Monday, November 12, 2012

Imperfect India


A friend of mine while talking to me after a very long while said, “I don’t like Gandhi, but the one thing I take from him is the ‘Quit India’ movement...I want to leave this wretched country... Those days of patriotism, hot blood are gone...Realism has dawned upon me”

This guy ranks among the top five intelligent/sharp/smart people I have known in my life – a guy with arguments, opinions, ideals, philosophy, principles – the kind you would expect to argue vehemently against migration and to stay here and make a difference, a guy who would not miss the short sightedness of the west, for all their tall claims to all sorts of things.

Further, he said, “This country has gone to dogs. Especially in the last 5-10 years. I have been paying taxes for the last 7 years and what do I get? No infrastructure, no healthcare, no regards for merit, no... I am definitely leaving India for 10-12 years....who the hell wants to live in a place where you have to wake up every morning and check whether there is power, water in the tap before you take a shower?”

Another friend of mine, again, an intellectual, also echoes the same frustration, “We are a very un-evolved people...the amount of noise there is, vehicles honking... I am afraid to eat in Indian restaurants...do they wash vegetables properly?...I don’t like being in Bangalore...we have always been a backward society...I don’t like being in India...

I, for one, being head over heels in love with this country, grateful to it for all that it has given me, asserting now and then that this country has given me more than I asked for and more than I probably deserve, feel sad, almost hurt when I listen to people who complain about it and wish they were born elsewhere.

But it’s not really the validity of their views, or of the glorious past of India – oldest civilization, yoga, heritage, etc., that I think about after I have heard them.
It’s, ‘what is it that makes me have no complaints...that makes me love this place to the point of having tears in my eyes at times, as if it were a living person...what is it that makes my experience of the same reality so radically different from theirs and more importantly, why do these people miss what I am seeing?’

One difference in our situations of course, is that they are ambitious and I am not. When you have high ambitions, things like infrastructure, taxation, ease of doing business etc. matter unlike when all you want to do with your life is read, read, read, think, write a book, and then get some work done in office as well without worrying about hikes.

But then, the people complaining about this country are doing very well in their career, and have been able to fulfil their ambitions, unaffected by infrastructure or policies of the state.
Reservation and State policies don’t affect the IT sector, do they?

So there is much more than career orientation that distinguishes our situations.

Actually, it’s not that I don’t have complaints about India. I am sensitive to noise, I grind my teeth every time my neighbours bang the metal doors against the hinges; there is an empty site a few blocks from my home that is piled with garbage; I hate the hundred dogs on every street of Bangalore; I can’t stand people talking loudly into mobile phones, auto drivers giving attitude,...
why, I don’t even own a vehicle, I commute by bus or walk and hence expose myself to more failings of the system perhaps than do others who drive air-conditioned cars door-to-door...

I get very angry at these things I can’t stand, but my anger lasts only as long as the cause of anger is active, and then it leaves me so I can be my happy self again. My anger I see, comes in short bursts, like spikes, frequent and very sharp but short-lived on an otherwise steady smooth graph.

For once the cause of irritation has passed me by, I am claimed...
... by the delight of that dance drama I watched yesterday, or the melody of her voice in that music concert I attended last week, or the brilliance of the play I went to a few days ago, or the hilariousness of the joke of that Stand Up Comedy Show last month that has not stifled my laughter yet, or the beauty of that flower show in Lalbagh I just saw, my excitement about the poem I will be reading at the weekly poetry reading by the Ulsoor lake, or my new found inspiration to continue my Sanskrit studies after the Sanskrit Conversation camp I attended, or my sense of accomplishment at the progress I am making in my music classes, or the stimulation of my intellect caused by this new perspective I saw expressed in a gathering of friends or the anticipation of the Old Hindi Film Songs Nite coming up next week, that I look forward to or...

And there I think, lies the answer.
With so many delights vying for my thoughts all of my waking time, I am left with the attention span of a child towards all the faults around me.

Living in this city that has abundant cultural delights to offer, I haven’t wasted the opportunity and filled my life with beautiful events; I am preoccupied with their delights all the time – either the hangover of an experience bygone or the anticipation of a coming one...so much that I go through life oblivious to all the defects around me.

When you are close to culture, you cannot have many complaints in life. It is when you are engaged in utilitarian pursuits all the time that you have discontentment in life.
For, if you think about all the grievances people usually have – infrastructure, potholes, taxation, corruption, etc., what sphere of life do they affect most? The utilitarian sphere, isn’t it?
If you are caught up in the utilitarian quarter only, you will be left with nothing but problems to deal with and failings to vex yourself with all the time.

In general, a broad classification of our living – our thoughts, words and actions, into two spheres, the utilitarian sphere and the sphere of beauty & culture and the subsequent thoughtful apportioning of all our resources to these two spheres is a prerequisite for direction and perspective in life.

To all those who are frustrated with this system, I would say, spare a few hours every week, may be during the weekend, to attend some cultural event happening in your city – be it music, dance, drama, art exhibition, whatever you have access to...
Your problems will not disappear – there will still be potholes on the road, corruption will still be there, but you will be able to live with them without being too bothered, without becoming vexed, because you will also have beautiful experiences, memories, hangovers competing for some space of your mind.

To use the analogy of the sea, when you have only litter on the beach, you will be disgusted but if you also have pearls, corals and other treasures washing up on your shores, you will busy yourself gathering them and ignore the litter.
Those waves that wash up treasures on the shores of your life are the waves of culture. Proximity to culture is what changes our experience of the reality around us from an impoverished one to an enriched one.

And as you soak yourself more and more in culture, you may even begin to see that the fulfilment it brings in life is worth all the superficial imperfections of this country.

Elsewhere, you may find perfection at the superficial level – clean, nice, polished and ordered surfaces – but if you dig beneath, would you find the riches that you do here?

India may be imperfect; but more than ‘imperfect’, India is ‘incredible’.

But then, I am not asking you to give India a chance. I am only asking you to give yourself a chance.

10 comments:

Ranj said...

My sentiments...beautifully put...

Sowmya said...

For the first time, you agree with me Ranj!

Sachin Thombre said...

I too agree, India is incredible..it has a heart, a head, a stomach to digest everything, limbs that take it forward and backword sometimes ....and above all, a soul that gets plenty of nourishment missing in other countries.

its not that other countries dont have the above, they too have it at varying degrees but the spiritual aspect in our genes and in the geography just stands us apart. and that to me makes my India, incredible.

Saro said...

Its a wonder I haven't seen you at the poetry meets Sowmya! To your post though, I think India as a country is great, I also think that it can be better, nicer and more habitable for its people.

Sowmya said...

Hi Saro, you mean, Urban Solace? I had been there twice. Its too far away from my place :-(

Yeah India could be much better...and its people are mostly responsible for its betterment!

Ganapathy M.k said...


And In India, the caste system remains as a great thorn and mystery in the flesh of Mother India......Itz A open drainage.
As long as caste system is prevalent....we cannot hope for better India.Unfit Politicians come to power using Caste politics and make us powerless.

Ganapathy M.k said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ganapathy M.k said...

I forgot to mention ....Nice Writing!!!! Sowmya :)

Sowmya said...

Ganapathy,

Welcome to this blog. Thanks for leaving your comments.

You may want to read the views of Paramahamsa Yogananda on caste that he has expressed in Autobiography of a Yogi.
Caste is probably the most misconstrued subject of all... Most of it is rhetoric and no one has the courage even to explore the subject, read or even think about it, leave alone differing from the popular polarized rhetoric thrust upon us by the media...

It requires much depth, vision and imagination to appreciate that the caste system is the product of Indian genius, that India is India only as long as it keeps its caste, that the social evils of caste can only be likened to the decaying leaves and branches of an otherwise healthy tree, and nothing more...

Arun Yadwad said...

Hi Sowmya, your post compells one to think differently about India and gives altogether a different perspective on our country.

You are very clear in your thoughts and they are beautifully narrated here.

I totally agree with what you say in this blog!

Keep writing.Good luck!

-Arun Yadwad