Commenting on the last post, KM asked some pertinent questions - particularly whether there ever was something that could be defined as Indian-ness, and whether my not finding it anymore is because maybe I've changed.


There are two equally horrible traps an emigrant can stumble into - an unjustified nostalgia for the country they have left, which keeps growing with every minute not spent in the place, out of all proportion to the reality left behind; or, an undepth-able hatred for the place, which keeps growing with every minute not spent in the place, out of all proportion to the reality left behind.

It's a bit like school/college - you either remember only the good times and two decades later convince yourself that you had an awesome time while you were there, or you can only remember all the frustrations and humiliations and keep obsessing about them till you cannot help but spew vitriol all the time.

Both possibilities are open to those who choose to leave. But there is a middle ground - for people who move not purely because of choice, but because of a series of circumstances.

I am one of these people.

For the larger part of my life, I made no attempt to leave India. The option was considered, weighed, and rejected in favour of staying put. But then I had to move (various reasons for both, but we won't go there).

And so, I find myself on that middle ground. Where I can appreciate the quality of life in a country such as this, compare it unfavourably to that back home, and yet appreciate the many myriad ways life is better in India. I criticise both places, and appreciate them both, and I can do so without getting either sentimental or vitriolic.

Out here, I love recycling facilities, and cycle lanes, and orderly queues (oh baby, queues), and parks all around, and the abundant quantities of couscous and dark chocolate. I love that even in crowd, people tend to respect your space. I love that drivers actually make way for emergency vehicles, and honk only if the other person is truly an idiot.

I crib about all this whenever I go back home...no, that's not right. That's stuff I used to crib about even when I was back home. Stuff lakhs of other people crib about too. And when I get home (it's still home), and plunge into a noisy crowd and walk down dirty roads and eat junk off street vendors, it all just...fits.

Yet. With every passing year, I find myself getting more and more irritated with the attitudes and practices of Indians.

Actually, make that Indians in cities.

I just cannot bothered with the sheer aggravation anymore. Whether it's multiplexes that think it's fine to charge me thrice the amount a single-screen cinema charges (can't anybody teach about economies of scale?), or news channels that have six (six!) lines of text on the screen, or neighbours who still think it's ok to have their marble floors cut and polished at 10pm, or idiots who will stand off the kerb on a blind corner when traffic is rushing at them, or....

I keep telling everybody that I doubt I could live in an Indian city again. Ok, I could, but in the same way I could poke knitting needles into my little toe every morning. I just wouldn't want to.

Because the simple truth is that, over the decades, cities in India have simply gone downhill. I'm not even blaming the corrupt bureaucrats or the uncaring politicos. It's just the sheer numbers that drown every effort. Our cities simply do not have the long-term planning or the time to implement them, or the infrastructure to cope with the millions who pour in all the time. Even if there was somebody honest enough to try and do something, at best it's like trying to stop a leaking dam with some towels.

I walked around Bombay this time. And yes, there are all the new roads and highways and sea bridges and new trains and smart buses. Improvements. But all it will do is convince more people not currently living in the city, that it is now worth living there, and draw in more moths to the burning flame of commerce.

Like Delhi. In the past decade, the city has improved amazingly, and even people from other metros might consider living there, despite all its pretensions. And where does that leave us? With more chaos. I tried thinking of what I'd do if I somehow managed to get enough idiots citizens to vote me into power. Scared me to heck.

Where would you even start? You need lots of cops for one. Who'd want to be one though? You can't even give them decent housing, and their salary is so shite, they are pretty much forced into accepting bribes. You need to get all the cabs and rickshaws sorted - it's illegal to drive in a private car without seatbelts, but try getting the cabbies and rickshaws to do so, and the unions would shut down the place. You need to start recycling garbage, but who's got the trucks and manpower for it? And then where would you dump it? Other countries send their stuff to us to recycle.

It just....

So yes, there was something that could be termed Indian-ness. Now it's just...me-ness. And no, I'm not jealous of the rise of the new middle-class. I just wish they'd appreciate what they have, and learn to preserve and enhance it for others around them, and all those yet to come. Which is why when I get back, I'll probably live in some gaon. Nahin toh 'Khooni darinde ne bichhaaya maut ka jaal' headlines will be soon flashing on a screen near you.

Sorry Brinda, we'll try chirpy next week.


Lekhni said...

It's true that as outsiders who see India in time-lapse intervals, we are better able to see the changes than people who live there. I too, agree with you on the many things that have changed for the worse with the sudden economic boom. It has brought prosperity, but only exacerbated the lack of civic sense and discipline that was already present.

There is so much jingoism on the one hand, and on the other, people will still throw garbage in the street.

But try telling any of this, however mildly, to most Indians. You will be criticized as someone who chose to leave India, only to return for short intervals and criticize.

??! said...

Sadly, that's so true. There's this unfortunate lack of being able to distinguish advice from criticism. And that's one of the problems in itself - this whole 'we are an ancient culture, and what can the decadent West teach us'.

I just tell them, go see Japan and then tell me the same.

Tabula Rasa said...

lekhni: bingo on the jingoism. add to that the lack of civic sense (which i guess has never quite been there), absence of small courtesies, unprofessionalism, and the ubiquitous chalta hai. i love many things about india and have way more happy memories of my childhood and youth than otherwise, but i would not be able to live there today.

brinda said...

Will you NRI types *please* stop this? It's hugely depressing. Yes, yes, of course it's all true, and that's why it's so bloody depressing. (To make me feel better, I decided that this was only about Bombay and Delhi. Don't burst that happy bubble, please!) Now will you kindly change the subj and talk of pink elephants and fluffy wabbits or some such? Many thanks

km said...

??!, TR: When you talk of jingoism, are you saying this sentiment was not as visible in India in the 1970s or 1980s?

It's now accepted by almost everyone that *something* changed in 1992.

That year, and in the years that followed, many educated, urban middle class Hindus seem to have consciously adopted an identity as a Hindu, only to distance themselves from the other.

Though it has always been around - ask any South Indian kid who grew up in the North or anyone from the North-East - one could argue that this sense of "otherness" is new to India.

But tell all this to the families of the 3000 Sikhs who were killed in 1984 and we will probably get our asses kicked hard.

As for civic sense and discipline, well, that's never been our strongest point, has it? So are you saying it has somehow gotten worse? Seriously, *can* it get worse?

dipali said...

Were we ever courteous? Did we ever put others first? I attended college in the '70s, and getting there and back by Delhi buses was painful. But there was interaction with neighbours, shopkeepers knew you, lines existed at the milk booths.
The rude people just got richer.
Prejudices were probably better masked back then.

km said...

But there was interaction with neighbours, shopkeepers knew you, lines existed at the milk booths.

That bit about neighbors rings true. But I am curious - it is no longer as common to see people pop into their neighbors' homes for a cup of sugar or just for a chai?

??! said...

But I'm not an NRI type - I'm just an Indian who's temporarily living abroad. Call it a recon mission.

I'm with TR and Dipali on this. Jingoism has always been there, and so was rudeness, but like Dipali mentions, it was probably better hidden.

And that's what has changed. With money, people don't feel the need to pretend to be polite anymore. Because, like, y'know, they have money. And money is power. And they are now powerful. So screw you all.

dipali said...

@km: The neighbourhood as a source of social interaction has all but disappeared, especially for the transferable variety of people. People seem to be busier, and less welcoming. Social interaction seems less spontaneous, more scheduled. maybe it's just me getting old:)

The Bride said...

"I'm not even blaming the corrupt bureaucrats or the uncaring politicos. It's just the sheer numbers that drown every effort."

I wonder. Cities have always attracted an influx of people – admittedly in India this influx is larger and harder to control – and solutions have been found. I don’t think we can throw up our hands and say, we have too many people, I give up! I think improvements are possible if there is the political will. See the airport, they kept saying oh we can’t renovate it because it will disrupt air traffic but magically they have no?

Also, I’ve discovered as people who’ve lived abroad we can no longer add our two cents. It’s kind of how only family members are allowed to criticize the family. And, face it, we are not family anymore because that would be like having your cake and eating it. They’ve got a point too – living away from India changes you, you lose that in-touchness and while it might give you critical distance, it’s not like people living in India don’t see most of the things you’re saying, it’s just that solving them is hard.

You’re right about the me-ness. Or rather, this new brashness. Me-ness is a natural stage of development I think. Hopefully it gets tempered. And it’s still not as me as what I see in Hong Kong where things run so smoothly you don’t need other people. The difference is that it’s brash.

Tabula Rasa said...

I think the jingoism has been ratcheted up several notches in the last decade and a bit.

the rude people got richer
oh yes. and the rich people got ruder (in the shakespearean sense)!

the bride:
i completely agree about the "family" observation. otoh the expat community in HK is a strange beast -- not sure what exactly one can generalize from it.

apologies for acting as if this were my commentspace :-D (especially when i have comments unattended back home!)

The Bride said...

@tr you're right about the expat community in HK. But I was (generalising admittedly) about the locals.