Sunday, July 15, 2012

A response

Early this week, i think it was Monday when my facebook stream had this article shared by someone.  Later on, many people in my network had read it and either liked it or shared it. The article that i am talking about is titled - A dust over India. You can read it here -

In summary, the article talks about Mark Manson's (presumably first) visit to India and his experiences during the visit. In the article Mark talks about Indian poverty, pollution, garbage, people trying to rip him/others, tourism and other scams. He also talks about how spirituality is an industry now, how there is piracy, people ogling to tourists. He also highlights a few good points saying that there are definitely good people, people who helped him for no reason, people who did not scam him. In general he is remarks at the Indian virtue of tolerance and non-violence.  But needless to say, the negatives dominate more than 80% of the article.  There is one line that sums up the entire article - "The place is a fucking mess"

After reading the article, the comments section was equally interesting. Most of the readership are Indians living abroad who agreed with most of the facts in article and were very sad about it. There were few Indians who started saying abuses against the article and there were few non-Indians who also experienced similar feelings on their visit.

This blog entry is a response to that article. In my personal view, i do not refute any facts, i acknowledge them. But i think the article by itself is incomplete. It is not because of any fault in the author's writing that makes it incomplete. The author wanted to share his experience and feelings and he has done that. But as a reader, the article raises a few question which needs to be answered and this post is an attempt towards that. What are the questions, you may wonder? As an Indian, the question that came to my mind while reading the article was  simply this - How do Indians live in India when so much is wrong here? In other words, how do you live with yourself given such a situation exists? The other question that needs to be answered is - How did things come to this?


Point 1 -  The expectation issue.
I think there are two perceptions of India out there (for the external people). One comes from the pre-liberalization era  (before 1991) and one after that. In the pre-era, there were a lot of institutions that were not commercialized. During that time, India was a land of spirituality, and when John Lennon's trip coverage romanticized this thought, it was indeed true. In the post liberalization era, as the money started pouring in, India became the land of opportunities both from outside and inside. We started the "India shining" campaign to attract foreigners both in terms of investments and tourism. But the latter era has brought commercialization into the system, every simple thing is a money making opportunity. Moreover, with the lack of proper checks and balances, every person is an entrepreneur now, defining his own rules, some of them are not quite legitimate.
 To somebody coming from outside, there is both an expectation of "India shining" image and at the same time, an image to see serene spiritual, yoga-rooted India and this is where a big shock comes up.  What somebody does not know is that in the post-liberalization era, the income diversity has gone up exponentially and there are  more  people living below poverty lines now  than ever. But unfortunately, this fact is not known and the expectation is not set.  Homeless, hunger live side by side the rich (middle class) is a shock.
The concept of "spiritual tourism" is a blatant example of application of capitalism to the realm of spirituality. In United States, capitalism has been internalized to quite an extent. Yoga, meditation and spirituality are instruments that help people to reach inner peace. But actually inner peace is nothing more than a detoxification from day-to-day capitalism, to strive for something greater than mere existentialism.   Something like capitalism can creep into spirituality and people will make money off it is considered a scam. This is where the expectation meets reality and creates anger which comes out in the form an article.

Point 2 - The Scale of things.
I was amused when i read the para about him doing math on giving 500$ money to the poor. As Mark writes, the magnitude of poverty is unbelievable. He also acknowledges that his own country has its own share of problems. I would like to build up on both of his observations and bring up the point of scale - as things grow.  While walking on the streets of San Francisco (or NY), one can see homeless people but if one turns in some other direction, they are gone. The state of some of the homeless that i have seen is comparable to the state that is described in the article. In other words, one can always turn a blind eye to them and forget about it. But unfortunately in India, they are everywhere. The sheer scale of such people is so big that one has to confront the reality. 
Along the same lines, Mark mentions that he wanted to go to Agra to see the countryside to avoid the city pollution and mess. The cities are polluted everywhere. What defines a city is very controversial subject but looking at population per sq km numbers, everyplace in India is a city. With a land 1/5th of US and with a population seven times more, we are struggling to deal with the scale.  We were always over-populated, even before independence but we our consumption rates were very low. We were quite close to nature in terms of giving and taking. In the post industrialized era, our consumption has gone up and we are unprepared to deal with it in this scale.  The garbage, the pollution, the homeless are a result of a poor marriage between the industrialization and our scale. Many claim globalization to be a big success, the biggest achievement of our times, for us the verdict is still not out. If an average Indian starts to consume at the same rate an average American consumes, we would be under a pile of trash and carbon cloud the very next day. Yes, we acknowledge that it is a problem, one whose solution we have not found yet.

Point 3 - Swept under the rug.
What is the largest export of US to China? Trash. Yes, the same trash that fills the Indian streets is exported from US to third world countries including India. US with one of the lowest people per sq km has a lot of empty land space yet it is being exported. And most of the Americans are unaware of it. At the same time, India which does not have the adequate capacity to process its own waste is also importing more because it gets money. My point is that there are many things in US which are swept under the rug and hence average citizens do not worry about it. Chief among them are gas fuel, trash, ewaste and nuclear waste. For us, there is no escape, there is no rug for us. We are out here in open trying to figure out what the hell we have to do with this mess. We do not have any solution yet, we do not have the money to offload it to some other country, forget that, we do not even have the money to pick it up from everybody's door step. What we see is the result - lot of trash everywhere.

Point 4 - Dog eat Dog world.
Indians are yet another proof of Darwin's theory of evolution - Survival of the fittest at the expense of the weak.  Indians never question this theory,  for us it is the way of living our lives.  All the scams, the rip-offs are manifestations of somebody's survival at the expense of somebody. We complain when we are at the receiving end of a scam but what about the time when we are the ones benefitting from it. Our involvement may be indirect, may be involuntary but ignorance is not an excuse here. 
The balance of man to nature has been tilted. There are more people, less resources. Thus, only the one who is strong can survive. Only the one who knows how to game the system will emerge as winner. It is indeed sad that it has come to this. 

Point 5 - The Identity Crisis.
Every "thinking" Indian right now is grappling with an Identity crisis right now. Who are we and where are we going? By every "thinking" Indian, i mean only those who are fortunate enough to have Maslow's physiological needs satisfied. For others, survival is the only thought. At one end is the rich cultural history, the sanskars, our dharma (morals), all of which, in a nutshell, teach us righteousness. Righteousness that shows us how to be content, how to be happy. At other end is the new age individualistic thought combined with the capitalistic ideals. In this new age world, through advertisements and marketing we have been led to believe that human dignity involves living in a certain way.   One has to be globally connected, one has to be cosmopolitan. AC, Washing machines, microwaves are now basic requirements. In this new age, we want more things which need more money and we get money at the expense of others. Money is becoming the measure of success, measure of happiness and almost everything that can or cant be measured; and we are struggling to figure our way out of it.
We have a strong identity crisis in our hands - everyone of us know deep down that it is a downward spiral but nobody has any alternatives. A nation can be content if all its citizens are content. But if i let an opportunity go, someone else will take it and it will be his gain-my loss, his survival-my weakness. The strange question in front of us is - should i be right or should i survive?

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