India and the country that was…

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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…

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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…

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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

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31 thoughts on “India and the country that was…

      • Presently in India the ratio of neurosurgeons to population is 1:3million ….but your proposed solution could be feasible if we involve carpenters and other skilled workers in the lobotomisation programme

      • You are assuming that lobotomising politicians is a delicate operation that requires a unique skill set. You assume wrong.
        When it comes to politicians, you don’t have to even involve the carpenters. Just tie them to coconut trees, and wait for the coconuts to fall. We may end up infusing some sense through their thick skulls.

      • Unfortunately for many committed to mental institutions in the US during the middle of the 20th century the process of lobotomization has been streamlined. All that is required is some restraints, a long needle of surgical steel (a sterilized knitting needle will actually work fine), a small mallet or hammer and a bit of training. The needle is inserted into the eye socket so the point touches the back of the socket just behind the brow ridge. A small tap from the hammer and the rather thin one between the socket and the brain cavity is breached. The needle is inserted a few inches and the proper manipulation results in a frontal lobotomy. No expensive neurosurgeons required.

        Quite simple, quick and permanent. Just perfect for even the most serious of politicians; Indian or American.

        The procedure has been outlawed in the US.

        Just a thought.

        -Cranky

      • Your description of lobotomy is oddly detailed. Unless you are a doctor, that is pretty disturbing dude…

        😀

        I think lobotomy is illegal everywhere these days, which is a pity. Our politicians really need it. Some of these idiots don’t even know the words to the national anthem of India. One of them got so confused about the lines during a recital at a public event, that the incident went viral in youtube.

      • Do they know how many states there are? Our current president needs some help on that.

        No medical training whatsoever…;-)

  1. Thank you for giving words to my mental conversations about our country. I am connected to this land, my prime explainable reason to move back from the big american dream …I completely agree that it high time we stop depending upon her crores of God and start putting words in to action. Having said that, i hope each one of us from our generation make our contribution….

    • I’m glad to know you gave up life in a developed country, to be in India. Just by making that decision, I think you have contributed more than most of us today. I don’t think many people would turn down an opportunity like that.

      • Well i never thought about it that way..Probably one needs to be there to understand that every country has its share of issues..In addition, It makes it easier to understand and accept issues back home

  2. I feel very strongly about our country and how it used to be looked up to, but now just by merely glancing about me I lose all hope of India regaining her position. It’s nice to know that there are others who think the same way, but when the majority of Indians aren’t proud of their own culture and traditions, how can you expect India to become what it used to be – a rich, diverse, united country proud of its heritage. Sometimes it leaves me feeling indifferent, but when I read things like this it reminds me that, that is not the solution. Thank you for this wonderful post and I hope many more read this! 🙂

    • I hope many more people read this too 😉
      I think a lot of people in our generation are feeling hopeless. But all that could change, if we figure out a way to work together, and celebrate our diversity, instead using it as a tool for creating separate identities.

  3. India cannot gain her former prominence until her citizens learn to respect each other. This is a country divided not only by languages and cultures but points of view, communal hatred, region and racism as well. Many North Indians do not like South Indians, many South Indians refuse to learn or speak Hindi and North-Eastern states are left out of most of the activities of the rest of the country. There are certain states where people belonging to ‘society made’ low castes and tribes are ill-treated. There are many communities who still believe women should stay at home to cook and and sacrifice everything for their husband and children and in-laws and God knows who else. The divide between Hinduism and Islam is still strong in every part of India. Our country can be united only when we consider every citizen to be equal.

    • You make a compelling argument, Ms Banerjee. But I think the root cause of all the problems you have mentioned is dirty politics. It is in the interests of the politicians to divide the people. Until vote-bank politics is effectively countered, little can be done in this regard. The British left out country a long time back, but ‘divide and rule’ is still alive and kicking…

  4. I just read an article on International Business Times (a bit random, I suppose) about the 6% cut on the education budget by the Indian government. Generally speaking, it’s like humans ASK to fail miserably.

    • The 6% cut on education is not much of an issue, because the percentage of GDP spent on education is low to begin with. The little money that does get spent on education is not well-utilized either. All those who can afford it, send their kids to private schools, nowadays.

  5. “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.” I’m currently pursuing a Master of Engineering degree at Cornell, and there are a lot of international Indians in my program. They’re actually quite naked about the fact that they’re pursuing MEng’s purely for its career-boosting potential and the fact that they basically have zero respect for education in itself.

  6. Thanks for this post. I truly enjoy reading your blog, especially posts like this one. I feel like get a bit of a glimpse into our country. It helps to understand a land that is distant culturally and geographically from my own.
    -Cranky

    • I’m glad you liked the article. Most countries have problems that they struggle with. The situation in India is worse than most, because we have more than a billion people here. Every problem gets magnified. Almost every state has a separate language and culture, and politicians benefit from the differences. They thrive in poverty and desolation, and the only thing they have offered our country so far is mindless rhetoric. The elections are coming up next year, and many of us are hoping for a positive change this time around.

      • It is s amazing how different our countries are and yet how very similar they are as well. Everything you said after a billion people could have come out of my mouth (or keyboard) as a statement about this country and the challenges we face.

        The founding fathers of the US knew politicians for what they were and did everything they could to limit their power and influence. We have spend the last 200+ years undoing that foresight and giving ever more power to those who should not have it…

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