October 04, 2009

The Country Club

The last time I distinctly remember feeling patriotic was as a kid after watching JP Dutta's Border for the first time. After the movie ended with the jingoistic jig "Hindustan, Hindustan" I jumped on my bed like a zombie. Too excited to sleep, I stared in the darkness of night feeling that India has the most beautiful cartographic image in the world and that the Indian soldiers at the border must be great fearless and patriotic warriors as those in the movie. During the Kargil war I used to tally the number of wounded and dead Indian soldiers against those on the Pakistani side. I watched a lot of movies in the muddled up category of "patriotism and national integration" as a child.

As I grew up, learning more about myself with each passing year, I realized that I could feel patriotic only when I forcibly pumped that feeling into myself. Since then I have occasionally felt an itch of guilt for what I have become and learnt to live with it. The first time after I left college, took a job, lived independently, paid taxes and donated for charity my itch started to recede and instead has been being replaced with a growing sense of disillusionment and despair.

I am not very different from the billion other people who desire to live on their own and strive for their livelihood and dreams, people who work for themselves, their families and if possible for their communities. I feel optimistic about the opportunities available to the youth, I am inspired by the creativity and capabilities of many of those, and am amused by their naiveté in forwarding to each other Manmohan Singh's résumé or Abdul Kalam's speech about how India really is a developed country and not just a developing one. The latter amusement has in fact shifted from pride to realization and now vacillates between pity and condescension.

I don't particularly like nor respect India as a country. It is very unlike the developed countries that many of my generation truly envy. It appraises property in crores and human lives in lakhs. Nor is it like the war-torn developing countries that not only struggle for survival but also rebuild themselves with alacrity. It takes decades to construct projects, pays its voters hooch money before elections, and confuses fighting terrorism with curbing citizens' rights. Its few achievements are usually those of individuals from whom they have duly been nationalized, and when it does make to the top of a global economic or demographic index in a positive manner it is mostly because of its colossal population. It is at best the largest dysfunctional democracy and in fact the largest mobocracy in the world.

To the critic who questions what I do to change the situation: Bless the man who shot the guy who had said, "Ask not what the country did for you but what you did for the country." The country, whatever it means, is not my ruler and I am not a slave. We have a symbiotic relationship not very dissimilar from the relationship between an apartment building and its residents. The residents pay for the maintenance and a few other funds in exchange for a host of benefits. The residents should not default on their payments and the apartment building (through its elected association) should not fail to provide those benefits. The resident who is unhappy with the functioning of the association complains, and if things don't improve leaves to another apartment building.


  1. The analogy of a resident and the apartment is nice.

    Mathematically, the curbing of human rights doesn't make much impact/sense in a country like India.

    How many rights does an Indian have anyway? Most of the (educated) citizens themselves don't know what their rights are.

    A writer on NBC's 'Law and Order' once said 'Man has only those rights he can defend'. A corollary of this in our times translates to 'Man has only those rights that are defended on his behalf (by the government)'. Consider the right to life, you only have it because of the system currently in place (which via harsh punishment) deters such a violation.

    When there are 15 kids in a family, parents (can) only care about feeding, clothing and protecting them. It is a stretch to expect them to keep in mind the skirt the 8th one wants and the books the 14th one wishes. It also works in the following way. Suppose that kids #5 and #9 die of accident/disease. Because there are 13 still left, parents can't even afford the time to mourn. They just have to go on. I am not saying its an exact analogy but I hope you get the point.

    Its sort of like the 'quality of life' re-defined to mean 'being (barely) alive'.

    This is the primary reason why one must adjust in a country with three times the population and one-seventh's the area of US (biggest in terms of population among the developed western countries). A thousand dead doesn't/can't matter for the country with 100crore more. It doesn't matter if those deaths are caused because of a terrorist attack or swine flu or natural calamity. The country has far too many people to worry about.

    That is precisely the reason why no one really cares about gay rights or embryonic stem cell research or human rights violations. When did it ever appear that we had some 'rights' to begin with? In a country of a billion people rights are in fact, rations.

  2. I get the point from the analogy of a family with 15 kids. That doesn't move me. It doesn't make me empathic.

    But it throws light on why the statement, "India's large population is, in fact, its greatest asset," is false.

    While it may sound inhuman, a large portion of the population at least for now is a burden than a boon. I expect the government to gradually move people from the burden barrier to the boon side, just as it happens in a large joint family.

    Does it make more sense to have small self-sufficient societies than ginormous dysfunctional ones? It definitely seems easier.

  3. The analogy wasn't expected to evoke empathy. Just to point out the reality.

    India's population is both an asset and a liability. Think of it as a bunch of (not equally efficient) machines. They are surely useful when they are put to work and it certainly costs money to maintain them. Granted that more profit could be made by retiring inefficient machines rather than waste money to maintain them, but sadly due to the constitution the country abides by (for whatever reasons), the country has to come up with ways to keep most of the machines and make profit (somehow).

    Further, if money were to be channeled properly, there is a possibility that equipping the inefficient machines with tools and parts might bring in more money than simply retiring them.

    Hitler had old people obliterated for he felt they were burden to the country. In terms of pure profit and loss he might have been correct, but (again for whatever reasons) we chose to abide by a different set of rules.

    Just as an idle mind is a liability, India's population is a liability only if its not groomed/used properly.

    If your actual deeper conflict is communism vs. capitalism, then let me know.

  4. Joint families might be able to afford breaking up into nuclear ones.

    But India cannot. Next to Israel, India has the highest number of 'hostile' neighbors. Smaller independent entities will find it a daunting task to keep themselves safe from both external strike and internal strife.

    Countries like Srilanka and Nepal have turmoil because they are small. Countries like China and India don't, because we are big and can CRUSH opposition if necessary (granted China can CRUSH any and everything).

    There are pluses and minuses to both smaller and bigger entities. For whatever reasons that Sardar Vallabhai Patel thought best, even if he did it out of blinding patriotic emotion, we have a big country now. Its best to think of strategies that make it tick, instead of breaking it up.

    The one sole reason Russia emerged as that one country in history which US feared is because it was both big and communist. Russia achieved tremendous progress as a single large nation that made US take (desperate) steps. I am not taking sides with communism w.r.t this discussion, but the fact that it was a huge country was what made US treat it as its sole arch enemy. Once it broke down into smaller (and still communist) pieces there was nothing to fear about and hence the cold war ended.

  5. Interesting. I could point out my apathy and condescension towards countries still fighting at all, but more importantly this discussion has underlined my own lack of thinking from various perspectives.