Sunday, 24 March 2013

Culture: This is progress?

This is the fifth article on the cutlure series

Video 1: 

Video 2: 

I have nothing against either performer in the above videos. The above is used as just an example to drive home my point; I could have used any other 2 performers. 

My point is simple: 

In 30 or 40 years, we have moved from side-heroines or professional exotic dancers performing item numbers, showing skin by wearing hot dresses or 2-pieces in suggestive hot dances - to frontline heroines doing the precise same roles... remember, the performers above do it as people watch it and accept it - and appreciate it. The above is a mirror of society... like it or not. 

This is progress? 

THIS is progress? Your decision, your call.

The Silence of the Media, leading from the silence of the people...

This little tit-bit of news is tellingly absent from any other news website as at 6:38 pm today. It can be seen only on Hindustan Times... link above. 

For the rest, I had to do a  search...

More importantly, India has moved on...

Corruption? Chaltaa hai. 

Bribe? Ok. No problem

This precise same attitude can be seen in each and every case that has happened in living memory... AMRI file case. Remember that? What happened afterwards? Were the guilty punished? What steps have been implemented by various state governments and the central government to ensure mandatory fire-safety equipment and procedures in buildings? There has been at least 1 major incidence of fire after this that I can recall... but no.  How many of us have checked whether our offices and flats have the mandatory clearances and procedures / equipments in place? Our Media is silent; and our people are uncaring...

Remember the Nirbhay case? Silence... absolute silence. Just about everybody and his uncle was voicing an opinion on social media and mainstream media just 3 months ago. And today? She lies forgotten; steps taken by Delhi to improve its roadways and auto-drivers largely ignored by everyone. And as regards the juvenile, his punishment is now a thing of forgotten memory. There is no pressure from any side on this matter. Perhaps a small Media comment somewhere, and no reaction from the public. Once again, our Media is silent, our people uncaring...

We have moved on... 

Jo raah chuni toone, ussi raah pe raahi chalte jaanaa re.... 

(Please dont sing the second line of this song; it doesnt fit our society...)

Well done, India. Our freedom fighters must be so proud at the state of the nation... well done, indeed...

How many more Nirbhays' how many more Kejriwals and how many more AMRI-like fires do we require to wake up? Astounding! Astonishing! I for one, am speechless... despite the above rant! 

Jaago, Sonewaalon!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Indian Culture and Incipient Westernism: The Other Side...

This is the fourth article in the culture series

Disclaimer: I have used Hindu examples, as I am a Hindu myself; I have observed similar nuances in friends from other religions as well. This is in no way meant to hurt anyone's religious feelings

I have been vehemently arguing that western mores are making inroads into our society; that the impact of "westernism" (to coin a new term in the Indian context), is a felt and real impact. That much is unfortunately true. But, as always, there are 2 sides to every coin. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, something which applies to just about everything in life. In this article, I take a look at some heartening trends from Modern India that belie the hopeless tone of my previous articles. The objective is to give a balanced view of the Indian cultural scenario. 

There is an increasing prevalence and impact of Hollywood movies, western dresses, English complex, Western art, Television, Food, Lifetsyle both in terms of consumerism as well as societal changes etc. Not all of these are negative; we have seen in my previous article on Culture that culture is constantly adapting and changing. There is a positive effect to this interaction with the west; the pain is in the areas of negative influence - and in the area of ignorance of & condescension for what we can call Indian Culture. This is at pretty serious levels in the Metros, that also I grant. I further concede that the advent of television has brought these changes into practically every household. 

But, acting on the premise that we haven't lasted practically unchanged for 7 millennia without a reason (more than that, actually: it is 10 millennia; but I am assuming the cultural norms took 3 millennia to develop), I started looking around for signs that we aren't changing, after all. We Indians must realise one thing: we are the oldest surviving and  unchanged civilization in the history of Planet Earth. We were there during Babylon; we saw the rise and fall of Greece; we saw the rise, rise and fall of Rome; we saw off the Huns; We saw the renaissance in the west; we saw the brutal and amoral rise of the west; and we saw the destruction that it got them into... and we are still here in the present, unchanged, living, thriving, struggling , succeeding and growing... this is an achievement that cannot be laughed off; we still follow the same cultural mores and norms that were present 5000+ years ago - perhaps 7000 years; we eat nearly the same food, and say the same prayers. That is a colossal achievement - any which way you look at it. No one else has been able to achieve that!

And, once you change your point of view... you begin to spot the small things and nuances that indicate that our culture is already showing signs of adapting and absorbing the new influence, taking it in stride - indeed assimilating it within ourselves, and leaving us better suited to face the challenges of life. You can see it all around you; all it requires is an open mind!

For all the brouhaha about ladies in western dress that we read in the news - it so happens that I know 2 ladies who can comfortably carry a western outfit with panache. These 2 are trained not in western music - but in our very own indigenous Indian Classical Music; one of them is a rising exponent of the same on the national scene, while the other is a corporate manager! I can offhand think of several ladies and gentlemen who are in the same mould. Just wearing a western dress does not change the mind! You wouldn't know it from seeing these people: but they are truly Indian. So much for "western" dress...

  1. Observe both the sexes in a Mandir someday. Even ultra-mod people will revert to their culture; gone is the condescension and the disdain. Also observe the adherence to rituals and norms. And spot the rush in the temple which has increased exponentially over time. You will like as not spot a kaleidoscope of people from all walks of life - from the jeans-and-t-shirt clad girls and boys, to the corporate hotshot; from the conservative saree-clad lady to the western suited professional lady; from the staid middle class gentleman to the utlra-mod torn jeans and spiked hairdo-ed businessmen and teens.
    1. Observe the simple practice of hiding cigarette in front of known elders and teachers that is still commonplace today
    2. Observe a simple nuance of just brushing your chest in respect and silent prayer on passing a temple, or a church - or any other place of worship, depending on your religion. Hindus even do that to all places of worship. And observe the person who does this; these people will defy all attempts at stereotyping
    3. Observe the habit of respectfully touching the body of a person whom you have inadvertently touched with your feet
    4. Observe Indian Classical music festivals - and note the increasing number of modern youngsters who are taking to it - both as fans as well as artists
    5. Observe how even the most obdurate of non-vegetarians will observe a vegetarian day - as per their individual beliefs
    6. Observe the adherence to familial hierarchies: how the elder brother is always the elder; how the elder always marries first, how elderly people are shown respect
    7. Observe the increasing equality of women in our society; and observe how we are learning to take it in our stride. Yes, problems remain - but my point is that ladies are increasingly equal, and that this has not impacted any other parameter. Observe how the familial unit has re-structured to this new reality. Observe the increasing support some males give to their working spouses
    8. Observe the continued preference for arranged marriage; also observe how, in case of love marriages - everything else proceeds as though in an arranged marriage - parents of the kids meet, decide everything and so on
    9. Observe the continued strength and resilience of the family unit, and the close relations between cousins, uncles and aunts from both sides of the family
    10. Or take a look at the top-rated shows as per trps...

    This does not mean that the identified areas of worry need not be attended to: namely, the fawning over the west, the threat to our languages, our art and our culture. We ignore these threats at our own peril. But the above does mean that some among us are already adapting, that the pull of our culture is significantly stronger than we had thought possible. We can already see the first and second waves of a cultural backlash - the first being the "moral police" that has been seen in New Delhi and Mumbai. With 97% of the population not in tune with what these "oh-so-modern" (????!)  3% were doing, it beats me how anyone can expect anything else to happen. The second cultural backlash is more balanced - and decidedly more welcome. The slow but steady emphasis on being Indian, on our culture as is evident in the examples shown above.

    The above points further underscore the theory lesson I told in my article The Culture Conundrum. The outward manifestation of culture does not change the internal make-up so very easily. The core values are still strong; the core norms of our culture are still unchanged. As I said, this does not mean that they are not under challenge: but they have been challenged before, and have overcome. This reduces the problem from that of a cultural threat, to the level of a cultural - and more particularly - nation building challenge...

    What needs to be kept in mind is that, perhaps for the first time in 7 millennia, the scale of the challenge is massive; for the first time, the entry of extra-cultural norms is into each and every home; for the first time, the challenge is coming at a time when India is not the top nation in the world; for the first time, our children are fawning over an alien culture with totally different norms... while there is no reason for panic; there is every reason to pull up our socks, and think of our direction...

    Becoming Indian: The Unfinished Revolution of Culture and Identity
    Pavan K Varma

    The author is a member of the Indian Foreign Service, and has served in Moscow, New York, United Nations, London, Cypress. He is at present India's Ambassador to Bhutan

    As usual, I will start the review with  an excerpt, which should make at least the more discerning reader sit up and take notice; an excerpt that accurately diagnoses the rising tide of fundamentalism that is raising its head even  in Hinduism...

    Even as the complex and deeply problematic legacies of colonialism continue to shape our world, we are faced with the equally complex effects of globalisation which now appears irreversible. It is imperative, therefore, that those at the receiving end of the often imperceptible project of co-option preserve and reassert their cultural identity. Nations and peoples that do not will be relentlessly homogenised. However, this very process will unleash huge tensions: societies may be unable to resist homogenisation, but there is always a remembered past, which creates deep resentments against the homogenising powers. Such resentment will eventually express itself in religious extremism or atavistic and fanatical nationalism that strengthens fundamentalist leaders. The clash of civilizations is then inevitable...

    It was after a gap of some 18 years that I was seeing a drama. Once a drama enthusiast myself who came close to going serious on it, I was now divorced from it in every way. So, it was a welcome relief to be doing something I enjoyed. The play (Macbeth), to be honest, was superb. There can be no doubt as to that; it was of a high quality. I even remember congratulating the team after the play.

    But my mind mind went back to 1993, when I watched a Marathi play. I cannot now remember much of it, but I do recall that I enjoyed that much more. I do not even recall the theme, or the story. But the recollection is still vivid in my mind; much more than the more recent play in 2012 - after 20 years. Why should this be so? This is precisely what the current book explains, while raising some very pertinent questions along the way. This book is a recommended read for anyone who is beginning to question the distance from our culture - in fact, I would go so far as to state that this is a recommended read for every college student.

    The book delves deep into both our psyche and our history, hunting for the answers that I asked in the post Urban India: The English Republic... or Macaulay's Children. It starts from colonial rule, and the introduction of English education. It traces how jobs became dependent on knowledge of English; how cultural imperialism imposed its ugly head on our ancient land, and the attendant inferiority complex that became associated with being "Indian". Hence the apt title of the book: Becoming Indian. The book very successfully traces how the ugly combination of livelihood dependency on English, and constant debasement of everything Indian by the British became associated in the minds of the people with western superiority. This is a link that still holds powerful sway over India - especially over the teens, the 20 and 30 -- something generation - such is the ferocious power of the cultural imperialism that the British let loose on us. That this has been exacerbated in recent years by western television, movie and economic might does nothing to exculpate either us Indians or the British. 

    The book into the modern times and tackles head-on the avowed elitist viewpoint of English superiority, and the habit of educated Indians to regard anyone who is not fluent in English with utter disdain; as though it is not possible to succeed without being as fluent in English as an Englishman. It forcefully makes the point that while knowledge of English is indeed a needed asset, it cannot be an Indian language. It is indeed a fact there are innumerable nations that are succeeding economically without sacrificing their heritage. And the best way to earn the respect of the world is to respect your own heritage and culture, rather than ape an alien culture. 

    The hallmark of the book is the study of the cultural degradation and destruction wrought by the British, resulting in the interruption of the natural development of our art and culture, and its transposition into a reactionary phase. This can even be spotted in modern times, with the reactionary anti-valentine's day protests that happen every year. By the way, we Indians have never needed a Valentine's day to tell someone we love them; strange that such a step back can be regarded as a development by our youngsters! (My personal opinion - not in the book). 

    Then there are 2 eye-opening chapters - one being a painful look at the NRI diaspora, and their detachment and isolation. Since this has been buttressed with personal interviews and practical observations, the conclusions are not open to question. Further, the author himself has stayed as an NRI in the course of his job for a long time. The at times ludicrous efforts of the NRI diaspora to fit in, and their attendant discomfort is brought out with tremendous feeling, as is the powerful observation that even the 2nd and 3rd generation Indians have not forgotten their culture, or have a yearning for it. This is supported by examination of Indians abroad - and their pesonal habits as well as thoughts. 

    The most brutal chapter is the ruthless stripping of Indians' fauning over western symbols and icons to the exclusion of everything Indian. The euphoria over Lutyen's Delhi is used as one example: in the backdrop of the euphoria over the function to commemorate Lutyens in 2003, the author has exposed the utter disdain, racial views and reprehensible condescension and hate of everything Indian in the man we commemorate: Edwin Lutyens. The excessive fauning over what is an imperial edifice, and the total ignorance of our own rich past and its monuments - ranging from the Iron Pillar to the magnificent forts is a brutal indictment of our continuing inferiority complex. This can be readily seen in other examples - the Oscars and our fauning over them, the western icons and  the belittling of our own (Excuse me, anyone followed by a billion-plus people is in no way small! Learn to respect our size and our history both! We dont need to faun over anyone, we are big enough to culturally hold our own. Look at China!), Valentine's Day, disdain for Indian dressing etc etc. This is evident everywhere...

    This is one book that I would recommend as a complusory one in senior school or perhaps college. As I observed in the opening paragraph, regardless of how good the Macbeth performance was, the sight and sound of Indians speaking Shakesperean English is incongruous at best - and ludicrous at worst. I can only recall Indian plays- decades after seeing them - while I am already forgetting Macbeth, which I had seen barely 18 months ago. It just did not touch a chord; while the Marathi and Hindi plays linger on in my mind years afterward.

    This can also be seen in our Music and Movies - for all the brouhaha associated with modern Hindi Cinema and Music, S. D. Burman, Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar, Yesudas, Mohd Rafi, R. D. Burman, Mukesh, Pradeep still hold sway even over our youngsters. Cinema from the 60s and 70s are still watched at every opportunity, while the western themed pictures come and go. It is only the rate 3 Idiots, or Taare Zameen Par, or Lagaan, or similar purely Indian canvasses that survive the test of time... 

    The clash of civilizations will inevitably lead to unrest,as is evident in a changing India today. You cannot expect 100% of the population to be co-opted into westernism; this will lead to reactionary steps, as are evident now. This deepening chasm will further harden positions of both sides; hence it is essential for us to respect our culture, for our own sakes. Even in the modern trend to western cultural imperialism, the impact has not gone beyond the top 3% of the population. And it is being foolish in the extreme to expect the 97% to not react. They will; just as they are reacting. The need of the hour is for the anglicized urban India to do a deep introspection... 

    For, as the author says, the flashpoints of the future may appear to be political, but the real causes are rooted in the unresolved issues of culture and identity... a reality that can be easily spotted in the real world of modern times. India needs to understand that it is not cool to ape anyone - you are not a westerner. Like it or not - you are an Indian. That can never change...

    Wednesday, 20 March 2013

    Italy : A Miscalculated Strategy...

    Won't leave India till asked to leave, says Italian envoy | › All IndiaShare

    6 days ago – New Delhi: Italian Ambassador to India, Daniele Mancini, has said ... "I will not leave this country till a competent authority makes me a persona non grata,"

    A tell-tale statement by the Italian Envoy... it seems to me from the statement above that the Italian strategy had banked on a tame Indian response, and a declaration of the envoy as a persona non grata, and a few diplomatic noises by India.. followed by normalcy after a period of a few months. An acceptable risk, one would have thought - under normal circumstances


    Circumstances in India are at the moment anything but normal, as anyone with a keen observation should have known - especially considering the nation in question: Italy. This opens up the vista of a very disturbing possibility: that Italy (and by extension Europe as a whole) has little understanding of the internal dynamics of India, even in 2013. I hope that I am wrong on this (and that I am overreacting), but the evidence at the moment states otherwise.

    First, the country involved is Italy. Even a cursory glance at the ruling party in India will reveal that it is under severe pressure from the opposition as well as from  the media for governance, and its perceived failures. It is an embattled government. Further, the leader of the party is a former Italian citizen. Not only that, every decision taken by the government is analysed threadbare by one and all. As the icing on the cake is the reputation the current incumbents in New Delhi have for being soft. And the cherry on the icing: innumerable past instances of foreigners being let off or escaped - Bhopal Gas Tragedy, Purulia Arms Drop etc. All these were in the news fairly recently. It should not take a genius to figure out that in these set of circumstances, the only possible response for the central government - with elections being less than an year away - is a hard one. To be seen to be doing anything else would be political suicide. There is a very good chance this did not occur to the Italians; which shows a lamentable lack of even the most basic understanding of India. (If this did occur  to them, and they went ahead nevertheless - then it opens up further and far more disturbing questions... but that is another story.  Anyhow, I dont consider this to be a credible possibility based on current evidence. Let us see - time will tell)

    What is noteworthy is the average European response (and some Indian commentators observations also, to be fair) which shows a lack of appreciation of one basic fact: that Italy lied. Quite aside from the legality or otherwise of their position - they misled a sovereign government in its own Supreme  Court - the highest court in the land. The highest representative gave an undertaking for the return of the marines to a sovereign government - and not a tit-bit nation either, one of the largest 10 economies in the world, one of the fastest growing nations, and a nation of 1.25 billion. They misled a nation with a long history of intense national pride in its international dealings. And that too a nation from the East - where pride takes precedence over almost everything else; where logic, profit and growth all are routinely sacrificed at the altar of pride, both at the national as well as individual level. 

    If the Indian response of curtailing the movements of the envoy is unacceptable, under what law or rule or norm of international diplomatic discourse is the Italian response acceptable? If you state the Italian position of international waters, even then their strategy - for it cannot be anything else - is unacceptable. The thing to do was precisely what they are sagely advising us to do now: talk, or quote international law and ask for international mediation. Instead, they resorted to what can only be called a trick. Also recall India's position: that it has jurisdiction as per Indian laws in this matter. In such  a scenario, why then cry when the aggrieved and insulted nation responds in kind? As homeopaths say, similia similibus curentur!

    And most critically, not a single European nation has accepted this. This seems to be a clear case of us vs them... Europe seems to be showing its true colours here. If they had chastised Italy for doing the wrong thing - and then stated that the envoy cannot be held back in India - in that case the Europeans might just have been  balanced in their statements. (Having said that, please note that I am in no way convinced that the envoy enjoys immunity in this case: as my Supreme Court has ruled in this particular case, he does not have immunity. Good enough for me. But I am trying to be balanced in this analysis) As things stand, what comes across from Europe's response is a bias. This is towards a nation with which Europe wants to build trade relations. Remember the Brit PM's high-profile visit? Funny way of building relations, I must say. We certainly dont build relations in India this way... 

    Just a single thought  - which should have occurred to everyone. When a person promises to another - in written - and then reneges on his or her word, that person is termed unfaithful and a liar. In certain situations, legal ramifications can also arise, but that is beside the point I am making, It is considered amoral. And no one in the west (as per articles read by me - if anyone has observed this, please do tell) has made this single critical observation - that Italy lied. Are the west trying to state that morality and truth do not have any place in international relations? That outright, blatant and arrogant lying is acceptable in international relations?

    Saturday, 16 March 2013

    The Loss Of Heritage: A Question Of Language

    The second article on culture... (the below stands true for every Indian Language; I am using Hindi and Marathi since they are the languages I speak)

    I am a person schooled in 3 languages: English, Hindi and Marathi. My language of choice is English; followed by Marathi and Hindi. Marathi is my mother tongue; but I am furthest from it. I am fluent in Marathi - more than in Hindi, in fact; but it is still my third language, behind the other 2. This post stands despite the above facts, and is in fact borne out of the above.

    My first tryst with  language was in college, when I studied language groups and the origins of language as a hobby. Thereafter, along the line of a career, my hobbies got lost: Language, Reading, Dramatics, Culture etc... and life just became too fast paced. The initial flame was lit during my sojourn as a visiting faculty of Brand and Advertising Management, when I came in touch with SPIC-MACAY, and began attending cultural dos again - after a gap of 15 years and more. Then, last year, I was part of a fabulous LinkedIn discussion that examined the education system in India, and the impact of a foreign language on the mind - as well as the feasibility of introducing an increasing number of subjects in the vernacular. A lot a current research was shared (I cannot find the dicsussion thread, as it has been archived); which acted as the catalyser. I slowly began asking myself questions; some pretty uncomfortable questions, ones to which I had no answer. This post below chronicles the questions I have asked myself over the past few months.

    What is Language? The educated will tell you that it is a means of expressing oneself, and of communicating with each other. The dictionary will tell you that it is the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way. Some will add non-verbal communication on top of this. Even wikipedia will delve in some detail on this aspect. Well, before I ask the questions that came to me, let me clarify: the above is but one small aspect of what we call language. Hidden away deep inside the wikipedia article is the little beauty: "Language is therefore dependent on"communities of speakers"...

    In truth, language is far more than a means of communication: it is a carrier of the entire social history and cultural heritage of a people. Through language, we communicate words, ideas, social practices, values  and emotions... the entire culture of a people is encapsulated in what we call language. Let me elucidate with a popular example:

    This is a poem by Neeraj, and was later adapted into a song, with a heart-rending rendition by Mohd Rafi.  Try translating this to English. Or, better yet, note how easily the poem gels with you; you can visualise the scene as it plays in front of your eyes. The word Shrungar, for instance, instantly connotes its meaning to us; we can immediately visualise both the scene as well as the meaning of the line just from this word. There is no English equivalent; this is borne out of our cultural landscape, our society and its norms...  now imagine a world where this word has become obsolete. A language is a means of passing on the cultural heritage, norms, values, thoughts, ideas, history, prayers, rituals and much much more. We stand to lose far more than just a means of communication. I shall delve into this in more detail later, for this is far too complex a matter to be taken up in a paragraph. But I hope that the uninitiated among the readers have been able to grasp the import of my statements.

    Am I being melodramatic? Consider the questions below, those that have occurred to me:

    1) Visit any book-store. Count the number of Vernacular books and English books. The ratio will be 95% English. Even in the seedier second-hand store, the ratio remains the same. In a nation where the major languages are Hindi, Marathi, Bengali etc - the literature is primarily in English. Why?
    2) Compare the best of Vernacular books with the English books you are so fond of. (If you read vernacular - you are a better person than I am!). Why the difference in quality?
    3) Why is it that most of the reported literature from India - judging from magazines, new sites and other sources - is in English? Why is the visibility not there for Vernacular literature? Point out how the Neeraj poem above is in any way inferior, or superior - to an English poem!
    4) When and what was the last vernacular book you read? For me, it was Caravaan Guzar Gayaa - kavya sangraha by Neeraj circa 1996. Why so?
    5) How many of us read- I mean really read - the vernacular papers in preference to the English? I dont mean reading it as a secondary publication - I mean the vernacular as a vehicle of choice? And please dont state quality - how can they produce quality and attract talent when the readership is absent?
    6) What will be the impact of the lack of interested readers and practitioners on the cultural richness, progression and development of that language? How long will it, or can it, continue without patronage? Remember: Persian was prevalent for a good 300 years; the absence of literature in persian was one of the contributory factors in its rapid decline; with the others being lack of speakers of persian among the common people.
    7) Insaan kaa insaan se ho bhaichaaraa, yehi paighaam humaaraa; Naye naye jagat mein huaa puraanaa oonch neech ka kissa, Sab ko miley mehnat ke mutaabiq apna apna hissa - Kavi Pradeep... lovely lyrics, a song and a poem from our past; now just compare the lyrics of today with the golden days. How many of the day have such deep meanings? And how many songs of the old days had such lovely poetry? Where are the poets in India today? Where are the Kaka Hathrasi, Shivmangal Singh Suman, Neeraj etc? Where are Rabindranath Tagore and Harivansha Rai Bachhan of the modern day? (If there are any, please enlighten me. I may not be aware, that is also true...)
    8) Why dont we Indians read Vernacular literature with more interest? Why the inordinate emphasis on and prefence of English? Where does the fault lie? We see Hindi movies, adulation for Hindi (Or Marathi or Tamil or Telegu)  stars is common - and yet we totally ignore the language everywhere else? From where does this incipient loss of a language come? And is this hampering our imagination as well as hindering our growth potential? 
    9) We can translate Harry Potter into Hindi; we can translate other western classics into Hindi (or other vernacular languages) - but there is no sign, there is no indication, there is not even the remotest hint of popular demand for original literature in our own mother tongue or the regional tongue that is now already our second language, instead of being the first. Where is the Hindi, or Marathi bestseller?????? What direction are we as a society taking?

    Food for thought, I hope...

    Friday, 15 March 2013

    Urban India: The English Republic... or Macaulay's Children?

    Disclaimer: this article is not about Hindi; Hindi is not the national language of India. The article is about the preference to English over the regional tongue - even when both the conversationalists are adept at the regional tongue. Further, there is nothing wrong with speaking English; it is a nice language. The point is the superiority attached to English, and the attendant disregard of our culture, which I shall take up in later articles

    This is the first post in a series of articles on culture wherein I am attempting to understand some fundamental  peculiarities and dichotomies that pervade our  Urban classes behaviour. I freely confess that I myself have been guilty of some of these attitudes that I am criticizing here. I have always been forthright in my writings, and disconcertingly blunt; I have no intention of reigning in my writing style in  the interests of not hurting others - I shall call it like it is, like I see it. One does not instil change in either self or others by being diplomatic. Change -especially internal change - requires a blunt and factual assessment of current realities. This is more of an attempt to understand India as it is today, and understand my culture - and myself. Hence, my apologies in advance. 

    We, The English...
    All - note, All my bosses will faint on reading this. Throughout my life, I have been known as the guy who speaks English; and it is the same me that is now doing an about-face... it has been a long journey for me, traversing from the point where I was to where I am today. In my attempt to understand Urban India, I shall look at 2 interesting facets of this behaviour in this article:

    Anyplace you go to, any restaurant, any movie, anywhere in Urban - and especially Metropolitan - India, you will see a very peculiar and ludicrous scene. You ask a question in Hindi, and the reply comes in English. All the time, every time. McDonalds, Multiplex, Malls enquiries, Friends, etc. Any celebrity - including Hindi movie stars - will speak purely in English. Everywhere, in every scene, in every situation. Kyun Bhai? Maine sawaal to Hindi (Yaa Marathi) mein poochha thaa. Toh jawaab English mein kyun?You are a Hindi celebrity - so why give interviews in English? Hindi  yaa apni matrubhaasha bolne mein sharm aati hai? Are we trying to prove that we can speak English, or are we just programmed that way? In either case, it is not a a very good habit. You have no way of knowing whether the other person can speak English - or not! It looks contrived, and artificial! Why do we feel a sense of self-gratification, and a sense of superiority (whether consciously or on a subconscious level) on speaking English?  

    English is essential for success. That is what everyone in India says. I used to believe that fervently; now I dont. After 14 years of jabbering in Hindi and Marathi with my team and my channel, I dont regard English as even a requirement of success. The basic need is an ability to communicate, and the ability to express oneself in written English lucidly enough to prepare your reports. That apart, all that is required that you follow the written word well enough to understand the mails coming your way. And yet, I have seen people struggling to speak in English in corporates! Arre dadu, ek-sau-baasathh percent par baithhe ho; 5 saal se lagaataar targets meet karr rahe ho; tumhaari team bhi zyaadaatar tumhaare saath hai. Bhaashaa se kyaa fark padtaa hai? Aur agar itnaa achhaa performance nahi bhi hai, toh ek aisi bhaashaa mein bolkar - jispar tumhaari pakad nahi hai - kyun khud ko marwaa rahe ho? Why are you getting conscious? Speak in Hindi, man! I care a damn! I am more interested in checking whether your implementation of strategy is accurate; whether your strategic judgements are progressing sufficiently fast to consider you for the next level in the coming appraisal! Unfortunately, some bosses also stress the English component even in levels where it is not required! Interviews are conducted purely in English in quite a few places; while the job requirements require the local language! Does that make any sense? It doesn't to me. Not anymore. 

    There is nothing wrong with communicating in English (note my choice of words, please) - indeed, there are decided advantages of English in terms of increased competitiveness. But the problem is that we ignore our local heritage, and frown upon it in condescension. The Urban Indian is blissfully unaware of how the rest of India lives: you can walk upto a tea stall (within a few kms of any Metro) and state : "Please give me a cup of tea" - and get stared at as if you are from the other side of Ganymede  the moon of  Jupiter! The total lack of comprehension on the stall-owners' face leads to "ek cutting denaa yaar"! This is basis personal observation on innumerable occasions. You may not be showing off - but trust me, that is what it looks like. In RCity, I recently asked for directions : "Indigo kuthe aahe?" She looks enquiringly. Me: "Indigo kahaan hai?" She: "Take the elevator to the 3rd floor, 2nd wing". Huh? Where did that come from? Whatever happened to "Teesre maale par jaayiye?" At Pizza Hut: Yes, Sir? (?????) Me: "Ek 99 waalaa lunch meal denaa". He: "Right Sir. Will it be lemonade, or pepsi? (?????) Sharam aati hai kyaa, Hindi yaa Marathi mein bolne mein? For South Indians: my point is not Hindi, but that please speak in the language the other person is using! 

    The Film Connection...
    Next, note ourselves: We watch Hindi movies, but are frequently embarrassed   on a comparison with Hollywood. We trace Hollywood's every move; Indian moves are judged on their performances abroad; international awards are sought after; we google international responses on our movies - although we stay here. Why? Kyun? Mumbai film trade is called Bollywood: frankly, a derogatory term. But we dont notice anything strange in it. Indeed, we take pride in it. The stars strut about in international festivals (nothing wrong with that), but remain absent (some of them) from Indian festivals, which is wrong. Dont we have an independent style, an independent identity? Why are we subjugating ourselves culturally? Why give greater importance to an arena that is alien? I am fine with internationalising; it is great. We get to export our culture; I have a problem when the same stars regularly remain absent from internal events, or treat Indian film fests with utter disdain. I have a problem when an Indian superstar plays a non-event in Hollywood, and considers it a crowning achievement. I have a problem when an Indian star's hollywood roles are puffed up without any apparent reason by either the star, or the media. Aren't our movies totally different from the West? So why model ourselves on them? Cant we accept that both Hollywood and  Indian films are equally good, and in a class by themselves? Why do our stars - with massive followings go gaga over a bit-part role in Hollywood? Why does our media treat that as a symbol of the star having arrived? Just as you state that we cant emulate Hollywood, we can also state that they cant emulate us! Simple truth - whether or not anyone accepts it. So what makes the English movies better than ours? Why cant we accept that both are good? Kyun? Ghar ki murgi daal baraabar - yaa phir sharm aati hai naach-gaanaa screen par dekhne mein? Khud toh sab log shaadiyon aur partiyon mein bahut naachte hain. Tab kyun nahi sharmaate? And why the needless comparison? Just as it is tough getting those special effects right, cant we accept that making emotive scenes and song sequences is also tough, as it requires imagination? Why cant we accept that portraying melodrama on screen is equally tough? They are good, no doubts. I too have watched Home Alone, Die Hard, Terminator, The Guns Of Navarone, The Longest Day etc; and enjoyed them. But I have also enjoyed 3 Idiots, Sholay, Ram Balram, DDLJ, Ram Lakhan, Sarfarosh, LOC Kargil etc - and I have now stopped comparing them. Sure, we cant make a Terminator. But they cant make a Ram Lakhan either! Even stevens! There are 2 aspects in play here: an aping of the west, and an English complex in operation. I shall look at the aping aspect in another article; the English factor is in play here as well... somewhere in our subconscious, there is a proclivity to attach a greater importance to English imports. This is readily apparent when you compare the penetration of Hollywood movies in the metros and the other cities. Outside the top-20, the craze takes a nose-dive; just like English. I am a small-town guy who moved to Metros for a career; so I have observed both sides of the coin...

    Food for thought... I myself have displayed all three of the above at some point in my life; something I am now embarrassed to admit...

    Thursday, 14 March 2013

    The eternal love triangle: India - Pakistan - USA...

    Hyphenated relationship seems a trifle overdone statement; it seems to be a common and everyday term. It is also a term that does not capture the realities of the relationship. Even the most forthright of observers veers round the ugly facts by using this term, and insisting on the India-USA relationship be dehyphenated. What the situation requires is a new term - one that truly represents the ground reality of the India-USA relationship.

    And I humbly propose "The eternal love triangle". The "eternal" implies no solution in the foreseeable future; and the "love" is purely one-sided: US love for our markets, India's love for day-dreaming of a strategic Indo-US relationship and US love for Pakistan. That, to my mind, is the perfect terminology for the complicated relationship between my lovely India and the USA. And triangle? There are 3 of us. Even geometrically, join the capitals - they make an isosceles triangle, almost. Try it: I just did!

    No headway can be made until we describe the background of this relationship; it is essential that we exorcise the ghosts of the past before we try to make an objective analysis of this most critical of our relationships. This is even more so, since the US side does not understand,appreciate or accept the Indian realities, or what India has gone through. Hence, I will restrict myself to the Indian realities as are known to me; the US side of the story and its strategic imperatives are well known to all. As Manoj Kumar said, Bhaarat Kaa Rehene Waalaa Hun, Bhaarat Ki Baat Sunaataa Hun. 

    The Historical Perspective
    USA has many expectations from India; rarely has it ever tried to understand the Indian side of the story. They would like us to run into their arms - as is evident from the Aircraft procurement tantrum by the USA. They forget the past, the history. It will take time for the wounds to heal, for the suspicion to falter. To those who say the USA, in turn, has expectations - my response is simply, it takes 2 to tango. And that is precisely what is wrong with the relationship. The following bullet points highlight the flow of the problems from 1940 onwards till the modern era:

    • First, The Atlantic Charter. When the freedom for the world was being discussed, self-determination for all was considered. India was not included in this landmark treaty. India was denied the right to freedom by that paragon of freedom, by that great supporter of freedom the USA. This was a major blow; the leaders of our independence movement were shocked by this betrayal. "How can I fight for a thing - freedom - which is denied to me?" Jawaharlal Nehru. The USA interpreted it as standing in the path of the war; totally forgetting the Indian right to freedom. This was perhaps the starting point of the deterioration.
    • Second, consistent denial of technology to a growing, needy and hungry nation in dire need of technological improvements. This gained ground after the entry of Pakistan into the US alliance in 1954. We were, for example, denied steel plant technology - when we first approached the USA. The USSR gave it to us; we took it. Why shouldn't we? We came to USA first, but were spurned.
    • Third, supply of arms to Pakistan. This continues till date; despite credible and concrete evidence of its usage against India in both overt as well as covert missions. Enough said.
    • Fourth, sending the 7th fleet against India in the 1971 war to intercede on Pakistan's behalf, ignoring the problems- the real problems - India was facing, or the fate of the Bangladeshis, or the genocide and massacres being carried out there.
    • Fifth, arming Mujahideens, setting up ISI for operations  in Afghanistan starting 1988. The USA totally ignored the possibility that the ISI would use these arms and intelligence assets against India. This decision is ultimately responsible for Operation Topac of Pakistan, and the sudden influx of terror into the then-peaceful Kashmir. India has not known a peaceful day since that fateful decision - the loss in terms of lives has been incalculable. There is not even the hint of remorse on the US side; despite being given evidence of Pakistani complicity.
    • Sixth, the 1998 sanctions on the Nuclear Tests, and the 2001 about-face as the USA belatedly woke up to the potential market of India, as well as the chance of selling their stuff to us. But this did not go so far as the Cryogenic Technology; which they are still denying to pass on. No matter: we are scheduled to test our own indigenous version in June 2013 

    I could state several more: denial of complete access to David Coleman Headley, the chance that he was a US spy, that the US might have been aware of the atacks; or I could examine the lack of real felt cooperation in the war against terror. I could state several more instances; I could examine the US pouting on their F-16 and F-18s being rejected against the overall growth in Indo-US military trade, which is by no means insubstantial. Or I could make the point that the USA has not been a reliable arms supplier in the past, withholding critical parts to achieve some objective... but the above will suffice to showcase the consistent anti-India approach of the USA for the past 73 years at least, right upto the modern day with the latest statement of Indian "interference" in Afghanistan. This is a reality that has shown no signs of change... 

    The Current Reality, And The Roadmap Forward
    I am only concerned with highlighting the simple fact that there are genuine areas of concern, areas where the USA was caught with its pants down; areas where we have lost due to the USA, or were spurned or even attacked like in 1971. Any Indian decision has to be examined in the perspective of the nature of the current relationship. The relationship is such that there is an absence of trust on the Indian side due to the reasons outlined above. In this light, it is optimistic in the extreme to expect any substantial movement from India beyond what has already been achieved: joint military exercises, increased military and other trade, lowered barriers, cooperation in terror etc. 

    The 2 of our nations have progressed a great deal from the days when we were, if not enemies, at the very least deeply suspicious of each other. The narrow glasses have been removed, a broader world view in now in place, which is a welcome development. However, expecting too much too soon in this relationship would be a capital mistake for the reasons outlined above. I appreciate that the US might also have concerns and its own strategic imperatives; but it needs to be aware of our concerns, as also the fact that without addressing these core concerns, real  progress is not possible. Our concerns, to be brief are: Pakistan and the US handling of the same; Lack of technology transfer; China; Intelligence sharing, Joint Military Operations and Collaboration in high technology. As per Nicholas K Gvosdev, A partner like India might be accorded full participation in a number of counter-terrorism initiatives, an expedited export control process for space technology and invitations to partner in selected research and development projects with the Department Of Defense. The last bit is precisely what Russia is doing; we are partners in many defence R&D efforts, notably the 5G figher. 

    There seems to be little realisation of this reality in even the common man in the USA (as evidenced by my interactions on quora) ; Andy Lee Chaisiri being a notable exception on Quora community. If the expectation is that India will be happy in playing the normally understood role of an ally in US perceptions, then there can be no progress forthcoming; not now, not ever. India will prefer to retain her autonomy of decision making as per her own strategic imperatives; the Iran imbroglio with the US being a case in point. India will never accede to playing second fiddle. The USA will have to find a proper definition of a partner with respect to India - or bid goodbye to strategic partnership hopes with India. It will have to accept our reservations and objections on the US treatment of Pakistan, or there can be no progress. That, to my mind, is beyond negotiation. And this is generally representative of the people's desires as well. 

    And the historical perspective cannot be ignored. Saying sorry by the USA now would be both pointless, as well as a pipe dream. You dont insult a country you want to become your partner by starting out insisting for an apology. But the trust deficit will have to be lowered; and that can only be a long-term process. USA will have to rise above its penchant for seeing our relations from a purely transactional basis. That could be a way to bridge the trust deficit. The Nuclear Accord, and the support for a permanent seat on the UN security council offered a window of opportunity, which has been quickly squandered away, largely by the USA to be frank. The historical perspective above has been enclosed solely for one purpose: to underline the trust deficit. In such a scenario, quick implementation of promises and long-term thought are the need of the hour. 

    Without mutual trust and respect, a strategic partnership will remain a pipe dream. And the indications are not hopeful: the latest statement on Indian "interference" in Afghanistan, the Arms to Pakistan, China-US dialogue contents  etc all seem to indicate that for the USA, India is just a market, a need. It is still viewed on a transactional basis; much like we customers ourselves treat a store which we know we will never visit again. On a regular store, we will forego the extra discount, or the unavailable change, We expect to be back. That is why the USA's insistence on Quid-Pro-Quo as in the Aircraft deal, or in Iran example, is unacceptable to us Indians. 

    Which is why I said: The Eternal Love Triangle: US love for our markets, India's love for day-dreaming of a strategic Indo-US relationship and US love for Pakistan...

    By the time USA wakes up, it will be far too late... for chances are, a deeply proud Indian Nation will have moved on. There are indications of this having started...

    Tuesday, 12 March 2013

    The Man in all his Manliness...

    "Dharmesh told police that he was watching TV with Mahalakshmi when around 10.30pm, he got a call from his sister who told him about her plan to visit them on Monday for a few days. His wife objected to his sister's visit, leading to a heated exchange between the two. During the argument, Dharmesh slapped Mahalakshmi and she collapsed on the sofa. 

    On seeing his wife unconscious, Dharmesh panicked and even tried to revive her through mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. He rushed her to St John's Hospital, but it was too late. Dharmesh's mother and couple's 4-year-old son were at home at that time. "

    Do read through the comment thread on this article. It will be instructive.

    I hope this is an isolated incident... while I have not seen any man slap his wife, the overall overbearing treatment is an issue... and it is all done as the - aah- Man is supposed to be the "Man of the house". It comes in many disguises but it is a problem in our society. Men will be men, after all... right Men on quora?

    You may not like my words - but I call it like I see it!

    To Women: I wish you would start walking out of any relationship where the - aah - "Man" (If you can call a brute a man) threatens to lift a hand. Please note: I did not say actually lifts a hand; I said leave even if your spouse even threatens to lift a hand on you - and that is regardless of "what about the children" nonsense.You are the Lakshmi of the house: any - aah - "Man" - who does not understand that... well, you get the point! 

    In India, the wife is supposed to represent "Lakshmi", the Goddess of prosperity. She is known as "Grahlakshmi"... in fact, what happens is the exact reverse, I have heard statements like "biwi ki asli jagah ghar par hai" or "jaayegi kahaan, aanaa toh yehin hai" - in both the intended and the rough meaning, "Beti kaa ghar hai, kaise jaayein" : kyaa bakwaas hai, yaar? Why should parents not stay with their child- even if she is a girl? Did you not give birth to her? And as regards staying with girl child for ever, these are matters to be taken up before marriage: the - aah- "Man" must realise that if he is marrying an only girl child, or a girl child with all sisters, then the chances are that parents will need to be taken care of in old age. It is immaturity on the part of the - aah - "Man" to expect otherwise. Why is it ok for the - aah - "Man's" relations to visit, but not for the wives? Why is it ok for the - aah - "Man" to leave home and do a job, but not the wife? Why is it ok for the - aah- "Man" to be sent 2000 kms away for studies, but not the Girl? Why is it ok for the - aah - "Man" to leave his home and his wife for his job, but not ok when the wife faces the same situation? Cant the - aah- "Man" manage a couple of years alone? Kyaa dikkat hai? Apne aap ko mard kehete ho, aur akele rehene se darte ho? Yaah biwi par bharosaa nahi hai ki woh khud kaa dekhbhaal kar sakti hai?Surprising! She left her home, her identity for you -  and you, the - aah - "Man" - think she cant take care of herself!!!!!!!!!!! Mardaangi upari dikhaawe mein nahi hoti, bhaisahab; asli mardaangi sahi bartaaw mein hoti hai!

    How many of us - self included - actually treat our spouse as the "Grahlakshmi"? I have seen incidences that have made me pause and think; true, I have also seen couples where this actually holds true: the wife is regarded in high esteem, her opinion valued etc, but by and large, the Indian society does not treat its ladies as Lakshmi... this is basis the evidence of my own eyes, as well as various news articles on home violence etc that I have read...

    Ladies, please start leaving relationships where the - aah,  Man - threatens physical violence...

    Monday, 11 March 2013

    Sati Pratha: The Myth and the Reality

    Sati... the mere mention of the word conjures images of widows burning on funeral pyres all across ancient and medieval India, right upto 1829 when it was outlawed by the reforming Britishers, and Raja Ram Mohan Roy. The impression it creates is one of a rampant and widespread practice, and one which was virtually unopposed in Society, much like that far greater social evil - casteism as experienced by SC/ST/OBC people during those times. Our education system drills in the name of Raja Ram Mohan Roy as a social reformer, and the British who voluntarily worked to eradicate it. Well, there were decent britishers who did campaign against the practice; it is also undisputed fact that Raja Ram Mohan Roy was a reformer. But that is it; rest all is incomplete history. Surprised? I was too, when I read it. But I have read enough of history to recall references to something like this in my history; and a simple google search completed the rest - and exposed the myth.

    First of all, 1829 and the famous sati act. Rewind history to 1813: the reforming noble-hearted great Britishers legalised the practice of Sati. So what you say? Well, that act made them the only (I havent found a single ruler -Aurangzeb included, who legalised this barabarity) ruling power to legalise this. Fast forward to the mid-1800s, when the law was substantially diluted when murder charges could not be laid if the death was caused by own consent.

    Furthermore, the official record does not state that Raja  Roy initially was against official intervention - even while vociferously campaigning against the barbarity. Neither does the record state the legalisation of sati in 1813. I wonder why? The official record makes no mention of a long list of anti-sati campaigners. Neither does it recognise that virtually every Mughal ruler had made strict laws against sati: including Aurangzeb. The first recorded law against this is by Humayun. That effectively puts paid to the "British ercadicated sati" claim. They didnt; it was the result of a centuries-long battle against this social evil directed and campaigned purely by Indians. That is what the entire record shows. So much for the much tom-tommed british claim of sati eradication!

    The proof? Simple. These are the precise numbers - documented numbers - of sati cases around 1810-1840. These records very effectively destroy any such claim even  without the lecture above.

    • Between 1815 and 1828, 63% of all recorded acts of sati took place in Calcutta
    • In 1824, of the 250000 women who became widows, 600 underwent sati. 
    • In Varanasi, there were only 125 cases in 9 years from 1820.

    The British exaggerated it enormously; there is evidence of this. This was since it could be used to justify their rule over us "heathens". William Carey, the great reformer, wrote : "For the first time during 20 centuries... the waters of the Ganges flowed unblooded to the seas". It is impossible that the British were not aware of the precise numbers: these figures are from their own records! As further proof: what did they do against the real social evil of the time - the plight of the Harijans? Nothing, that is what. And we Indians still believe in the their fiction, written by the Colonialists to further their own economic agenda...

    And this, folks, is the reality of the Sati saga, and the attendant Myth... Please correct your several impressions...

    Becoming Indian: The Unfinished Revolution of Culture and Identity by Pavan K Varma, its bibliograpghy and assorted internet resources

    Saturday, 9 March 2013

    No lessons learnt from the Nirbhay case...

    The article above raises some serious concern over the lack of official apathy, and what seems to me to be a total lack of governance. Autos on the fateful Dec 16 route are still refusing to go to Dwarka - and the police is doing nothing about it. The entire Nirbhay incident seems to have been consigned to the dustbin of sad memories - and it is life as usual for everyone including the government and the people. There have been few lessons that have been internalised from this entire sad scenario...

    The total lack of even the most basic of steps by the New Delhi traffic police : ensuring that Autos do not overcharge, and refuse to go; or that of providing alternative means of transport to the public has been ignored. No meters are used; rules are broken in front of the traffic cops, who apparently do nothing. Rampant overcharging, refusal to take people to out-of-the-way destinations - all in the open. This begs the question: are these autos above the law? They obviously fear nothing from the police. This lays open the field for further questions, none of them very comforting...

    This is not just about that Dwarka route where the incident happen; my point is that this is precisely the way things happen in India. Remember the AMRI fire? Reference: This incident too has been forgotten; no lessons seem to have been learnt. There is no indication of any action on fire safety hazards steps, and nothing has been done on public education to ensure that people cooperate. In short, a silence: we have carried on as before. Yet again, no lessons have been learnt.

    A similar argument can be made for any number of incidents that hog the headlines of our newspapers and our Media, and then are replaced by others, which each subsequent incident doing little to change the status quo. As my social issues tag displays, our media has faithfully reported each and every such incident vociferously and examined the repercussions in some detail. And yet, the absence of a sustained pressure from the public and the media in the form of continued follow-ups and questions has meant continuing official apathy. We all know the bureaucracy does not act; the fact that we dont act to ensure action points to both official and public apathy.

    We Indians dont even want to act to protect ourselves, to provide basic amenities to ourselves, we dont want to ensure good governance, our Media is more interested in current news rather than leading change... this has become a social issue of monumental proportions...

    Jaago Sonewaalon! 

    Wednesday, 6 March 2013

    Why are we so poor?

    This is my latest quest, after my previous (ongoing) quest to understand Independence and Partition. Reasons for the current status of India are diverse; you cannot pin it down to any one reason alone. There is the historical perspective of colonialism, and the political perspective of poor governance. Both are equally important; both need to be looked at in detail in order that we get close to the reason for India's poverty. This is a recent quest for me; so I freely admit that I may be off-the-mark somewhere; any suggestions are more than welcome. 

    First, we need to understand one thing: the conventional reasons that are oft-quoted for India's poverty are way off-the-mark and totally inaccurate. By that, I mean poor governance. Poor governance is only partially responsible for the continuing poverty that afflicts India; the core reasons lie elsewhere. More of this is covered in the section on the political perspective. 

    From my earlier post:
    The per capita income of the bottom 20% of India's population has not changed (as a percentage share) since 1978. That means, the bottom 20% of our population has not benefited at all from our economic boom. This is also confirmed by consumption patterns: with the consumption by the bottom 20% of the population being static @ between 0 - 1 growth%, in complete variance with the 3% growth registered by the top layers. While in the 1990s, India's Gini Coefficient was 0.32, it has now gone up to 0.38. The top 10% now make 12 time the bottom 10% - as opposed to 6 times in the 1990s.  

    As per Putting Growth In Its Place

    "But looking at contemporary India from another angle, one could equally tell the following—more critical and more censorious—story: “The progress of living standards for common people, as opposed to a favoured minority, has been dreadfully slow—so slow that India’s social indicators are still abysmal.” For instance, according to World Bank data, only five countries outside Africa (Afghanistan, Bhutan, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea and Yemen) have a lower “youth female literacy rate” than India (World Development Indicators 2011, online). To take some other examples, only four countries (Afghanistan, Cambodia, Haiti, Myanmar and Pakistan) do worse than India in child mortality rate; only three have lower levels of “access to improved sanitation” (Bolivia, Cambodia and Haiti); and none (anywhere—not even in Africa) have a higher proportion of underweight children. Almost any composite index of these and related indicators of health, education and nutrition would place India very close to the bottom in a ranking of all countries outside Africa."

    And the numbers are not too different if you consider even the bottom 40%... think about that! BPL numbers do not mean we have pulled people out of poverty!

    The Historical Perspective
    First read The Mahatma:  I came reluctantly to the conclusion that the British connection had made India more helpless than she ever was before, poltically and economically.. . . Before the British advent, India spun and wove in her millions of cottages just the supplement she needed for adding to her meager agricultural resources. This cottage industry, so vital for India's existence, has been ruined by incredibly heartless and inhuman processes as described by English witnesses. Little do town dwellers know how the semi-starved masses of India are slowly sinking to lifelessness. Little do they know that their miserable comfort represents the brokerage they get for the work they dofor the foreign exploiter, that the profits and the brokerage are sucked from the masses. Little do they realize that the Government established by law in British India is carried on for this exploitation of the masses. No sophistry, no jugglery in figures can explain away the evidence that the skeletons in many villages present to the naked eye. I have no doubt whatsoever that both England and the town dwellers of India will have to answer, if there is a God above, for this crime against humanity which is perhaps unequalled in history

    Note the underlined statements in the quotation from The Mahatma above. This establishes the income disparity between the villages and the towns. The income inequality that you see today has its underpinnings in our colonial past. An examination of this past will bring it out in the open, almost beyond any shade of doubt. 

    The core reason is the systematic planned destruction of both the agricultural as well as the industrial base of the nation. In agriculture, they played havoc by forcible cultivation of Indigo and to some extent opium. This disturbed the food chain; further farmers were deliberately not paid for both crops. Land tax was increased from 18% to 50-60%. The farmers were not allowed to store seed and grains for food. Frequently, this left no grains, farm produce or seeds - which meant starvation. This has been recorded by both Indian as well as British observers in several sources. There are minutes of Parliamentary proceedings available that show admissions from the British rulers that regions under British rule have been reduced to poverty not known anywhere else on Earth, Similar is the well-understood case of Indian Industry, which was systematically destroyed. Duty of 80% on home goods, and 20% on British Goods effectively outpriced Indian manufacturers, leading to starvation and death as large numbers of units closed.

    The intrusions in the farming landscape meant unmitigated disaster and ruin for India's hitherto well-off villages; with the cycle of crops being broken, lack of seeds and grain, and no protection (unlike earlier), the lot of the farming community degraded quite rapidly. Even today, take a look at the poorest sections of India: most of them were under direct British rule for the longest amount of time. The economic cycle was interrupted; leading to ruin. There was no development work undertaken for the welfare of the community. With the fall of the farmers into ruin, the entire village economy took a hit, and went on a downward spiral. 

    The condition in the towns and cities was no better; the industrial and handicraft units were broken up due to lack of business driven by the lopsided duty structure, with imports being taxed @ 20% and home products @ 80%. The influx of cheap imports broke the back of the economy in combination with the destruction on the farming landscape. Merchants guilds - a reality since harappan times in India- ceased to function; millennia-old trade routes were disrupted as they came under British control, and the cost of home-produced goods sky-rocketed. This broke the chain, the economic cycle; bringing the economic engine to a standstill. This also had its impact on the rural sector, as handicrafts, and rural goods trading also suffered. Now these were traded by the Brits, who are on record stating the lack need to pay for them. This was a frequent reality with goods being "purchased" and not paid for. No brickbats - this is a matter of documented record. Even a Brit PM is on record on this matter. 

    And this is the story, in a nutshell, of how one of the 2 greatest trading engines in the history of Earth crashed to its nadir. By the second half of the nineteenth century, the destruction was complete; nothing remained of the once-great Indian trading and manufacturing powerhouse. The towns fared slightly better thereafter, since the Brits needed people to run their administration; that let in modern education. This restoked the engine; the existing capital rose in the form  of some manufacturing units of initially textiles in the late nineteenth and early 20th centuries as some Indians tried to restart it. They faced heavy opposition: Indians were not allowed to have textile mills, it was supposed to be imported. The machinery that was to imported was stalled on several occasions; when procured it was further delayed at customs - every form of harassment was tried- leading to some just giving up. Others didnt; and thus started the rise of the towns and cities of India. 

    But rural India had no such initiative for them... and were left as they were! The per-capita income was nearly stagnant during the first half of the 20th century... this is a figure that tells the tale.

    The Political Perspective
    This was the scene when India became independent. The status of agriculture was terrifying; there was no growth in any sector; there were no industries - only a textile sector and a nascent steel plant. India had nothing; it was at zero. The morale of the nation had been broken by 200 years of the most brutal exploitation known to mankind. This was what our political masters had inherited. This problem was on a scale not known anywhere else on earth; the scale of the challenges facing India were unique and have no precedent anywhere on Earth on a similar scale. Repeated famines were hitting India - with each causing millions in death toll. The tasks facing the incumbent government were stupendously and horrendously arduous and beyond description; they further had no experience - and no one else did either, for no one had faced such a terrfying spectacle ever. And that is why, despite their many failings which I shall subsequently cover, I have nothing but respect for the founding fathers; what they achieved is a miracle. In retrospect we can say that they might have done better - but I submit anyone can say that with the benefit of hindsight. They deserve our respect and our gratitude - what they did, they did to the best of their abilities and with no one but themselves for advice. No one else had to face such a horrendous spectacle ever - not on this scale. Respect - thank you, Sir... all of you! 

    Thus we can see that India was already poor when she became independent. Given the scale of the destruction, it was always going to be a difficult, long and arduous climb spanning decades. But that does not mean we did not commit mistakes.  We have made only 2 mistakes since independence, in my humble opinion:

    • Governance: we have failed to deliver to the people. That is something for which there can be no excuse. These problems stated below have created a people who are unaware, and are unprepared to reap the advantages of the freedom we now enjoy. They have not been developed, which is a developmental and Governmental failure of monumental proportions. This has meant continued stagnation, as agricultural productivity did not grow, meaning lesser produce and money in rural markets; underdeveloped and unregulated rural markets; uneducated people etc. We have created an unweildy and unresponsive bureaucratic class in the bargain. The problems can be identified as:

      • Absent or inappropriate Health Services in Rural India
      • Lack of even basic educational facilities in Rural India
      • Leakage in funds allocation to the priority sector and villages
      • Lack of even basic amenities in certain villages
      • Resultant continuing Urban Migration
      • Severe shortage of needed infrastructure in the hinterland
      • Very low knowledge transfer from universities to Rural farmers, entrepreneurs etc; this has nothing to do with the internet: here I am talking about upgrading farmers with latest techniques; awareness of opportunities that arise with economic growth; awareness of technological developments that can be used to generate business etc
    • Corruption: this is the single most significant drag on our growth. This has its impact on every segment of the economy from the farmer to the agricultural mandis; from the rural mandi gundas to the urban thiefs; from the corporate scams to the governmental scams... there is not a sinble aspect which does not carry this rider...

    We started out as poor in the beginning; the scale and magnitude of the problem was so terrifyingly horrendous, that it was always going to take time. We went wrong in only one vital aspect: lack of focus on inclusive growth; lack of rural infrastructural development; lack of focus on human development and lack of control on governance leading to an unwieldy administration that is now more of a drag than a help...

    It is my ongoing quest to understand the current status of India in terms of governance, as well as the the policies - economic and otherwise - that have lead to this and the path forward...