Me and My Muse

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

60 Years of Independence

I am writing this article from a city called Bangalore. Bangalore is a city with endless shopping malls, high-rise apartment blocks and more than numerically countable people. It is also the laboratory for an experiment with software careers.

India would be 60 years old tomorrow. There remain significant discussions on whether India was born in 1947 or it was just another rebirth. But we can quite safely claim that the last earned independence has touched a ripe age of six-zero.

15th of August is a day if pride for any Indian. It somehow pushes a feeling of Initialization and patriotism in me. I don’t understand the cause or dynamics of being an Indian and neither did I choose to be, but somehow it happened to me and I, in my staunchest and strongest belief, think that that's the best that could have happened to me. It marks another year of India’s freedom and sovereignty and 60 years of being reigned by ourselves.

Through the strife of partition, financial out-crises, wars, revolutions, through a changing world India has been smelted has transformed, glorified, beautified, modernized from a shabbily-dressed youngster to developing (if not already) nation of confidence and experience. But India had to fight back so often through its steps, towards globalization and modernization, towards a new era of political, demographic and socio-economic corn fields. New reforms were churned, to ensure that liberty and equality. Now, India stands a nation of literacy, economic boom, entrepreneurs, visionaries and a blend of old and new, of traditions and urbanizations, of malls and temples.

But do I have something more; something more to listen, to understand...

Whatever Englishmen may think of India, the cultural lodestone Britain may once have lent us with their love of cricket and regard for English-style public schools, times have changed. A not so ridiculing fact would be India's series victory over England in England in a game learnt from them, on the eve of Independence Day. Today, we buy into the American Dream instead, mostly.

As I take a day in the city, I walk into The Forum Mall, away from the heat and the noise, and step into the superb air-conditioning. By all means one the grandest of the shopping emporiums on this chaotic, fume-filled zone known as Koramangala, it is already an established magnet to the cities newly wealthy middle class. There are fashion shops, department stores, jewelers, sports stores selling Nike, there is a cinema on the top level showing Bollywood and Hollywood hits. Most interesting is a fast-food restaurant that offers cleaned-up versions of Indian street food, with staff dressed in baseball caps and bowling shirts; an idealized Indian interpretation of an idealized American vision of itself.

On the top floor, Joy and a friend are sipping smoothies. Joy is 28 and works in IT. He is wearing a college-style T-shirt of brushed yellow cotton. Though his home is in another city, he lives in Bangalore. For all his Western looks and habits, Joy appears to resent the suggestion that India is becoming Americanized. Yet asked about what it represents for India, he says: "It's the culture changing. There is a change in the mindset. If people go to the US they will bring things back to India. Society cannot be stagnant".

No one should doubt that the gains made by India's economy, currently growing at around 9 per cent a year, are not genuine and that they will not have an impact that changes the world order. Already India's place in the list of world economies is shifting. Two years ago its economy joined the world's top 10 and earlier this year a report by the investment bank Goldman Sachs predicted that within a decade it will surpass that of Italy, France and the UK to become the fifth largest. The report said that if current trends continue, the Indian economy will by mid-century have overtaken that of the US as well, leaving it second only to China.

But alongside these achievements, India is facing considerable problems as it seeks to emulate the US or even eclipse its superpower status. From a purely logistical perspective, the most serious of these is a shortfall in the infrastructure required to support its vision for the future. This shortfall is apparent in many frustrating ways: in the water shortages and electrical power-cuts that befall even the biggest cities during the summer months, in the roads so clogged with traffic that it takes for ever to travel even a few miles and which become all but impassable during heavy rains.

The concern is among the scariest facts in India’s dependency today. I very consciously use the word 'dependency' to bring out a meaning of depending Independence that's throttling all the economics of the nation. Getting back to Joy; Joy's life had changed drastically over the last month for a reason which he alone cannot be blamed for. Joy was asked to cut-off which a part of his weekend and also add some more to everyday to his weekdays. And pretty understandably our jolly good Joy had to follow the commands. What he probably did realize deep down inside in his heart is the growing reasons and the growing needs of Indian economy has pronounced him to be more responsible.

But is this responsibility is just a concern for Joy (and anyone of us of the US client-serving corporate worker class)? Rupee appreciation, something which was ever wanted saw a trailer and Joy saw the consequences. Would he still want his rupee to grow or become a dollar worshiper like his employers? He is just another victim of changing policies in a "dollary" environment and he cannot do anything about it. And what might happen is the extra work may make dollar cheaper than now. What happens next in forth-coming Independence Days is the next story.


footnote: Indian Software companies serving US companies had some serious policy changes post rupee-appreciation. Some have increased working hours on weekdays. Some have included Saturdays into weekdays. While others reduced/removed perks and positions from employees just to keep up with the rupee-gaining-strength crisis.



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