Sometimes I think the worst thing in recent decades to happen to India is the suddenness of the economic boom in the past decade or so (the assorted wars, riots, scams, natural disasters are nothing new, unfortunately).

The suddenness, mind you. Not the boom itself.

I can't help but feel that if we had instead grown along at a solid but unspectacular 4-5% GDP, things would have been far smoother than they are today. It's as if you've taken children who were used to owning a frisbee and a couple of Lego pieces and suddenly given them an anything-you-want voucher from Hamleys.

And then you realise that the little indiscretions you used to gloss over, the not blaming the children for being grabby and thrusty because 'after all, they have so little', cannot now be excused away.


Indians are warm, friendly, helpful, smiling, inventive, entrepreneurial, hard-working. Canon, yes?

But we are also petty, and bitchy, and inquisitorial, and discriminatory, and selfish in a way that only living in such crowded conditions can make a person.

Till a decade ago, people could just about excuse the latter, because such qualities were thrust into the spotlight only occasionally, and everybody could go back to singing the former platitudes. And it worked (or at least it seemed to) in a 'noble poor' kind of way - yes, we have our faults, but given our conditions, isn't it amazing we're not worse? - that managed to make everyone feel just a little bit better. What else could you do anyway? Everybody was in the same shit, and somebody must've learnt a lesson from crabs, so it made more sense to try and get along.

And then, the money poured in.

And suddenly, people remembered that they didn't care if the music their car was blaring was perhaps a little too loud for 2am; they didn't care about beggars because there must be something really stupid about you if you can't earn money in this economy and besides, everybody knows it's a racket and they're secret millionaires; they didn't care about being delayed from their important work because of arcane rules such as stopping a vehicle when the signal turned red; they didn't care about the impact their lives had on the world around them, because it's just a little litter anyway; they didn't care about pointless concepts such as sustainability, and air quality, and deforestation, because that wasn't happening here, was it; and they particularly didn't care about being told that maybe, just maybe, they did not have the right to violently thump their opinion into somebody who still laboured under the misunderstanding that there was anything to discuss.

And now you've got this weird mixture of old-school feudality and new-age liberalisation, where you can pick up avocados in supermarkets, but only if you let the insistent service attendant pack it for you in a plastic bag that you don't want, so that it can be inspected by a guard near the exit gates which anyway beep if the product has not been scanned.

You've got this mentality where families will bitch about how the inflationary pressures of world quota systems have helped sugar prices jump three-fold in the past two years, but will still see fit to raise the salary of their domestic help by 5% a year, because that's how it was always done.

You've got this belief that you're entitled to home theatre surround sound systems and hi-def earphones, without any attempt at making the one-brick-deep walls any more soundproof, or taking a bloody look around you and realising it's 5.30am in the morning and your fellow train passengers are asleep, because what's a little noise more in all this racket?

You've got convenience food with very little idea of how to implement it, and a lack of understanding which somehow makes people believe it's just fine to spend 80 bucks on a frikkin' burger, just because it's in some fancy mall, and nevermind that the filling is two-thirds flour and one-third six-day old murder-fried veggies.

You've got retail chains trying to create a standardized environment, so that you could walk into any of their shops in any part of the country and be able to pick up the same item there. Which is why you get fleece-lined snow-proof long coats being flogged in a city where the day time temperature is 36C. In January.

Because you now have money. And everybody is equal. And we're entitled to it, and if you don't like the sound of it, you can say hello to my fifteen bulky friends.

India, by definition, was a confusion of pluralities.

If you lived there out of choice, you loved it for all the eccentricities, all the chaos, all the misunderstandings and subtle elbowing between region and religion and language and community and gender. It was the kind of picture that made sense only if you looked at it from deep inside, and was completely lost to perspective from a long-angled view. The kind of symphony, though just this side of grating, that still had an underlying thread that linked it together.

Now, though, the confusion has crystallised into a blur. Disparate dots that do not connect. White noise in electronic disco beats.

We're rushing so eagerly towards the future that other countries exist in, we've forgotten to ask ourselves just what those people had to go through and how they adjusted, in order to get where they are now. We're running so fast to get to the top of the hill, we don't even realise our shoes have scraped away and the crudely-done road is beginning to cut into our feet.

We're trying so hard to forget what things were like, that we run the risk of erasing who we ever were.


Roy said...

well said.

Tabula Rasa said...

great post. we're trying so hard to be someone else that we've given up on what made others want to be us.

Anonymous said...

WOW... You put this very nicely,
Even I have been thinking about this BOOM thing from some time...
Also one the perils of this Boom is that it is some hows killing/ not supporting the diversity of our country...
We need to learn and develop our own business models which would support our diversity..

brinda said...

Very nice post but sadly so true... Now write a chirpy happy thing please?

Shyam said...

What a depressingly well-written and accurate post. I love. And I sad.

??! said...

Thank you.

km said...

??!: Terrible post.

Kidding. This is a FANTASTIC post. Put this down for your Greatest Hits, Volume 1. (And since I am old school, I would put it on Side A.)

That said, I have to ask: are we merely being nostalgic here? Was there *ever* some quality called "Indian-ness" that has changed? Or has the observer changed, thus forever changing the observed?

Are we being secretly resentful of the new middle class? Does their status threaten us?

Damn it, this post brings up so many questions :)

So who's got their boxing gloves on?

Aniruddha said...

Very well written post. I am sharing it with my friends.

dipali said...

So many sad truths here:(

??! said...

Very, very valid questions. And the topic of my upcoming post.

Saya said...

Well said. Well thought.
In addition to the new rich mentality, there are these beautiful places invaded by those noise means acceptance, taste means the ability to buy.
The market makes cheap fabric and sells it in all the expensive shops because the ones with the money have no taste. Turned the aesthetics of the world topsy turvy.