Sunday, December 10, 2006

Back to India

I was standing at one of the scenic view spots of the Great Niagara. It was my third visit and I had skipped the Maid of the Mist. As I stood there, looking around at the ambience, my mind went to that day, decades ago, when I had been to the Jog Falls.

What a sad state of affairs it is, when one tries to compare. Here, I could see posh people everywhere, neatly dressed, well-behaved, absolutely no trash anywhere on the premises, nothing thrown into the river, rest rooms so clean, restaurants so well maintained, attractive girls walking around comfortably, facilities to the tourists, lights to the falls at night time, etc. It was all so picture perfect. Like as if there is nothing else better that can be done.

And then there was Jog. Trash strewn everywhere, beverage cans and food wastes thrown to the river, no defined rest room as such, the traveler’s lodge seeming to be in tatters. And then there were different strata of people – dignified middle class people comparatively well behaved and appreciating the nature. And then there were below poverty public acting weirdly in river, bare footed, spitting on the road, and gaping at good-looking gals, whistling, passing comments and basically making the gals feel uncomfortable.

For the major part of my life, I thought this is the way life is lived and this is how it is everywhere in India. Dirt, population, filth, uncultured behavior, and nothing called neatness. And then I joined Infosys. The campus was stunning and I was awe-struck. Even after four years, when I look at the architecture, the campus, I keep staring. Simply because everything is so nice and pleasing and a feeling that this is how it should be everywhere. It was the same set of people, but within a campus kept neat and tidy 24 hrs a day by a wonderful housekeeping staff who gain a standing ovation from every single Infoscion in each of the award ceremonies within Infosys.

There was a huge population within the campus too. There is always dirt, filth but it was all so well managed. Everyone behaves so well and cultured. Agreed, some attractive gals still are gaped at within the campus and made to feel uncomfortable, but yet, it is the same set of people and it was all so different inside. Like entering into a new world altogether. Nobody is taught to behave well, nobody is taught to be courteous and yet everyone falls into the pattern of the neat-running-system all by themselves. And life suddenly seems to be nice and tidy and comfortable.

And then I came to US. Imagine my thought process. Not a single person will ever refrain from comparing about the traffic in US and traffic in India and I am no exception. Imagine this for instance. There is a single lane of traffic and all vehicles are stopped for the red signal. The road slightly widens for a right only lane and there is no oncoming traffic. Put this same setting in India. What will happen? The vehicles not going right will come onto the right lane, just to fill up the space and be as close to the start as possible while the vehicles genuinely wanting to go right will be stuck. The yellow line will have no significance and vehicles will jam up the road in such a way that the oncoming traffic will have no way to pass through too. It will be the same situation on the other side of the traffic signal too. And when the signal becomes green, it will be a two-lane traffic facing another two-lane traffic in a single lane road. Deadlock.

To continue the story further. Suppose a cop comes and confronts a vehicle which has crossed the yellow line. What will be the reaction of the driver? He will smile sheep-facedly at the cop and say “Er…Please sir, please sir, just this once.” Men without dignity and honour. It will be the same situation every time. Two-wheelers going on pedestrian sidewalks and honking at them to give way. Isnt traffic manners such a simple thing to follow? If everyone follows it, wouldn’t life be so ever so simple?

I fail to understand who is to be blamed. Who is at fault?

Is it the Government? For not planning ahead? For not having enough rest-rooms in and around the city and maintaining them? For not having enough trash cans in and around the city? For having corrupt officials who stop the flow of funds to support a city and its people? For not having enough officials to mend the people’s barbaric ways?

Is it the people? For not knowing how to behave? For not having simple manners? For not being courteous? For not following the system?

Is it the population? For having exponentially exploded way way out of seams for the city to control and handle?

Is it lack of money? Lack of money with people? “I don’t have money for the fuel sir. So I put kerosene to auto.” Hence the sound and pollution. Lack of money with Government? “Enough funds have been allocated to the improvement of the city but we are unable to track where the money went.” It is just a vicious circle.

Is it the way we all are brought up? There is so much respect here for children. Even when at fault, they are called sternly as ‘Young Man, can you be a good child and stop beating your friend?’, ‘Little Man, be careful with that stick. We don’t want you to hit your sister accidentally with it, would we?’ What would happen to a young kid in India handling a stick dangerously. PHATTAK! He will be slapped and the stick will be taken away from him. What will happen to a young gal in India when she is walking dangerously on the edge of the footpath? She will be dragged to the sidewalk unceremoniously and asked to stop being a pest. “Be careful, Young Lady. We don’t want you to get hurt” is how they are treated in US.

When things so simple and nice and easy in US, why is it so ugly and dirty and tough in India? How can the situation ever improve? Will it ever improve?

I used to read in novels how ill people, ill kids in foreign countries were sent to mountainous regions, or places with cleaner air in valleys so that they have a healthy life and can breathe fresh air. I realized, I never had a persistent cold or cough since I came to US an year and half ago, and when I was in India for a month, I had all sorts of breathing problems. Isnt life all about having a cleaner air to breath? Pollution is alarmingly increasing in India.

I realized one thing. When man is put into a nice and neat environment, as per the principle of regelation, he gels himself and adapts to the situation of being nice and neat. When man is put into a dirty and ugly environment, as per the principle of regelation, he gels himself and adapts to the situation of being just like other fellow men. And hence, a situation of nice and neat continues to nice and neat whereas a situation of ugly and dirty just becomes uglier and dirtier.

So, consider overnight, when everyone is sleeping, if the whole city is made beautiful and great, like a film setting, will things change? Will it change the mind set of people?

It may. People might atleast throw trash in trash cans. It may not. People might continue to spit on roads.

Anyway. Am leaving US and off to Bangalore on Dec 30th. And guess what?

I am looking forward to it.


Sneha said...

Very nicely written!!

Anonymous said...

"So, consider overnight, when everyone is sleeping, if the whole city is made beautiful and great, like a film setting, will things change?"

Nice imagination Harsha :-)

I doubt it though...


Mayuresh said...

Read an editorial in the Times Of India on the same issue a long time back. And also the counter point...
Alls not bliss in US, teenage violence, old age depression due to nuclear families et. all. In fact each country had its own share of problem.
History testimonies, that the building block to all great civilisations was a feared/respected law enforcement authority. India is 1/3 the size and 3 the population, and that surely does not help the cause. Add to that the cultural, lingual and geographical diversity.

Whichever way you look at it, I personally believe that the British rule did us more harm than good. I agree that without them there wouldn’t have been a “United India”. We would have been 5-6 smaller countries, but least 2-3 of them would have been economically better then what INDIA was in 1947. We got independence 60 years ago and US almost 160. For whatever progress India has made the fact still remains that 260 million Indian are still below poverty lines.

Having said that there a lot of things that can be learnt from the US culture and way the country were built. This generation is learning that "People can’t change who they are but they can who the want to be". It will still take some time for the benefits reaped by the upper-middle class today, to percolate down to those in poverty. Each nation is driven by its middle class. Even in India, once the day to day needs of people are met, they will start asking question to those in power. And those in power will have no alternative but to be accountable and just. At this moment Integrity is a luxury that only few can afford. As a nation we are not there, but at least we are headed in the right direction. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, hell, its not all that bad at this moment too. Not that bad at all…

Anonymous said...

um.... whatever u said is absolutely true!! however the last sentence changes it all.. it is we.. WE the INDIANS.. just because someone looks pretty, we cant accept them as ours, neither do they.. We are what we are, we need to accept it and change it to make it look pretty (i remember the dialogue of the movie america america as i am typing this)