Tuesday, January 23, 2007

MY TRIP HOME

...was bittersweet. Sweet because of the obvious reasons; parents, friends, all the big little things that make home home. And bitter because of all the little big things that have left me and others a bit disconcerted. The way we are defining progress and development by the number of malls and multiplexes springing up. The way we are turning shamlessly immune to the state of the roads, which have been defiled beyond comment. But it's not the condition of the roads but the absolutely spineless and inisdious politicians which are responsible for that condition that defies all belief. As elections approach, it is becoming more than obvious how the gutless bigots are cranking out more and more contracts for road contractors so that they can make all the money they possibly can from these transactions. Give the contracters the contracts, make as much under-the-table money in the process as possible, and then who cares if the roads are left as they are.

And what is the common man to do about this? Leave his life and his family and try to launch a one-man campaign against this perversion? We are caught in a cycle of helplessness. We circuitously blame ourselves for not doing anything about the politicians' flagrant excesses and at the same time cannot do anything because of the sheer will and maverick like tendency that would be needed to fight against such travesties. One of the features of a healthy democracy is that common citizens can seek redress for their woes with a reasonable amount of effort. In a healthy democracy, they should not have to all turn into rebel rambos in order to secure, what are after all, their rights. By that token, ours has long since ceased to be a healthy democracy. In our country, either you turn a blind eye to what is happening, or become a rebel and devote a significant part of your life to fighting even for your own personal rights as a citizen, possibly sacrificing your job and the time you are entitled to spend with your family. You live almost exclusively in these two extremes. One can hardly blame citizens who choose the blind eye option. The one solace is that thankfully, you can still blog about it.

The gratuitous symbols of 'development' that highlight our landscape are yet more examples of what I have repeatedly talked about on this blog- our tendency to want to sprint before we can even stand. Much ado about IT and private management institutes without having a semblance of quality in primary and basic education. Many scenic places for tourists to visit, that lack basic tranportation and hygiene facilities. Much sophisticated instrumentation in our research institutions, without access to the simplest of lab equipment. And, as was highlighted for me in this trip, a rash of new malls, multiplexes, and restaurants, that make their home along narrow roads that are dug up, perpetually congested, and a nightmare to drive on. It's like a naked beggar proudly displaying his latest pair of expensive and sleek leather shoes.

The more alarming realisation is that many young people are quite oblivious of these basic problems, and want to tout these extraneous symbols as the face of 'modern' India. They somehow think that the higher they climb in the escalator in one of these multiplexes, not only will they not isolate themselves from the problems existing outside, but that those problems might just disappear. Sure, even I liked to visit these malls. But after a very short spell of admiration, I forgot about them once I stepped out of them. I also could never actually think that these were aspects of our country's progress when I was in them. And this is not some fatalistic anti-capitalist thought that I have. I don't have any problems with malls and multiplexes. But I think that I and many others do have a problem with the false illusions they create. And an even greater problem with the fact that many from the generation before us are falling for these illusions. I feel a pang of regret even when I say 'the generation before us'. Because the young people I am talking about here are only three to four years younger to me, yet I can feel a world of difference between their perception and mine. I don't want to label 'them' as mindless comsumerist globalized zombies, because they are not. But the problem of perception facing them is much greater than ever, and they simply might not always be able to separate their thinking from their reality, in an act that is increasingly involving an almost schizophrenic attitude of compartmentalization.

At the same time, I don't feel entirely comfortable labeling a generation as not being my own. Because it were these very young people, even six or seven years younger to me, who made me feel like one of their own, when I visited Fergusson College to give a talk. At first, I did feel like a dinosaur. But then, as I joined them for cups of 'special' tea in chipped cups in the ramshackle IMDR and college canteens, I started joking with them about teachers who taught both them and us, about the ridiculous textbooks which almost thankfully have retained their low standards, and about the experiments from antiquity that still form a part of the cirriculum, I was transported back to my college days, and then there was no difference between me and them. The science has not changed and never will, and so won't the passions for it. It's the really small, basic things that count, which connect us to others.

And it's the really small, basic things, that can make or break a country's soul. And me and many of my friends and teachers see that they are breaking our country's soul. But then, these small, basic things...haven't they always been our biggest woes?

8 Comments:

Blogger Neelesh said...

When I had been to India two years ago, I felt a semi-generational gap with my cousins who were 5-6 years younger. I can imagine it is only worse now. For some reason, they identify noisy malls as symbols of modernization and colorful mobile phones as success and achievement.
I guess I just dont understand kids these days ....

BTW if you are back in town, do give me a call.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Hirak said...

The plot gets murkier each time I visit. There is a method to this madness which we all know. We wonder if we are still going to plod on or really fly with these new wings?

9:26 PM  
Blogger Krishna said...

Very well written. I felt similarly myself when I visited India a few months ago.

Your views on macro level problems are spot on and it is difficult to imagine a concrete way for things to improve. As for the "gratuitous symbols of development" you are dead right. I would put it all down to, at the risk of sounding passe, an incredible amount of commercialization and wholehearted embracing of this culture by the middle class. What appals me is the narrow-minded contentment that people derive from the symbols of their newly acquired wealth, while at the same time being utterly indifferent to what happens outside of their lives.This explains for instance the mostly casual and silent acceptance of the strange combination of highly sophisticated malls, theme parks, multiplexes and pathetic roads that lead to them.

3:13 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Neelesh: Yes, they have already become 'kids' for us, haven't they!

Hirak: Exactly. That's the question. Are these wings really titanium, or just gold foil?

Krishna: Thanks. I also think that some people are just reveling in the shallow symbols of 'development' because they have given up on trying to fight the sordid politicians. The least we can do is sit home and not vote at least in the next municipal elections. Nobody is going to be any better than anybody else.

3:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you feel really strongly about this and wish to invest some time in attempting to do 'your bit' in improving the condition of the roads in Pune, you can take a shot at this:

http://darpg-grievance.nic.in/

It'll probably take ages, but there have been a few encouraging cases where the government has actually taken up the lodged complaint seriously and attended to it.

8:14 AM  
Blogger Manasi said...

You seem to be peculiarly agitated when you wrote this piece. Otherwise your posts always made me think that you were a quite guy.
What you say here are precisely my thoughts. This is like jalamata kadhun padakya gharachi durusti keli mhanane (of course i don't mean that the economy is collapsing.)

10:35 AM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Anon: Interesting site...all I can say for now!

Manasi: Well, I am sure you would be agitated too...the sheer feeling of helplessness is disconcerting. I am not sure how long we can drag on with this lopsided development.

12:14 PM  
Anonymous Riya said...

@ Neelesh...these nosiy malls are in a way symbols of modernization & these colourful mobiles show that the purchasing power is increasing in India.
& about feeling of helplessness...y dont we look at ourselves & c how can we contribute.

12:37 AM  

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