Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Reality Check

India, the seventh largest country on the globe and the second most populous, currently lies just outside the top-ten list of countries ranked by GDP. India boasts of one of the earliest civilizations on the planet - Mohenjo-daro and Harappa dating back to around 3000 BCE, but I'm sure you know all these things... And I'm positive it's not something you will miss telling your foreigner pals while hanging out in a bar. I am also certain that you say it with so much pride, you are almost taking credit for establishing the Indus Valley Civilization! There's nothing wrong with that, of course... Every nation must be proud of its history.

But it doesn't end there, does it? You inevitably mention a few more fabulous aspects about the nation hoping to leave your differently skinned friends reeling in awe. Let me give you a few examples: (1) The Republic of India has the third largest military force in the world. (2) Along with Pakistan, Sri Lanka and a few other tidbits, India forms the only subcontinent in the world - replete with every fathomable geographical feature; mountains, plains, marshes, plateaus, deserts, rivers, lakes and seas - we've got the lot. (3) We have the third largest pool of qualified engineers in the world! (yes, I bet you didn't know that) (4) And we're one of those elite few with nuclear power - wait, Pakistan's got that too, no? Okay, we've gone to Space. Ha ha, take that!

I suppose we're also the world's largest producer of wheat and the second largest producer of rice... but since we eat all of it, it mustn't count. The only things which get out of the country, unconsumed by the billion people, are cotton, textiles, diamonds and jewelry; not much else. Anyway, all this doesn't matter. Because I'm going to tell you today how all these stories are well-worded 'feel-good' statements which mask the ugly truths which lie underneath.

Listed really high in the National GDP chart, India does really poorly on the per capita basis. Well, you knew that... And I knew that. But I didn't know it was this bad: $1389/capita-year according to the IMF puts us in the 140th place in a list of 182 countries. It only gets worse as the Rupee continues its plunge towards 60 to a Dollar.

Let's talk about the military forces now: most of us start feeling secure listening to the 'third largest military force' quip time and again. However, it must be known that as soon as you divide this number by the number of people inhabiting the country, we end up with the following ratio: 1.1 Active soldiers per thousand citizens, which is incidentally ranked 149th in the world. Alright, we don't have to be North Korea which has nearly 50 per thousand, but this extreme is equally crazy.

Long gone are the days when the subcontinent was protected from foreign invaders by a wall of high mountains in the north and the mighty seas in the south. No longer can the way the earth is sculpted be considered a serious security measure, but these geographical features offer us a plethora of other opportunities - all of which we have failed to grasp. Tourism and agriculture are two activities we have ceaselessly contrived to fail at - and we've done it in style!

Most credible tourism companies don't even give India a rank when it comes to international visitors! Despite being one of the oldest continuously inhabited places, having some of the most picturesque places and boasting of some of the most evolved cultures known to man, India manages a paltry five million international tourists every year. Contrast that with China which sees over fifty-three million visitors annually; no, we must stop comparing ourselves with the Chinese. All those India-China surveys are lies - and we're not catching up.

Agriculture and allied sectors like forestry, logging and fishing accounted for 15.7% of the GDP in 2009–10, employed 52.1% of the total workforce; all this with the most naturally fertile land in the world. When we talk about revolutions in the sector which employs more than half of the people in India, we shouldn't have to quote MS Swaminathan's Green Revolution (1963) as the last good thing that happened. Actually, Dr. Swaminathan, with all due respect was only responsible for implementing the methods of Dr. Norman Borlaug, an American agronomist, who was actually responsible for the revolution.

So what exactly are these one billion Indians achieving? Becoming engineers in hordes, I suppose. Third largest squad of engineers in the world... and what have we got to show for it? The foremost institutions in the country, the IITs, are completely unknown once you exit the borders. And why should they be known? It's not like they're doing any remarkable research or transforming India into an engineering superpower. Mostly, engineering institutions across the nation are producing unambitious people who just want to do management or worse, who join one of those companies which outsource work from the United States and allied countries. Well, the Outsourcing industry does contribute around 28% of our total GDP, but isn't it a very temporary solution? I don't think a country's development can be based entirely on how much work it can do for another. We need to start producing things. Ourselves.

And now that we've established that we've got a surplus of farmers and engineers, how're the other professions doing? According to a recent survey, there are around 50 physicians per 100,000 Indians and I shouldn't have to tell you how bad that is. According to the World Health Organisation, 900,000 Indians die each year from drinking contaminated water or breathing polluted air. And why wouldn't they die?

So, you see, it's not a case of excelling in one field and thus failing in another. We're sucking across the whole gamut, with the exception of Bollywood, which the world knows for its colours and dance routines and Cricket, which is followed closely by a few people in 12 different countries.

File:World Map Index of perception of corruption 2010.svg
This is not a time for incremental change - it is time for a full scale revolution. And we, as a people, are more than capable of making it happen. We've achieved far more difficult things in the past and there is no reason this revolution will not come. Sixty years ago, there was no tangible connection between the different people who inhabited this country - no common language, no common origin, not even the same religion - yet, we have survived. Not just survived, we have grown... without any major civil war! That's a credible achievement to say the least. In 1950, the world was worried about leaving such a large country completely in the hands of a few people who had never known the meaning of freedom until then. Today, we can look back proudly and say we've made it. This is a real achievement and no one can take anything away from it.

The fact that we're doing so poorly on so many fronts must not deter us one bit! Every thing we are lagging at is a serious business opportunity. No longer must we rely on governments bringing legislation to improve the condition of the people, only to be completely undone by the subsequent government. True, legislation is the easiest and most successful way to bring about change. But we shouldn't sit on our backsides and hope that change will come! Scams will happen, corruption will continue and red-tape will make things very difficult for the common man. But there is still a way. Sleep six hours instead of eight. Forget about that extra one million rupees in profits and do something for the country. And don't wait for the goddamned government to bring the revolution. You must do it yourself.

As M.K.Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world."

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Girl, why did you change so much?

The turn of the millennium saw me in standard five, as a gawky kid with over-sized spectacles matching an over-sized head. And as we all know, fifth grade is a turning point in any kid's life. I found it no different, as having returned to India after four long years, the system of making the boys and girls sit separately on opposite sides of the class was new and confounding. More disconcerting however, was the fact that talking to people of the opposite sex was no longer a punishment but a privilege. In fact, I vividly recall some fellows coming up with random excuses so that they could leave our table at lunch and spend a few minutes with the giggling girl by the window.

In science class, the teacher was talking about Entamoeba Histolytica when I found the guy seated next to me staring at the window - at least, that's what I thought at first. Doing a double take, I realized that he wasn't, in fact, looking at the big boys playing volleyball outside... He had somehow locked eyes with the girl in the front row, who was struggling to keep her head constantly turned at some eighty-seven degrees. "Snap out of it, man!" I said to him. To no avail.

Those were the days when hearts could be won with nothing more than a smile, or a soiled note which said "1-4-3" on it. Those were the days when you could poke a girl with a pencil or hit her with a box on one day, and have her fall in love with you the very next. 'Love' was a word which came so easily to our mouths. It was then a word which still carried meaning.

Fast forward - five years: The world was quite the same, except you couldn't hit girls any more without being branded a boor. 'Love affairs' didn't scandalize anyone anymore, but somehow whenever you wanted to talk to a girl really badly, you would be searching for all the right words. And then, they would never come out. Still, those were enjoyable times, made even more fantastic by the plans and strategies we used to come up with to win her heart!

Most plans failed, but some did succeed and V.G. Siddhartha ended up making a truck-load of cash. In fact, as the years ticked by, Cafes' earnings went up exponentially... as it was no longer socially acceptable to enjoy a Pepsi and a Vegetable Puff while standing outside 'Royal Bakery' with her. No. The grander the place you took her to, the happier she felt.

Enter college and there was still some semblance of normalcy in this world... In engineering school - and especially in IITs - girls come in really, really small numbers. But then again, humans are made in two sexes for a reason, I suppose. And so, even though society contrived to make it as difficult for us as possible, you always ended up finding that one perfect someone. Well, a whole lot of us acted upon the feeling, and a vast majority of us failed. And some people I know didn't even get started, as society by now had established so many rules, restrictions, ethics, morals and so many other things I don't even know the names of, that made even the approach an impossibility.

I found that people were no longer as 'easy' as they used to be before. They had changed - well not entirely, definitely not from within... But now, there was layer after layer of 'personality' shrouding what she really was. My god, it was difficult! But there was still music in the background and lights in the air when everything about you knew that she was the one for you.

And now, I have spent the last one year outside college, in strange cities, stranger bars and the strangest place of all, Facebook. This one year has destroyed the world as I knew it not so long ago. In March, last year, I remember deriding my neighbour when he said that 'love' is an act of the hormones and that there is no place called the Heart. Today, I'm ready to go back to him and apologize, for I wholeheartedly agree. Last year, I held so many notions which so many girls would have called 'romantic' and so many guys would have called 'gay'. I've shed all of them today.

The world is not the beautiful, life-affirming song we once knew, but a bitter dirge taking us a step closer to the end. We are afraid to say those three beautiful words because we know that commitment isn't something we can give to the person who means the most to us in the whole, wide world. Besides, it's not about love any more!

Watching the full yellow moon hide behind the Cumulus or taking a long stroll on the sands by the seashore mean nothing anymore. It's more about how much vodka you can load her with, or how you can smoke ganja together. It's about glitz and glamour these days - how high up in society's ladder are you? Let me tell you this - the girl, a few rungs lower, will most probably accept your proposal.

Tell me, if people really believed in romance and love, would they need you to buy them ten tequila shots before they go down with you? Or would it matter what power you wielded over people and how much money you had?

You know the world is coming to an end if you can't even get you heart properly broken.