Land of Contradictions

During October I visited India for over two weeks. I think this may be the very first time since I left India 40 years back, that I was there during Diwali, a huge annual celebrations of lights and fire-crackers. The real essence of Diwali is to reflect within ourselves and eliminate all negative qualities (darkness) with the light of knowledge – that we are all one and infinite in our true nature.

During my stay, like every time, I saw India as a land of contradictions. There is abject poverty next to an iPhone user. More expensive cars abound, but roads are clogged like never before, with chaotic traffic all around. Modernity coupled with a lot of superstitions.

I observe two Indias – one that belongs to the youth who are well educated, of the Facebook and Twitter culture, and the other that refuses to grow up, the corrupt politicians, bureaucrats, and con-men. While the second kind uses modern gadgetry, they continue to take bribes, tell lies, and are extremely selfish without any care for the country and its people. Many of these are the rulers of modern India. In recent months, there have been huge scams involving many politicians and bureaucrats (some of them are in jail). But the average Indian shakes his head with a denial that anything will ever change and such corruptions are here to stay.

Upon visiting a place near Delhi called Gurgaon, I am reminded of Sao Paolo in Brazil, a concrete jungle with never-ending construction all around. My friends tell me how their real estate investment has been appreciating over 30% every year over last 7-8 years. It’s more expensive than any place in the USA. Then when I spoke with someone in charge of urban planning for the Government of India, I am told that there is no sewerage or proper power infrastructure planned for this entire area. The building permits were given illegally (thanks to bribes) without consideration for the necessary infrastructure needs.

The industrial scene is still dominated by family-owned businesses with the only exception of Infosys. Young people willing to start a  company are sneered at. So they all prefer to take a job. Costs have gone up and food inflation is very high. Many items seemed much more expensive than here in the US. Labor costs have been going up, making India a less attractive place for outsourcing (skills become the attraction not cost savings).

Like Gandhi said, “India lives in its villages”. I visited several rural areas and nothing much has changed. The technology stuff is yet to reach the interior. The poor is becoming poorer with high inflation. Visiting big cities does not give one a real perspective of the real India. The GDP growth is also slowing down from its heady days of 9% and up.

But it is one of the biggest consumers of cell phones, televisions, and other electronic gadgets. There is an Amazon-like company called Flipkart that ships books to your door step. You can pay by cash on delivery also if you don’t have a credit card for web purchase. The middle class with spendable income is larger than the population of the USA.

One hopes the first India wins eventually, with better efficiency and transparency. That will elevate the poor masses also.

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