Saturday, June 30, 2012

India At the Faultline

India is facing a crisis in credibility. Right at the time when the world economy turns south, the Indian leadership continues to fiddle and confuse, and is allowing the country to drift aimlessly. After years of abundant jobs, swelling salaries and cheap credit, suddenly the Indian middle class arrives in the age of redundancies, penny pinching and ever-rising rates of interest: The end of dream may have arrived, so it feels.

This may be the time we all feared: This is like putting a car on reverse while zooming ahead at 100mph. Much of the prosperity in India was only the feel-good kind, only a few people did really well. The others read about them and had a feeling of progress. Suddenly, all of that disappointment may all surface, tearing the country apart. Unless, indeed, everyone's attention could be diverted with something compelling.

Like a war, perhaps. This is a classic setting for jingoist, misanthropic leader who can find someone to blame. This is not a time for reasoned discussion and self-correction, but an easy explanation - some villains lurching around the window - would do our wounded selves much good. A war is mostly like a movie in the imagination of a post-war middle class; in that, only heroes die in such wars fighting the villains who brought collective misery. It is only during war the real blood, sweat and tears, the actual person down the road who goes missing and other horrors, are discovered. And, it is only in the defeat, the hollowness of rhetoric is finally understood. In summary, it will feel mostly like a video game relieving the tensions of a hard day, with the difference that we may all have to die without spare lives in hand.

Indeed, we have convenient, known villains all around us. The minorities in India, Maoists, Pakistan, China, even America - who knows how our collective psyche will shape up. We may just fight each other, because we may not agree on who the villain really is. It all depends on the new leader, and his advertising agencies, and a few script writers, who has to decide what sells well. We need a collective hardening of the Indian identity, someone patriotic tells me, because what India stands for isn't clear. Surely we need such talk, just to soothe ourselves now.

But there may be another way, another possibility. After the selfish middle-class get-ahead drive comes to a standstill, we may suddenly also discover the enormous possibilities of our Indianness. Not hardening, this, and therefore less appealing perhaps, but we may actually discover the values of family and family homes at the time our mortgage-backed addictions get over. In a collective softening of our daily lives, we may discover that there are other possibilities in life than just running to the nearest big city and spending the life trying to match up the consumption habits of our neighbours. We may suddenly discover new friends, the generosity that is truly Indian, the beauty of our local railway stations, which we forgot in the years of budget airlines and airport crawls. There may be a leader who does not egg us into destruction, but finally calls us to the mirror.

May be, but may be I am too optimistic - India's hour has finally come. This inflection point in global history when we finally come of age and diverge from the path of tycoon-fuelled development typical of our third-world fate. This may be the time to return to our family dinners, and escape the allure of our new pubs and disco joints which defined our prosperity during the last decade. This may be the time to feel safe again, within our own communities, rather than peering out to backless attractions of the muses of globalization.

And, this will, I shall hope, unleash India. It will discover its own demands and prowess, the possibilities of reshaping the world inside, and may be outside as well. It may be that we discover ourselves only at the precipice; but that's the way we have always done.

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