At least in one Nobel laureate’s book, Indians are an argumentative lot.
But, have we, as a people, become too uncritical of our failures, too unquestioning of the advertising—and “super-sensitive to any hint of criticism”—as we wallow in the warm afterglow of the spectacular strides made by our moon missions, IT companies, GDP growth rate, Bollywood successes etc?
Yes, says the Pakistani commentator Irfan Husain.
“I spent the other evening at the Karachi Boat Club in the company of a European who has spent a long time in the region, and knows South Asia well, having lived in Pakistan and India for several years,” he writes in The Dawn. When I asked him how it felt to be back in Pakistan after being away for a few years in New Delhi, his answer came as a surprise.
“As we have known each other for fifteen years, he had no need to be polite: ‘It feels great to be back,’ he replied. ‘You have no idea how difficult day-to-day life is in New Delhi.
“Apart from the awful traffic, the pollution, and the expense, you have to put up with the prickliness of most Indians you meet. They are touchy to the point of paranoia. There is a lot of very aggressive poverty in the air. And when the New Delhi airport opens, we’ll have to brace ourselves for yet another self-congratulatory blast.
“What is truly shocking is how little the well-off Indians care about the poor’.”
Husain talks glowingly of India’s “brilliant software engineers, its talented scientists, its outstanding cricketers and its artistes”. But, consumed by the “India Shining” myth, we seem to bury our heads, ever so willingly, when confronted with all the bonechilling social issues staring us in the face.
Husain quotes Randeep Ramesh, The Guardian‘s South Asia correspondent, who has just returned to London after a spell of six years on the subcontinent.
“In my six years there, it was hard not to be infected by the hubris of India….
“Whether I was visiting a rural police station where half-naked men were hung from the ceiling during an interrogation, or talking to the parents of a baby bulldozed to death in a slum clearance, the romance of India’s idealism was undone by its awful daily reality.
“The venality, mediocrity and indiscipline of its ruling class would be comical but for the fact that politicians appeared incapable of doing anything for the 836 million people who live on 25 pence a day….
“India is perhaps the most unequal country on the planet, with a tiny elite engorged on the best education, biggest landholdings and largest incomes. Those born on the bottom rungs of the social hierarchy suffer a legacy of caste bigotry, rural servitude and class discrimination.
Indians have much to be proud of, writes Husain. But by focusing only on their country’s achievements, the danger is that they will lose sight of the huge problesms that still exist.
“Friends who point out these failings do not do so out of a sense of malice, but out of concern.”
Read the full articles: Irfan Husain: Don’t shoot the messenger
Randeep Ramesh: A passage to world power