My earlier blogs on my India visit and my facebook posting drew harsh brickbats from people supposedly in love with India. I was hectored duly with lectures on Indian values, the charm of India, the hoary traditions, the richness of India, the promise of becoming a super power etc etc.
To a friend I summed up USA like this: On 9/11 Americans said "Nobody does this to USA (i.e. Nobody can go scot free after such an attack). On Katrina Americans said: "This is not who we are. This is not us" (i.e. American citizens deserve much better). Thanks to our sense of outrage neither event has been repeated.
A nation that, as recently as 1991, had only one week of foreign exchange reserves and had to pawn its gold, in the space of 20 years is now brimming with confidence, has a $1 trillion economy, is constantly talked about as a land of promise by the external world. The country has indeed been unleashed. The Indian graduate is basking in the limelight of a market where companies dole out increments half yearly.
The fundamentals of a country, its core governance, its body politic is corrupted beyond compare. The fantastic growth is nothing but lipstick on a pig.
As I was drooling and sinking my teeth into an exotic ripe mango I was told that fruit vendors ripen mangoes artificially in harmful ways. Not even Indians trust the tap water anymore. The bottled water we buy eagerly is also no guarantee, it is often tampered with. Tamil Nadu now has a 911 like service for ambulance. Many say it is prompt but often the government hospital van operators in cahoots with poly clinics do not arrive until a private hospital ambulance has ferried the injured to a costly private hospital. Educational courses and colleges are worse than locusts, gullible parents beguiled by fancy subjects put their children into courses about which nobody has a good idea. Name ONE good thing and I can bet you can add a "BUT" to highlight its corrupted side.
What really alarms me is the abject intellectual degradation. On a Sunday morning I channel surfed not a single indigenous channel had anything remotely intellectual. The plethora of Tamil channels are 100% film oriented. Turn on the FM channels and its even more insipid.
I stepped into a computer showroom. The attendant helpfully tells me the price of a compaq is Rs30,000 for a certain config. Finally, as matter of fact, adds 'by the way the OS will be pirated copy'. This for a branded PC. No buyer balks at it, nobody hesitates. Be a Roman I am told.[ A reputed PC reseller once quoted my dad on company letter pad prices with pirated and authorised software].
When Indians sanctimoniously pontificate on Indian values usually it is within the framework of sexual morality, familial attachments, divorce rates, teen pregnancies and the like. With tongues firmly in cheek many an NRI would draw attention to statistics in USA (yes its always that). Not many understand that divorce rates, for example have a socio-economic component and is correlated to the financial independence of women. Also the statistics in the western world is largely accurate unlike India where government statistics is a joke. Pray, tell me in which western country do governing politicians strut about with two wives (its not just Mu,Ka, many in his cabinet, also Mulayam the socialist).
No NRI bothers with the fact that Indians as a country are habitually unethical in public conduct. Loan defaults, eagerness to bribe and be bribed, complete absence of civic conduct (blaring loudspeakers from Christian and MUslim worship places assault my neighborhood EVERYDAY).
Cars are sold with no airbags, no child locks, when roads are closed no detours are marked, children are packed in highly unsafe share autos like sardines, food is unsafe, water is unsafe (many do not even get it), thousands of villages lack basic health care.
Ok. Where do NRI's fit in this? NRI's, the ones who are citizens/permanent residency holders in western countries confuse nostalgia with love. We all share an instinctive love for the places where we spent our carefree childhood. CHildhood and adolescence is, by hindsight, always fun memories especially in relation to our present where we worry about jobs, career, savings, retirement, children's education etc. Also we visit India mostly to spend time with aged parents, to let them spend a few happy moments with their grand children. To top it all our dollars and pounds enable us to travel in air-conditioned comfort, stay at choice hotels, eat at choice places, buy Bisleri by the crates. We NRI's basically cocoon ourselves in replicated environs. Occasionally we peek from our bubbles and interact with the masses.
An American child, gets fluoride from tap water and is protected from tooth decay, travels in school buses for which traffic will come to a stop, the child is safely tucked in baby seats (rated by a trustworthy consumer reports), the child gets sun lotion SP 50 for heat that is far less, in winter the child is treated to Aquaphor, the county school provides a seat with no recommendation and good education, we have 30 day return policy for most, our children play in the safest designed playgrounds complete with soft cork for grounds to protect the soft knees. I can go on.Just yesterday my child went to play in the apartment playground. Somebody had spat his betel nut on the sand.
I love Thomas Friedman for the columns he writes excoriating Americans not to take their status for granted. I love the scare mongering that Americans would lose their place. Indians on the other hand, especially NRI's, who brook no criticism do India a great disservice. For the sake of the impoverished millions I wish India progressed more and faster. A nation of one billion people cannot be ignored. As an American I wish India prospers and engages in more open trade with USA by opening up Indian markets ensuring a symbiotic growth.
Was it Johnson who said "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel". (Before anybody misunderstands it let me explain that what he meant was that often 'patriotism' is used as an excuse to cover-up shortcomings).