Monday, 4 February 2008

India, As I See It

I haven’t yet decided what to call this blog or what exactly this is about but I guess I’m more or less going to talk about the contradictions within a country like India. Honestly where else in the world will you find such a cornucopia of languages, religions or race, where else in the world will you find the richest of the rich and poorest of the poor living together, where else will you find human demi-gods like Amitabh Bachchan uniting the populace to enjoy a movie or function and in other parts people killing in the name of thier God, where else will you find such a weird blend of technology and tradition, we even have Sadhus carrying cell phones these days...where else will you find normal people being true philanthropists and the people in power being so corrupt...which other country can create hype and enjoy both a movie like a touching Taare Zameen Par and a nonsensical Om Shanti Om with equal fervor..

You know the best place to watch life in India has to be in a Mumbai local train. One of my professors used to say that people think the space inside one of our local trains is infinity, and mind you, people do pour in like that… I remember the last time I went, oh my God, squeezed in one corner, it’s not like I need much space but still. In the Mumbai local train, you can see all sorts of people, from all walks of life, all ages, all religions and casts, male and female, from the rich brat to the street children, people who are so comfortable hanging onto the railing confidently and using their new iPods or phones and even people who are too scared that they hold on tight to their handbags. It’s a funny experience to watch how the people change from sane normal calm people to the total opposite while boarding or exiting the compartment because it barely stops for 20-30 seconds at each station. And the Mumbai local train sure has commendable spirit, just hours after the blast in July 2006 where 175people were killed, the train was back to life and in full swing. Kudos to Mumbaikars for that !!

Mumbai has to be one of my favorite cities of the world, not that I’ve travelled much but nevertheless, Mumbai is so, I quite don’t get the word for it, but full of life, the city is so alive, always buzzing with activity. No matter what time of the day or night it is, there is so much life, so much hustle bustle. It is amazing that Mumbai has Dharavi, the largest slum area in the world and in its vicinity it also has The Hyatt, the 5 star hotel. Imagine that the slum and five star hotels existing side by side, people who cant afford food for their children and people who can afford to buy the world if their child demands it, people who cant afford to buy food and clothes and side by side, people who rain money for one serving and who’re dressed in Armani and Gucci, that too from the posh locales around the world. It’s a plethora of opposites, rich and poor, old and the new, the modern high rise buildings and malls, Inorbit being my favorite, and the lovely old architecture and buildings like at the VT station, the exorbitantly prized stores and the much cheaper shopping areas like Linkin Road, Crawford Market etc, of bullock carts on the same roads as an BMW or Mercedes, the beautifully constructed buildings and the ugly pot-holed roads.

The other places which I totally adore in India have to be Goa and Kerala. I’ve had my best and worst holiday in Goa. Goa is a magnificently beautiful. It definitely is a blessed place. It is so serene and peaceful. Everyone should make it a point to visit Goa at some point of their lives, it is true that the booze is very cheap and you get all sorts of other ‘stuff’ too, but the place is just right to relax and de-stress. It definitely is a heaven on earth, the golden sands, the blue sea, the starry nights, the works. It definitely is the just the perfect place to unwind and let your hair down. One amusing incident that is still clearly etched in my mind is when we went to the flea market. The natives who had come to sell their wares there had an accent which really surprised me and my friends, they had a very good American accent and we were in awe actually, because the way they looked, you’d think they wouldn’t even know the language. But they had a very good American accent and knew more than enough English to sell their goods to make their living. It shows both their adaptability as well as a sharpness of mind, ultimately the need to survive is the most prominent, innit?

Kerala or God’s own country as its also known is glorious; the story goes that Kerala was born at the spot where Lord Parashuram threw his axe. The extensive coast line, the soaring coconut trees, the luscious green fields, the mouth watering delicacies, the tongue twisting language, all in one package. These are some of the things I love about the place. I love being in Kerala, apart from being there just to visit my family, I love sitting on the rocks and listening to the waves, walking down the shore with the waves nibbling at my feet, and just enjoy being one with nature. I used to come to Kerala for my holidays back when I was in Bahrain, and I used to love the feeling of it, slow, steady, relaxed, tranquil. No hustle-bustle no hurry just let your hair down, enjoy life, enjoy nature.

Mumbai on one hand and Goa and Kerala on the other, one a city which enjoys life at a maddening speed and the others, serene and calm, two ends of a spectrum but both, wonders within one country.

I have been living in India for about 3 years now, yes I am an Indian citizen and quite a proud one at that, just that I have been born and brought up outside the country, I used to come here for about a month every 2 years, just to meet family and it used to be fun. Anyways, living here is totally different from visiting once in a while, the country humbles you, it teaches you very many lessons in life, compassion, hope, humility to name a few. Somehow, this country makes a human being out of everyone who lives here. The truth be told, I was freaked out about living here especially since the first sight I got as I exited the Mumbai airport is the slum area. But it wasn’t that bad, the whole experience of living alone in India is enriching to say the least.

India, a country which has a woman president, something which hasn’t even happened yet in the so called great nations like the United States, a country which has given birth to great women visionaries like Mother Teresa, to great businesswomen like Indra Nooyi and yet at the same time it’s a nation where evils like dowry and female infanticide are still prevalent. A nation where the women play equally important roles as wife, mother, sister, daughter, teacher as well as a bread earning member of the family. A nation where the woman will suffer abuse from her in-laws or even husband, in dignified silence, in order to protect her family and her tradition. A nation where the woman’s priority is not her self, but her family and her tradition. A nation where the child starts learning values even before the alphabets.

As far as I see it there are three main problems with the country: the bas abhi teek hai, the satisfied and content attitude, the need to poke noses into other’s business and of course, the government system which gives power in the wrong hands. Let us examine it one by one, from the last.

The government system, India is a democracy , the largest democracy there is and that sounds so amazing, but when you get into the nitty gritty, it isn’t a pretty picture. India is country with a population of more than 1,129,866,154 people, and it is a democracy. The problem lies in the lack of awareness, about the leaders who they are voting for, the problem lies in illiteracy and poverty. And even if the people are aware, we Indians somehow always believe in giving one more chance, we always hope that the next time they will be better leaders, hope that the net time they are elected they will be less corrupt and actually keep their word. Corruption is a sad truth that is prevalent at every level of Indian governance. Most of the voting crowd is illiterate, how many college students actually go out there and vote? Hardly if any. We should start and start soon, to right the wrong judgments made. Analyze each candidates portfolio and vote for the right reason, not because he’s from your caste or religion but because you believe he can make a difference.

The second problem is that we are always nosy, we are always wondering what is happening in the neighbors house rather than our own. We will criticize and comment on others way before judging ourselves and this has given rise to a fear of society, a fear of what other people will think, this stops us from giving ample opportunities to the children to develop their talents and what they desire. Thanks to this attitude we push and push to make engineers and doctors and toppers out of them, but not give heed and help develop what they are born with, drawing, dancing, singing, all come secondary. We should learn to be strong enough to help the children develop their God given gift.

Indians are very complacent people. It takes very little for us to be content as a matter of fact and the problem lies in that. We stop working to better ourselves once we reach that line. We stop aiming for the stars; we just aim at like 24th floor of a building, so to speak. And this nature makes us find temporary solutions which again will not help us in the long run. Like I said earlier, not everyone votes as they believe somebody else will. We don’t take things into our own hands, not even our own lives’ decisions, we let others, parents, peers, and society to make those decisions. We blame others but not attempt to make it right ourselves, and because of that nature, we are still where we are and not one one among the developed nations where we have the potential to be.

To conclude, I quote [with a little editing] a dialogue from Namastey London in which this was said to a Englishmen, ‘When we greet one another, we fold our hands in Namastey because we believe that God resides in the heart of every human being; we come from a nation where a lady of Catholic origin, stepped aside for a Sikh to be sworn in as prime minister, by a Muslim president, to govern a nation of over 80% Hindus; It may also interest you to know that many of the origins of English words come from Sanskrit, for example Maatre becomes Mother, Jamitri became Geometry and Thrignomati becomes Trigonometry; we have 5600 newspapers, 35000 magazines in over 21 different languages with a combined readership of 120 million; We’ve reached the moon and back but yet you people feel that we’ve only reached as far as the Indian rope trick; we have the third largest pool of doctors, engineers and scientists; that was about brains, now lets talk about brawn, we have the third largest army in the world and even then I fold my hands in humility before you because we don’t believe that we are above or beneath any individual’

India, the land of rich culture and heritage, the land of values and traditions, the land of the Himalayas and the Ganga, the land of Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore, the land of the Taj Mahal, the land of picturesque locales and breathtaking scenery, the land of gorgeous women, the land of the Ambanis and Mittals, the land of divinity and superstitions, the land that is blessed by the Lord, India, the land of contradictions.