Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Groping in the dark

The Economist had once published a special report on India titled, "An elephant, not a tiger". A very good read. It goes into various details on the achievements, challenges, screw-ups, etc, etc... But, that is beside the point. The point is that several blind men are trying to figure out what this elephant looks like. Exactly like the poem.

Its filled with dirt, filth and desperate poverty say those profoundly impressed by Slumdog Millionaire. India is a lawless backwater filled with beggars at every corner, abound with stories of police torture and corrupt politicians all within an excuse for a democracy. This is the real India. India has the world's highest number of malnurished children. Half the nation is living under back-breaking poverty. The stories of a rising power are just hogwash as they say. But are they wrong? Most definitely not. They are correct on every account. Poverty, corruption, lawlessness; there is plenty of those. And they are certainly real.

India is a rising power in Asia, with GDP growing at 8%, well atleast before the downturn, filled with young professionals say the industrialists trawling for investment overseas. Indians have bought over foreign gaints in steel and automobiles. It is one of the handful of countries to launch satellites, build nuclear submarines and supersonic jets. Those talking of poverty are living in the 60's. This is the new real India. The information techology powerhouse housed in gleaming glass towers in Hyderabad, Bangalore and Pune. We are coming, whether the world is ready or not, as they love to proclaim. Well, those definitely are real. The satellites, the submarines, the jets; they are all very real, aren't they?

India is the land of spiritual richness say the backpackers flooding to its shores. The land of religious harmony where all the world's religions find a home. The land of a culture spanning thousands of years, of remarkable diversity in languages, customs and lives. It is where one finds peace and the meaning of life. Those talking of poverty and wealth are missing the point. But what about all the riots and killings, ask the techies recently relocated to the phoreign. People are killing each other everywhere. The number of people killed every year by terrorism is second only to Iraq. The minorities are being repressed and the government ignores the fate of the tribals in the name of development. And even that development is a sham. Just like the mask of "Unity in diversity". That is the real India. And they are most certainly right.

The point is that they all are right. They are all talking of the real India. But the elephant is big and the men, blind. We all are.

Well, what do I think is India? It is a circus. A veritable three-ring circus. It is a land filled with acrobats dodging everyday traffic jams. Trapeeze artists dealing with the beaurocracy seemlesly jumping from one babu to the other. Lions when leaving under crushing poverty, lion tamers when not. A land filled with clowns dealing with religion and culture. And jugglers when trying to paint a picture of a beautiful India to outsiders. And the audience too, all enjoying the show. Isn't it that it is every little kid's dream to run away to the circus. Well, I am living in one.


sunder said...

Everything you say about India, the opposite is also true-amartya sen

Anonymous said...

Excellent. It's a country of a billion, and with such diversity... It is similar to any attempt to understand Europe as a single entity. As someone once said, a Kannadiga and a Punjabi are as different as a Scot and a Slovak. And it's not just ethnic or regional- the diversity is in every imaginable attribute of the population- wealth, accessibility to resources, thought, language, caste, etc. In the tone of your article- these groups are so different, yet so similar.

Given this, I believe that the contradictions about India are primarily due to the fact that while we are fully aware of India's accomplishments such as rocket science, we know little about poverty, hunger, etc. We know that India has 4 satellite launch vehicles, we know that India has a nuclear submarine, but what we don't know, and what we have failed to understand thoroughly are questions like- how and why exactly are so many people are poor in India, how poor are they, how hungry are they, etc.? Often, our judgment about these matters is clouded by our upbringing in societies that are largely insulated such problems.

I think all this confusion, of blind men trying to visualize elephants, can be cleared to a large extent if one has current, reliable numbers to report about poverty, hunger, corruption, etc.

It may sound strange, but I think that a universal national ID with the corresponding database, may be the key to understanding India. The biggest curse of the poor, the hungry and the underprivileged is their lack of identity. Give them an identity, and you will understand the problems of India.

clueless rebel said...

yeah yeah ..midless meanderings... just gimme ur no. me in bangalore..wanted to catch up with ya.