Friday, October 29, 2010

Emerging India

As you step out of Mumbai airport, India meets you at the door. This is not the India you saw on movies, chaotic and poor; not the one you suspected it to be, from the slums you saw from the sky. But, neither it is the sleek Dubai-like feature which it should have been, if you just trusted the analysts above all else: After all, this is where the next game of Global Capitalism will be played.

The experiences at the door, on both counts, are bound to be anti-climactic. With the new shiny Mumbai airport coming into being, the disorderliness of beggars and scavengers of the past are gone: In its place, now, are security barriers, taxi counters and glass doors. The noisy crowd waiting for homecoming relatives and friends are now spread over a large area rather than a tiny door front: The scenes of emotion are therefore much diffused. It is rather a quiet experience, compared to whatever you have heard about Mumbai from those who have gone there before. But, one thing will still strike you: It is incomplete, and no one seems to care for it.

That incompleteness will appear in bits and pieces, but everywhere. A missing sign here, an empty table, a shopfront still being worked upon, a railing finishing abruptly in the middle of nowhere, a traffic barrier hastily put together: And, also a Policeman who seemed to have forgotten a couple of buttons on his shirt. But, as you try to overlook these, as a kind visitor, you can't help noting the official looking indifferently across the space filled with such half-done things, the shiny cars that briefly stopped in front of the poodle formed by yesterday's rain-waters to pick up their distinguished looking passengers and above all, the blankness and rather apparent rudeness of anyone you may have approached for help. This is no Dubai, no Disneyland of Capitalism: If anything, this will have the feeling of the wild west.

Which will not be far from truth: India is fast emerging to be the Wild West of global capitalism. The movie versions of Wild West show no Indians; that will possibly be the first analogy you will draw - the shiny billboards, the exuberance of the business community and of the Professors and Consultants paid by them, paint a picture that excludes all Indians, the uneducated, 'villager' types. Much like Wild West, where Indians would have formed a majority of the population when the Pale Rider was riding through valleys, these uneducated Indians still form a majority of the population. They are poor, they are not presentable. They are being ordered out, painted out and definitely wished out of India. The infamous poverty of India, which movies and unpatriotic Indians often portray, is being carefully replaced by sleaze, by those who could be bought over to the other side, to join the chorus of the new India, the White Tiger types.

Some people may say I am being unfair: Those street-smart white tigers are new India's poster boys. They make modern India what it is today: A land of opportunity. But, you, riding your cab to the suburban Mumbai, may have to work to keep the faith: The cab driver will feed you with stories of political corruption, while pointing out various areas as belonging to various gangsters, while you could not escape noticing large gated communities existing side by side with slums, displaying the same indifference that you saw at the airport. You will know what you are seeing - a wild west - only that money and influence have replaced guns and wit, and no Pale Rider is in sight.

An India will emerge. One disabused of its age-old decency, its innocence and its dignity in poverty. Not one that waited for ages with unwavering patience, but one which wants to get rich quick. Not one which accepted all comers with open arms, but one adolescent country with a rude arrogance. Not the India you read about - but one with a false sense of past and increasingly, a false sense of presence. One that is imagining a bright future but concluded that imagining is enough.

An India which we have to wait to pass, before the one we knew and loved, return.

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