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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Free India is 65 today

Tanmoy has written about how bad he felt watching the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games on TV, and how some of his (foreigner-) friends spoke slightingly about India in connection with our medals tally: ‘What are Indians good for?’

I felt the same sadness as Tanmoy, and even worse that I cannot list for him ten things about India that I can be proud about – especially ten things achieved since independence came. The only two things that come to mind (remembering the enormous problems and handicaps we started with) are what Amartya Sen has pointed out repeatedly: that we have avoided famines of the ghastly sort that routinely took millions of lives all through the 19th and early 20th century, and that we have somehow managed to preserve democracy (so far at least), no matter how defective it is. Everything else pales into insignificance in comparison, or is a sad joke, given that we are a nation of 1.3 billion with a rich historical heritage many thousands of years old which drew admiration from around the world once upon a time. Forget our sports performance or military prowess or vast and awful poverty and all-pervasive corruption in public life; we can’t even design and produce on our own the ’planes we fly or the surgical equipment we use or the engines we put in our cars after half a century of ‘engineering’ education; our movie industry, huge in scale, either produces Hollywood C-grade level ‘blockbusters’ or accidental good movies which even most Indians don’t want to watch, so how can they get foreigners interested? And as for our much vaunted IT industry, the likes of Narayan Murthy and Azim Premji have said enough home truths about what really happens there for me to add anything. No matter how hurtful it sounds, everything that westerners (and the Japanese and increasingly even the Chinese) say about our lack of civic sense and punctuality and cleanliness and concern for greenery and disdain for education and superstitiousness and sectarian hatred and violence is only too sadly true…

Bharat abaar jogot shobhay sreshtho ashon lobey (India will once again rule the global roost someday) sang the poet hopefully, long ago. I have been one Indian, at least, who has tried very hard to be proud of things Indian – without, of course, deliberately blinding myself to all her myriad faults or getting furious when others draw our attention to them, for that is not patriotism at all but chauvinism or jingoism, dangerous diseases of the mind, if only too common, especially among people who know they are inferior and hate to know it. What I intensely regret is that far from achieving great new things, we are increasingly forgetting things we had once achieved that we can really take pride in, whether it is Nagarjuna’s chemistry or Kautilya’s political economy or Kalidas’ poetry or even the wonderful skill of the Kashmiri shawl weavers and the enormous repertoire of folk music we had built up over millennia. I have written about this longing time and again on this blog: see, for instance, My India, and the post I wrote five years ago, My mother is sixty. I grow older, and nothing seems to change for the better. Can my readers cheer me (and Tanmoy-) up a little by drawing our attention to at least eight other big things India has achieved since 1947 that we can be justly proud of? (please don’t mention cricket and atom bombs and Chandrayaan, for obvious reasons) And honestly, is there any sane hope that India will truly lead the world in most things within my lifetime, or even my daughter’s? That was Vivekananda’s hope – would he be cheered by what he saw if he came back to see India 2012?


Subhanjan said...

Dear Sir,

I really have little words to express the grief that I have; for obvious reasons which have been, thankfully, penned down very clearly in your post. What we need is a miracle; a miracle that will make every Indian think the way you do today. Virus in many forms has gone so deep in society and systems that I come across none who is able to see even a microscopic part of it.

I am not educated enough either to identify any remarkable achievement of India post Independence, or to find out solutions for socio-economic problems of high magnitude. But what I believe is that whatever job I do, I should definitely give my best. Even if I am mopping the floor, I should ensure that I am the best person at that job. In this way, I should try to do my part. And I know that all those good people who read your blog and understand the depth of issues, are giving their best at what they do. And I am sure they are spreading this culture as well. That is the only hope that I can see.

Thanks and Regards,

Sayan Datta said...

The Nobel prizes maybe, but they have been few and far between, and Satyajit Ray's Oscar for lifetime achievement...can't think of anything else right now. Come to think of it, most Indians who have made their mark on the global stage have done so from foreign soil, as non resident Indians or have had powerful western patrons. I can't really think of anything that India as a nation has done since independence. The green revolution maybe and avoiding famines on a large scale; but I think as far as taking bold initiatives in any field is concerned the flicker has gone out. We have become apes, culturally and morally. Reminds me of this line - 'kandari nahi go kamala, dukho lanchito bharata barshe'

We, as a people, are so weak and inferior (because we think we are), so foolish, so short-sighted, so apathetic towards anything that can appeal to our better nature as good, so disinclined to think, that I shudder to contemplate of what the future might hold. One little nudge and our make believe world is going to fall like a pack of cards...The seducing stories of India shining (shining? Really?), the GDP indexes, economic growth and what have you beguile us all...only they can really see and sense the gaping chasm between appearance and reality who work at the most fundamental level and interact with people on a one-on-one basis...

Kalidas' poetry, Sir? Who needs him? After all what are malls and movie theatres and ipads for? Twenty years from now Indian teens will ask - "What's that word? Culture? What's the name of that epic? Mahabharata? Never heard of it". This is bound to happen unless a significant force from within the nation arises to combat this downward slide. A force that will work single mindedly to open people's eyes. Teach them something they have either forgotten or never bothered to learn - that there is something called quality, that there are things called morals, that there is something called cleanliness and also that there is something called a brain.

Sayan Datta

Tanmoy said...

Dear Suvroda

Thank you for writing this post. Honestly speaking, when I was in India though the state of my nation bothered me but I was living under a false impression that we have gained lot of respect outside. However, in the last four years, upon reading quite a few international journals, speaking to lot of people and also dealing with my fellow colleagues in India (on behalf of my present office), I have had the shock realisation that world’s perception about India is not what most Indians like to think. True, a lot of people acknowledge our economic growth but it is largely perceived that our growth is unstructured, people are sceptical about the quality of products manufactured in our country, they are scared that we are generally corrupt, we are terribly dirty in our habits and there is a lack of trust in the way we deal with people. I do think some of it is exaggerated but then I have personally felt all of the above feelings myself. It is difficult to shame your own people but dealing with my fellow colleagues back home is one of the toughest assignments that I am entrusted with some time. You should hear to believe how rude we can be when we are negotiating price for an assignment that too with a fellow colleague in an overseas office.

Sadly, due to not so great reputation, Indians outside have to work double hard to make an impression for themselves. Mind you, it is not racism but it is just a general lack of trust. True we have lot of employees in Silicon Valley or NASA and other places but even if we are denial, mind you their skills are only valued because they are cheaper to access. It may look grim but that is the reality. Why have they moved outside the country? Even with these challenges they feel their skills would be better appreciated outside and they will learn more and get more to spend more time with their families. The foolish perception of “go abroad to make money” is long gone.

I am sure there are lot of troubled countries around and the developed world has its own share of problems but then we are Indians and it hurts to acknowledge the fact that despite 65 years of Independence, our streets are not clean, our rivers are very dirty, we have animals on our streets, our work ethics are considered terrible, people perceive we are trying to cheat them when we bargain hard, we argue relentlessly without achieving anything and lastly without any thought whatsoever we succumb to herd mentality quite easily.

Time and again, I have been branded “not-patriotic” or “corrupt” recently because I am unable to support Ramdev, Hazare, Mayawati and others in their fight against corruption. It baffles me how come so many of literate people actually support them? I mean don’t we realise how much money/time is wasted on these road blockades etc. The ones who are supporting these sort of movements can they say with hands on heart that while doing all these, they don’t steal electricity, they don’t throw garbage in streets, they plant trees, they ensure they are polite to each other while addressing different views and they are conscious all these movements are destroying some of our national monuments (already Jantar Mantar is probably struck-off as a heritage site). Anyway, we have seen this before and we will continue to see this again.

Unless we take personal ownership of our characters it will be increasingly difficult to resurrect our reputation. The GDP growth is meaningless if we don’t understand our responsibilities along with our rights.

Long sensitive comment. Apologies, I would continue to try finding the positives, I promise. By the way, CNN was reporting yesterday how cruel Indian Government is on its activist. Ramdev may end up getting a US citizenship in all these.

Take care

Subhasis Graham Mukherjee said...

I would put down the growth and spread of the internet in India as one of the truly revolutionary developments since independence. Starting with high quality exchanges from across the globe in this wonderful blog led and run by Suvro, to possibilities like spreading and sharing latest agricultural knowledge in rural India and real time video conferencing assisted diagnosis and medical treatment in remote areas- the possibilities, some of which have already been realized, are endless.
Thinking of our childhood days in Durgapur. Back then current knowledge and information would be whatever came in AIR and the newspapers, which would be the Calcutta editions whenever they arrived in the afternoons or evenings. compare that to 24X7 up to the second news from anywhere in the world and even master sources like reuters.com. then we have the absolute feast of blogging, discussing and exchanging ideas and views on any topic with intellectuals across the globe like Suvro.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

That's a thought, Subhasis, though how much the internet has really penetrated ordinary human life in India yet, I have strong doubts about. I can assure you only a microscopic minority of my pupils or their parents (our generation), even if they have access, do anything beyond chatting on Facebook, downloading hit music numbers and watching smut flicks (oh, and copy-pasting borrowed stuff without acknowledgment for school/college/office projects). Not one in a thousand reads a serious blog regularly, leave along interacting: and I'm not talking of just my blogs here.

A very strange coincidence: Harsha Dutta, editor of Desh magazine, has written a last-page signed article in today's issue (August 17) which is almost identical in tone and content to this blogpost of mine. Thank God I put up my post two days ago, otherwise someone might have accused me of plagiarism! Good to see that thoughtful people in high places are thinking the way I do...

Subhadip Biswas said...

Dear Sir,

Thank you so much for your blog post on the occasion of the Independence Day.

Last time I had a word with you - you had told me that i need to catch the bus soon and if i miss it i will not be lost in my career aspirations path forever.

Your timely warning rang the necessary alarm bells in my mind and i landed up with a "job" (not a job to me as i find myself to be in the best spirits everyday doing what i do to make a living now)in the Skills Development sector.

When i started working with FICCI i did not have any remote idea of the extreme potential that this sector had in creating an impact in the lives of millions in our country.

i am sure all of us would agree that disguised unemployment and unemployment is one of the major problems in our country and also the root cause of many more problems.

Our education system is churning out millions of people every year who pursue affordable higher education with aspirations of being able to do white collar jobs. People who have fancy degrees but completely devoid of any employable skills. Where are these people going to go because they are MBAs and they need to find themselves a table and chair in an AC office.

The primary motive of my work right now is to change this very mindset of people to look at the jobs of people whose works are a million times more important and not easy -with dignity.

We are trying to help people realise the importance of skills - whether soft or hard - and the difference that it can create in their lives, the jobs that they can get.

And most important - they can be entrepreneurs in their own ways. Masons, Carpenters, Electricians, Drivers, Potters, Linesmen, Welders, Weavers, Hair dressers, Cooks, Tailors, Auto Mechanics, ....... (Please all of the unemployed don’t need to be driving tempos, autos and rickshaws)

The last year has been the most brilliant year of my life. i had never thought or imagined of ever starting my own business but the transformation that the ecosystem in this sector has generated has been massive.

Subhadip Biswas said...

I will share with you an example of what this can do to the life of a person living in a remote village in Talcher with absolutely no hopes in life.

In Orrisa a person from a particular tribal village got trained in driving and operating mining trucks. He was hired by the Australian Government to operate trucks in their country. And if any of us think that we have ever been able to be successful because of our high paid salaries then please note that this driver gets paid Rs. 60,00,000 lakh annually (Sixty Lakh annually) Money is no measure of what we do. But imagine the transformation that this has brought in the life of a tribal family who were otherwise thriving without any food, medical care, and education. This person is now not only highly employable internationally but also in very high demand.

In Australia he goes to work like no other white collar professional going to office.

I have several other examples of people who are simply doing amazing work to empower people -- Barefoot college in Kishangarh Rajasthan www.barefootcollege.org

Tribal Academy/Bhasha Research Centre in Tejgadh, Gujrat
Entrepreneurs like Ms Sangeeta Reddy,Apollo Group and Ms Pia Singh, DLF Retail, Mr Naveen jindal, Jindal Steel and Power along with the government who are doing significantly well to open up free training centres to up- skill and skill people in various trades to make them employable or self employed.

We need to realise that the skilled linesmen who come and repair your overhead electric lines are way more important or the electrician who repairs your gadgets.

We should worry about why our country has not been able to achieve anything significant in the past 65 years of Independence and that is where our roles should get strengthened in wondering what I have contributed. Suvro Sir has already done his bit – he has empowered me and us with the rare skill of being able to write and speak correct English. This is a hugely powerful tool that i have because one person took the pain of going out of his way to train me. And every day at least 10 people say how lucky i am.

Subhadip Biswas said...

Part 3

I have started with the mission of being able to facilitate the opening of at least 10 training centres in different trades which can result in the training of at least 1,00,000 unemployable youth who would become highly employable because of the precision of their skills.

Please excuse me to be sharing thoughts on my feelings. But trust me the happiness that this brings to me every day when i realise that yes today i have not just done a job but brought a smile on the face of a person who was wandering in despair i truly feel blessed.

Why have we not been faring in the Olympics is because we have never paid any thought how important sports are. There are people who are doing a lot to promote sports like Mr Naveen Jindal who also has an excellent vision on skilling people and has opened up several centres all throughout India.

Skilling is giving rise to a new age population who are aspiring to become entrepreneurs. And this is quite a bright sign for us.

We have to tap the massive demographic quotient that our country has but all of us have to pitch in.

All of us need to think how we can contribute to this change. To empower our population. And all of us can play a very important role in nation building.

Sorry i digressed from my point may be but the message is our population is huge and the initiatives taken by people in different pockets of the country which do create ripples around that location currently don't seem to be impactful.

But the scenario is changing and we need to pledge that we will change it for the better in whatever small ways we can.

Just a sharing a starting point below among millions -
To start with we can ensure our domestic helps' children are enrolled in government schools or private schools under the EWS scheme. If government schools in your locality do not function file RTIs talk to the MLA, MP, public officials.

Rashmi Datta said...

Dear Sir,

The future indeed seems very gloomy. The rot is so deep and so widespread that I do not think it can be cured in the immediate future. However, inspired by your teachings, I have understood that my greatest contribution to my country would be to change myself for the better: to be consistent, sincere, punctual and honest in my work, to realize the importance and the responsibility of being a teacher, to know and take pride in the vast heritage and culture of India, to learn and realize the teachings and ideas of the great men of India, to respect the human worth in each individual irrespective of their class, age, region or religion, to share what I can spare and to never prefer ease and convenience over duty. Then maybe, I will die with a certain satisfaction in my heart and tell God when he will question me that I had done my part.

Sir, thank you for explaining the meaning of the term ‘patriotism’ through this post and through the post ‘My mother is sixty’. I am incapable of providing answers to the various queries you have posed in the post.

Warm regards

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Subhadip, many thanks for writing after ages. Good for you that you seem to be enjoying yourself so much doing something constructive and socially useful. I wish you and the organisation good luck, though I must ask you to be wary of NGOs: some of them have acquired a bad reputation for all kinds unethical practices, including funneling off government funds, laundering black money and creating a new breed of jet-setting social workers who live the five-star lifestyle: the likes of Gandhi and JP would have been vastly surprised. And I may be mistaken, but nowhere to my knowledge in this world does a driver earn Rs. 6 million annually (that's about $10,000 a month),unless he 'drives' a commercial aircraft. Correct me if I am wrong.

Rashmi, you are right. The only (and best-) thing we can do, even to be good patriots, is to mend our own ways first: avoid dishonest professions, do our work sincerely, pay taxes, pollute less, treat our fellow men with a little more courtesy and care, try to do something out of the ordinary in our day to day lives. If a few others learn from us by example, so much the better. More than that cannot be hoped for. And that is hard enough, seeing that there are so many people around who burn with hatred and jealousy simply because, by trying to be a better human being, you are showing them up for what they really are...

Subhasis Graham Mukherjee said...

the Mining Dump Truck Operator wages did seem a bit too high, but it's actually close to real numbers. Referring to some sources which should have credibility from their brand-

BBC News- Australia faces wage inflation as mining fuels growth - In mining, the average wage is $A108,009, making it by far the highest paid sector.

AustraliaForum.com- Dump truck drivers earn up to $100,000

The Telegraph- Boom time for workers at the mining giants- Even truck drivers are now getting paid salaries of A$150,000 to A$180,000 (£96,000 to £116,000) and they can be trained up from scratch.

Having said that, given the well known racism and anti-immigrant sentiments in Australians for ages and the recent hate crimes- I would find it hard to believe they would bring people from tribal Orissa to hand out shares of the windfall.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks for the update, Subhasis. Life never ceases to surprise, does it? I shall still hesitate before I advise my daughter to take up truck driving, though...

Navin said...

Dear Sir,

yes the situation of post independence india has been discouraging to say the least. However here are my two cents to cheer us up.

1) A home grown scientist Manindra Agarwal(and his students) did find the first fast(Deterministic) algorithm for finding whether a number is a prime or not. it is a fundamental question about prime numbers, so fundamental that almost all the great mathematicians since antiquity have been trying to find one. I believe, in any credible survey on primes, this result will find mention, certainly for the next 200 years and may be after that as a folklore result.

2) Prof Ashoke Sen has played an integral part in the formulation of the " theory of everything " the state of the art theory for explaining the mechanics of how our universe works. Though the theory is unverified so far, it makes him one of the most cited scientists ever. Last I checked, he was 7th on the list. I am sure that when the experimental machinery is mature enough to carry experiments on his theories, Prof Ashoke sen will go down in history as one the giants of String theory. He did get his Phd and Post Doc in the US, but to the best of my knowledge he has done most of this work in India. and he does not consider that a theoretical physicist needs any specific geographical location to do physics.Besides, India has one of the most active groups of String theory in the world, largely at places like TIFR.

Over the last 50 years, we have had several pockets of excellence to my knowledge, where we had the most dominant research groups in the world working on the most fundamental problems.

3)(Pahalwani/Wrestling): As the recently concluded Olympics just showed. We have an ongoing tradition of Pehalwani in our country, where the guru shishya parampara has been followed since ages. Most of these pehelwans eat vegeterian food, deform their body parts( like ears) give up their life for their sport. We are a dominant force in the world in pehelwani. Almost every national wrestler is likely to do well at the world stage. Pehelewani is to India as boxing is to America. if you do well in pehelwani in India, you are probably a world beater. I agree we did not win any medals in many olympics, but lets not blame lack of organization and politics in our beaurocracy to lack of competence in these sports. While I agree you may not see lots of pehelwans in urbans center or bengal, it is quite common to see them in haryana, where I come from. Also more importantly it is a philosophical system of keeping your body in a certain way which has been going on for centuries in this country. And we have had a continuing lineage of pehelwans since our independence, most of them world beaters. Most world beaters in Wrestling have been visiting india since ages to learn the art of wrestling from indians.

I think we can safely say we are very good wrestlers:)

yours sincerely,


Suvro Chatterjee said...

Okay, string theory and pehelwani... anything else, folks?

Dr. Verghese Kurien passed away yesterday. He was almost single-handedly responsible for bringing about the 'White Revolution' in India (the man behind Amul - read up on him on the net, there's more than enough stuff): one of the very few post-independence achievements we ought to have every reason to be proud about. Others might say a lot of things against him (so very Indian, criticising achievers!), but I shall remember him by the little note he sent me in my journalistic days, saying a cheery 'Have fun!', though I had not written a very favourable review of a book about him...

Navin said...

Dear Sir,

1)here I may be treading on thin ice, but is it not the case that indian classical musicians are a dominant force in the world, and they continue to be so in free india. L subramaniam gave a concert in Houston and the whos who were here to listen to him. I know for a fact, that some of the world most famous mathematicians fly down to chennai, just to listen to classical musicians during the month of December, where even today many temples have maestros playing at 6 am with the most distinguished of people sitting in rapt attention.

2) Also according to vishwanathan anand, we are indeed an upcoming and rising power in chess, with many olympiad results going in out favor in the last decade or so. Chess is a game, which requires great mental faculties, and I think it should be a matter of great pride that we do have a thriving culture of chess in our country.