek who’s now in
Singapore making ads for China, Middle East, India, Pakistan, all
in Singapore. He would’ve probably never got an opportunity like
this in India. And yes, he’s the brains and technical person
behind many ads in India you would see from Limca to Airtel to
Pepsi.

Again, I see people here in Singapore indulging in running, cycling,
shopping and they’re seriously into arts, and so on. They are building
a culture. Even partying till late into the night at Clarke Quay or
shopping 24×7 at Mustafa and so on. And it’s completely safe for
women as well. How do they do that!?

Imagine that a 42×28 km country like Singapore (one of the 20
smallest countries in the world and at the same time the 2nd most
densely populated country in the world) is hosting a Formula 1 race
in 2008, is bidding for the 2010 Olympic Youth Games, etc.

A country that is more than 4500 times bigger and has 250 times more
population is still struggling for basic needs (numbers derived from
Wikipedia’s estimates of population and size).

Yes, our problems are bigger and more varied, but the politicians and
the press talk about Bangalore becoming something like Singapore in 20
years or so! We are already comparing us vs them.

We can’t even get basic water supply or road transit facilities to an
upcoming world-class Bangalore International Airport? (And the only
reason it’s world-class is because we outsourced it). Why are things
so bad? It’s not the money, we have enough of it. Is it the people?
But the capability is there. So what’s really wrong? Is it the
leadership?  I guess we do really need visionaries who execute like
Lee Kuan Yew Is
it the attitude of the general population? Is it both? Or something
else?

I don’t know, I am disillusioned.

I bought into the kool-aid and that whole India 8% growth story.
I want my money back.

Well, people can say that Singapore has no real freedoms, you’re just
a puppet and so on. I have an analogy for that. We need a class
teacher to maintain discipline (law and order) so that the classes can
proceed and progress can be made, otherwise there will be just noise
and only people who somehow learn to not get affected by the noise and
study on their own (businessmen who succeed). It’s not like there is
no freedom, you can always raise your hands and talk to the class
teacher (citizens representation to the government) or at least
approach the teacher after class hours (write to them)…
Irrespective of the type of government (democracy or autocracy or
whatever), maintaining discipline should be the primary
responsibility of the government, which is what is lacking in India
today. For example, why is it that the same Indians who go to places
like Singapore suddenly start following the rules? Because they know
they’ll be fined otherwise. And once people start respecting each
other, keep the premises clean, and maintain civic behavior, things
automatically start looking better.

On the other hand, on Bangalore roads, I face road rage everyday.
That’s why I prefer to listen to songs on my iPod, so that I can tune
out all these unruly people.

Sigh.

I really want to go back to that hotel and argue with the owner. But
I have nothing. Nothing.

India is No. 115 out of 157 in the 2008 Index of Economic
Freedom.
I have no idea what that means, but I’m sure it’s not a good thing.

Even in a “forward” state like Karnataka, nearly three-fourths of
rural eighth standard students cannot do basic subtraction, fewer
than half of the schools have all teachers present, and only 7.4 per
cent of students in standards 3 through 5 can read a sentence in
English. The
report
is simply depressing.

Even our IT boom is
debatable.

I hope someday I can go back to the hotel owner and defend India.

Someday.

Hope.