I was thinking about India, and all the things that made her great. I couldn’t help but notice that a study of India’s achievements was a study of our history.
Yoga, The Indian music, the Decimal system, Algebra, Astronomy- the discovery that sun was at the centre of the solar system, Medicine – Cosmetic surgery was performed in India Before Christ! Architecture, Languages and literature… The list goes on and on…
An artist’s rendering of Sushruta.
None of these achievements reflect the India of modern times. All these inventions and discoveries belong to an earlier era, when people gave credence to thought and intellect, when the acquiring of knowledge was an end in itself.
India launched the Mars mission the other day. Reports in Indian newspapers described how India had managed this amazing feat despite the multiple hurdles in her way. Despite the overwhelming poverty. Despite the strain on resources. Despite the sickness and disease and death and corruption. The think-tank in India have a way with words. They make it sound like poverty is a choice that India has embraced, they make it sound like all the problems the country faces happens due to forces beyond our control.
A typical conversation on the state of affairs in India would go like this:
Pragmatist: India is way behind the rest of the world when it comes to human development.
Patriot: How can you say that about your own country? Are you not a patriot? Everybody knows it is the huge population that is dragging us down.
Pragmatist: Then how do you explain the increased standard of living in China? They have a bigger population than we do…
Patriot: They don’t have democracy. The Chinese, they go for social engineering. In a democracy, we can’t tell the people what to do. The common man dictates the terms. That is the price we pay for democracy.
Pragmatist: How do you account for the high standard of living in countries like the USA? They have democracy.
Patriot: The strain on resources in USA is much less compared to India. Besides, they were granted freedom from British rule a long time ago. They have had more time in their hands.
Pragmatist: Japan is a densely populated country, and they occupy very little area geographically. The strain on resources is acute. Two of their biggest cities were bombed out of existence by the USA. They have been plagued by natural disasters like earthquakes for a long time. None of these hurdles stopped them from turning into a technological powerhouse…
Patriot: This is true, but Japan has a single language, they are mono-cultural, and they don’t have to face the challenges of diversity that we do. We have over 18 official regional languages, and people belong to diverse religions and cultural backgrounds. So it presents a unique set of challenges for us as a country. We have done well, considering…
Image courtesy BBC
The typical attitude of an average middle-class citizen of India can be summed up in one word – complacence. We are adept at making excuses.
We have got used to being ‘also-rans’. We look up to the west for all the things that make them successful, and then denounce the very things that shaped them into the countries they are. We denounce the money-centric approach of western educational institutions, and then brag about our sons and daughters who have managed to get an education in Harvard or Oxford. We denounce the ‘lose morals’ of women in the western countries, and then raise a hue and cry when honor-killings (Murdering someone, usually women, for bringing dishonor to the family) happen, and then drool over the freedom enjoyed by western women.
Democratic India is yet to embrace the single quality essential for success – the knowledge that you can’t get to the rose, without going through the thorns. Our politicians dance to the tunes of populist propaganda, and we end up making the same mistakes over and over again, and each time we hope for a different result. This is the definition of insanity.
Today, India is much better off than it was fifty years ago. But the real question is, have we done enough? Telling a starving man in north India that he need not worry because the number of starvation-related deaths have come down since independence, will not help him.
The country that was, is dead and gone. We cannot use the accomplishments of our ancestors as an excuse for apathy. As a country, we cannot afford to wait around for miracles anymore.
“India is not, as people keep calling it, an underdeveloped country, but rather, in the context of its history and cultural heritage, a highly developed one in an advanced state of decay.”
– Shashi Tharoor