the fate of cheats and other travel musings of an Indian-American
In the last two weeks I’ve travelled around 3/4 of the world, and in the next week I’ll finish my circumnavigation.
I spent a few days in Taipei, Taiwan, for my brother’s wedding where we got to see a beautiful city and meet friendly, civic-minded people. I noticed most people follow the law. I drew this conclusion from the fact that nearly everyone on a two-wheeler wore a helmet. My sister-in-law said it’s because they enforce the law very strictly and just as she said that, we saw a passenger on the back of a scooter get handed a ticket for being without a helmet. The city is clean and traffic chugs along orderly. People volunteer at the national museum as guides to tourists, very prideful of their country’s heritage (as they broke away from the grips of Communist China in the 40’s). Health care is universal for basic needs and hybrid public-private policies cover more severe health needs.
Now I’m in Bangalore, India, visiting my grandparents. You can’t compare apples to oranges but I can’t help the sneaking intuition that maybe not enough of our people really give a rat’s ass. The day I landed in Bangalore, nearly half the country was in the dark up north because of a massive power-grid failure that lasted over 48 hours and continues to persist for the poorest of this nation.
Meanwhile, my childhood city, Bangalore, which was known as the garden city, is now a sprawling massive metropolis that’s been stripped of any ‘garden-esque’ charm it retained when I lived here in the late 80s. People only seem to care about the size of their houses, their cars, and other material trappings of the capitalist’s lifestyle. Oh and temples…people love building temples and giving $ to temples, while the poor, i.e. the majority of the population, are left starving, homeless and without proper education or jobs.
All the while, infrastructure continues to buckle under the massive demands that comes with the breakneck growth of India’s economy and population. No urban planning, no civic minded sacrifices for the greater good, and more urgently, very few stop lights!
Some of the most dangerous intersections simply bear a sign that says “Accident Zone, Drive Slowly”! What in God’s name can that possibly accomplish when it’s night time and no one can see the sign? How about investing in a f*@!g stop light instead of subsidizing power for another giant mall? (an aside to Americans who say keep government out of my life, well..here’s an example of abject neglect by the government, a preview of where the United States is headed under folks like Mitt Romney. Obama’s misconstrued “You didn’t build that” speech doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get credit for your accomplishment, it means, you needed and will continue to need the public’s support, through the arm of the government, to sustain such accomplishments and enjoy its fruits).
Then, I was visiting a family friend last night, an attorney who was telling me about his practice here and the state of the law in India (newsflash, it’s not good). A news story he related to me provided the inevitable revelation that had been hurtling towards me all this time. A local mining barron is in jail for corruption and while in custody he confessed to having tried to bribe various judges along the way to fix his bail at a certain amount. One judge accepted the bribe and now the whole lot are either in jail or under further investigation.
India is well known for wide-spread corruption at all levels of government but this, coupled with the other cardinal sins of capitalism, i.e. greed and unchecked growth, bode none too well for this country of 1.2 billion people.
Still, even while the “nation’s” fate may be uncertain, the People of India are ever-resilient, it being one of the world’s oldest civilizations. There is an underlying pulse in such places that transcends the manmade artifices of statehood and currency. It is the plain and simple truth that the People pre-date the Nation by thousands of years and, the ability to survive and thrive, whether under one flag, or as feudal warring states, has always been the People’s talent.
Whether the Nation’s leaders can harness this talent and right the ship in the direction of prosperity for all Indians and more generally, the people of the Sub-Continent, or, whether, the state must eventually collapse and break apart into more manageable fractions is a question left for time to answer.