Thursday, January 29, 2009

Images of India: An Emerging Superpower? Hah!!

1. The Hindustan Motors Ambassador based on 1957 British Morris Oxford
2. Charing Cross Road in the hill resort town of Ooty [how quaintly English]
3. Young Indian women clad in colorful Saris

4. The nut and chickpea vendor

5.The Nilgiri hills of western Tamil Nadu

6. Decrepit railway coaches at a decrepit railway station

7. The Tea plantations of Ooty.

Recently I visited the hill resort town of Ooty, in the extreme west of the Indian State of Tamil Nadu, about 2700 meters above sea-level I found many relics of the time when the British planters,soldiers and missionaries were here. A town with a name like Wellington, a road called Charing Cross, and a bookstore called Higginbottom's are a reminder of the days when the pallid English retired to the hills to escape the stuporific heat of the Indian summer. But more than the ghost of its ex-colonial status, I found in India many disturbing signs that make me doubt whether it should be put in the same league as China when we talk of emerging superpowers. I have been to many poverty-striken rural areas as well as urban slums- in Indonesia, Thailand, China, Philippines, Malaysia- but never have I seen a country as filthy and depressingly derelict as India. From the pot-holed roads to the heaps of rubbish, the filthy toilets, and the stench of ripe garbage everywhere, this is, as their tourism campaign slogan says it correctly: Incredible India. I am no expert on India, nor have I seen much of India, but Coimbatore; the second largest city [the largest being Chennai] of Tamil Nadu supposedly one of the most dynamic Indian States looks like many towns in Asia did in the nineteen-fifties. Second-tier Asia cities like Chiangmai in Thailand, Kunming in China, Cebu in the Philippines, Surabaya in Indonesia-they have all come a long way. Many clean modern buildings and hotels have been built to cater to tourism. But not Coimbatore. I cannot help but come to the conclusion that there must be something in the Indian property development and ownership laws that discourages the re-development, and maintenance of buildings. Why else would there be so few clean, new buildings?
India would have a tough time catching up with China. Poor tranportation infrastructure, outdated laws, the large swath of the population that is still in poverty and illiterate, and the constant bickering among the politicians [that's Democracy] make it hard to get anything done. If that be the price for Democracy in a developing country, I rather have a capable one-party government, or a Mandate of Heaven sort of benevolent dictatorship.
All I can say that is encouraging about India is that consumerism which may stoke the domestic economy has arrived in the form of - small [under 1000 c.c. engine cars], the cellphone and the digital camera. Indians live to talk and to take pictures. Lots of them on the streets, everywhere in the world, talking on their cellphones and nodding their heads vigorously or posing for pictures in front of anything whether it be the Statue of Liberty in New York or the inflatable Mickey Mouse for children at Singapore's Changi Airport, or at their desk in the office.
What else can you say about a country that still produces a car based on a 1957 British car? [See image 1. The Hindustan Motors Ambassador based on a 1957 British Morris-Oxford] . And where there are mosquitoes in the Coimbatore airport departure lounge.

No comments:

Post a Comment