Nothing grates the heart of preening pseudo-patriotic Indians as much as a one-time Indian and now expatriate who holds up a mirror to the seedy underbelly (actualy its more than an underbelly) of a nation that, as a national sport, indulges in breast beating and pats itself lost in imaginary visions of sitting at the table of G8.
When visiting Indians ( or past citizens) voice disappointments we are greeted with "why bother coming here" followed by pious lecturing on "Indian values" (from which most ran away from to USA/Canada/UK), quotes from Friedman's books or the famous Goldman Sachs report that prophesied an India, in 2050, hving GDP close to USA. The ranking of Ambanis on Forbes listing, Azim Premji's net worth, Tatas buying luxury car maker Jaguar, Bollowood churning out 100 times more than Hollywood, the price of square foot at Nariman Point exceeding a sq.ft in Manhattan, brand stores, cars on the roads, oh the number of so-called graduates and so much more would flow from a mouth foaming at its ends and a chest heaving with inhaled hot-air.
Did I expect India to be like USA or France or Germany? Absolutely NOT. I am in touch with day-to-day reality reading news papers in India and through my parents. Just today my dad, a pensioner, recounted the horrors of dealing with clerks to get his pension redirected to his new address.
Has there been progress in the country? Ofcourse yes. Only an ostrich can deny it in totality. Today a good graduate has more options and much better social mobility than ever before in Indian history. The serious disconnect is much progress in the country is taking place OUTSIDE of public policy and sometimes despite the government. The country is admirably taking advantage of loosening controls. But in any country and in any age there is a role for government and in that sphere India is still stuck and very badly stuck.
I took a train from Egmore to Trichy. The station was a microcosm of everything that is still wrong. 50 people queued up to buy water, good distilled water that is, in sweltering heat. No 'decent' public amenities were available. The improvements done in the station are no match for the exponentially increasing needs, many are basic needs not luxury, of a seething population. "Population" is a popular excuse. If China is pointed as alternative we are met with "of they are a dictatorship we are a fractious democracy". This is pathetic we do not need a dictator to provide clean toilets and drinking water.
We were booked into an a/c chair car. I wish I could upload the pictures I took. The cabin was just plain gross. What is the point of having an a/c chair car if vendors with hot dosas, hot samosas keep streaming in and out and practically ensuring that the cabin is hot. The curtains had never seen a washing detergent. The carpet at the vestibule in the airport was too dirty to be even used in a toilet. Remember Indian airports charge heavy taxes on airlines and we consumers pay for it through our tickets.
I took a roundtrip in an auto from Adyar to Egmore. I can swear that nothing has changed. Yes, maybe a mall here and there but it was the same old Madras. Forget the dust, its a tropical country. The traffic mayhem was just ridiculous, signals were for decoration, of course the ubiqiutous corrupt traffic cop (I saw a cop getting bribes) were all just worsened.
A big mall is being constructed near Egmore. When it is complete more Chennai-ites would feel proud about the gleaming shopping mall, "oh did you know they have 1000+ stores, what amount of parking space yaar". Yesterday I saw the construction going on, cables were dug up in mid road, mounds of excavated sand were gathered obstructing traffic, the worker was carrying bricks barehanded, scantily clad, bathed in sweat, a pathetic barely functional slipper (100 deg F), no protection from either sun or a wayward truck or from dangers inherent in what he was doing.
Just today in the flats were my parents live I saw a woman carry ten bricks on her head with a cloth bundle barely cushioning her head, walking barefoot up the flights 4 stories (no workers elevator please, no protection for hands). After sometime I saw the workers gathered around a mug sharing a most unhygienically made coffee, that too just a sip.
Yes, India, especially Chennai, today manufactures BMW's but the roads are an apology for a road. What country can afford to have 3 hours of blackouts EVERYDAY in peak summer? Yes I am typing this on broadband and our car driver has a cell phone. Yes, our car driver is paid Rs 5000 per month+ daily allowance (My starting salary as Engineer was Rs 3000 in 1998). With inflation, a year ago, raging at 12% (officially that is, in truth much more) such salaries are useless. Thanks to burgeoning corporate travel car drivers can earn much more decently than before, still so much of the country is way beyond their reach.
Is India in a much better place than in 1998 (when I emigrated)? Certainly, yes. But India is still ranked at the bottom of the human development index and for that I do not see an end in sight.
Naysayers like me do India a much greater service than jingoists sitting in a/c rooms and debating about when India's GDP will come close to USA.
I've much more to share on just the people alone ...for another day.