Saturday, November 10, 2018

Why, for me, India is still the best

Hello, Priya Ramani

Just wanted to respond to your opinion piece in LiveMint (if you haven't read it, click here) which talks about leaving India for a better life

A little bit about me - have lived abroad for approx 11 years, travel very frequently (over 60 countries, been to all 7 continents) + and my son has just moved to London to study (had gone for a couple of weeks to settle him in, so some experiences are fresh in my mind). I'd returned to India in 2006 and, after stints in Gurgaon, Bangalore, Kolkata and Mumbai, my home has been in Pune last few years

Also, a disclaimer - all that I say, as in your article, applies only to people with means.It most definitely doesn't apply to our impoverished millions, those without access to sanitation, shelter and food / water.

Now - firstly, the areas I agree with you. Intolerance is increasing. It has been for the last 10-15 years, and with the spread of social media, has spiked to unforeseen levels, the safety and relative anonymity of various platforms - Twitter, WhatsApp - making people indulge in name calling at the drop of a hat. I completely understand what you mean about living in a bubble - we live in a great one in Pune and it takes a lot to make me venture out. Also, our politicians and bureaucracy has completely failed us, over the last few decades - driven by personal aggrandizement and vested interests, rather than the greater good.

So, why do I still feel India is the best place to be for Indians with means ?

Intolerance - unfortunately, India isn't the only place to be afflicted with this malaise - it's on the rise all over, and I don't just mean in Trumpistan. The Far Right movement has been increasing in Europe too (read this article in Time about Italy, Germany, France, Hungary and even Sweden) and is always rearing it's head in Australia as well. Brexit's immediate aftermath was a 30% increase in hate crimes in the UK (a BBC report based on Home Office statistics - the biggest increase, btw, since they began to record these numbers). Idyllic Brazil just voted in anti-immigration right winger as President too. As history has repeatedly shown us, the slightest of economic downturns leads to a rise in xenophobia. Recent events conclusively demonstrate that we, the human race, hasn't improved on this front despite all our other advances.

Bubble - don't people live in bubbles everywhere ? I remember walking around in Louisville, Kentucky, USA a couple of decades ago and it was startling how there was a complete ghetto like feel to one part of the town, where people of a certain skin colour lived and a completely different feel (with the manicured lawns, pretty sidewalks and white fences that Hollywood shows us) just across the street where people of a different skin colour lived. All cities have dodgy areas too - Los Angeles isn't all Pretty Woman's Rodeo Drive and Beverly Hills and a neighbour recently scolded her daughter's fiancee for walking around in Queens at night, saying he was going to get mugged and he should stick to Manhattan. I remember, even in London, we lived in a nice, gated community - that spared us from the vandalism, graffiti and break-ins that afflicted neighbouring streets.

Also, one point you don't mention at all is racism. Not saying that Indian's are not racist (or casteist) but have found other countries no better. Encountered multiple instances for self + numerous incidents for friends.

Now, the points where I feel India scores over the West

Service levels - if you want a cable connection, in India you can get one in a day. In Holland, in 2005, it took 3 weeks to merely activate a dormant one (was renting, and my landlord hadn't used his connection for a while) and no amount of pleading (my kids were arriving in a week) or offering to pay more led to even a day's reduction in the lead time. We arrived in Gurgaon just a year later and sure enough, it took just a day to get TV and internet (there were just 2 providers in Holland and the lead time there was 2 weeks). My son is still struggling to open a bank account in UK - the documents they want and the format provided by his Uni vary just a little and no, you can't combine document one with document two - the system doesn't allow it and common sense be damned. Meeting bank officials is out of the question as a) they open student accounts exclusively online b) even the officials we did meet informally said their hands were tied. Can you imagine this happening in India ? Here you can get a doctor to visit you, if you are unwell. There you have to make an appointment and it's highly possible, has happened to us, that if you have a cold you may get asked to visit after 2 weeks.

Warmth - Am sure there is a study somewhere that links human warmth with the quantum of sunshine they receive (and if there isn't, there should be) - but that's what I missed the most while I was abroad and enjoy the most while I'm here. In Hindi, I would say 'wahan ke log rookhe hain'. Here, I find, overall, there is more warmth and love. The ability to just drop in to a neighbour's place, unannounced. The random chats on a train ride from Pune to Mumbai. The helpfulness of strangers. Imagine you're 5 bucks short of your taxi fare - where would you rather be, in India or the West ?

Finally, being an eternal optimist, what gives me greatest hope for my country is the spread of the internet, and consequently of knowledge, thanks to the lowest data rates anywhere in the world (obviously doesn't include the countries where it's free). I feel the era of e-everything will help dramatically shake off the barriers of the physical infrastructures that have led to many of the ills that plague us. I envision a not so distant future where kids even in the remotest of locations will get access to free education via their mobiles, medical diagnosis will happen swiftly via video calls and for crimes, e-FIRs will be lodged instantly. Fingers crossed, but if e-courts happen (ie trials, at least of lower courts, begin to happen via the internet) + our politicians / bureaucrats are taken to task via the spread of data /
information for failures to fulfil their duties, then our future is truly bright.

I also think my ideal life, going ahead, once my daughter also leaves for college + we can find a solution for my sister (who is handicapped and in our care), would involve a 3 month in, 3 month out kind of format. Probably in places like Sri Lanka, Bali, Brazil, where I can be comfortable in my brown skin and maybe, being a sun-worshipper, in Europe during the summer (the people there change with sunshine).

BTW - wonder how do you / anyone know that 17 million Indians left the country last year, especially as we no longer fill any forms while going out or coming in ? Wouldn't any number also include tourists ?