Over the last two days, I have been meeting people from other countries, many of whom have only heard of India over television, but never visited. Some others have distant memories of this country and find that the country that is, is no longer the country they remember. India has changed; irrevocably, and in ways that were completely unimaginable 10 years ago.
Personally, I find that I have ambiguous feelings towards the whole issue. A part of me presents the new India with a pride, a pride in having come this far, a pride in having the capacity to match some of the best in the world. Another part feels ashamed of the traffic, the indiscipline and the sheer chaos that characterizes much of India. Yet another part yearns for some unknown, lost innocence that seemed a part of my childhood, that I don’t find any longer in the children of today.
I am trying to put these conflicting feelings in words as I experience this inner struggle between pride, shame, embarrassment and nostalgia. On the positive side, I feel truly proud that people who came into India 20 years ago, find it unrecognizable today. Better roads, better cars, greater material comforts and impressive buildings, all speaking success stories that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. I feel happy that there is nothing that is not available in India. I feel proud of what we have managed to achieve since the pre-liberalization era of the 1980s.
I also feel embarrassed that despite our obvious economic progress, we remain indisciplined. We have no idea how to use our roads, how to respect the traffic lights or how to follow traffic rules. I feel ashamed that while we publicly applaud Anna Hazare’s efforts at eliminating corruption in the public sphere, we do not think twice about offering a cop a hundred-rupee bribe to let us go for jumping the red. I also feel ashamed that our sex ratio is a pathetic 914:1000, while we continue to wax eloquent about the Indian tradition of worshipping the Mother Goddess.
I sometimes wonder if my western education and the short time spent in France have made me an incorrigible cynic. But, I would be happier seeing my country develop not just in economic terms but also in human terms. I would like to see some concrete action against the most damaging social ills like corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency. I would like to see social development getting as much focus as economic success, at the risk of sounding like a card-carrying member of the Communist Party! I also hope to see the freedom of speech and expression being defended as passionately as it is today, even if that freedom is inconvenient to me. I hope to see more people believe that the most important thing about a democracy is the freedom to debate, discuss and disagree on the most critical issues facing our nation today.
And I hope my hopes and dreams materialize in my lifetime. I hope that one day I will leave India, and also hope that one day my India will make me regret my decision to leave it. I hope to see my country win that many more World Cups, but also hope that cricket doesn’t become the only binding force in this country of 1.23 billion. Only time will tell if my hopes and dreams will be realized.And I hope that day comes soon enough!