Wednesday, 28 July 2010

**Reflections on India by Sean Paul Kelley**


I read the below article on the blog of  my friend The unsure ascetic  and it speaks for itself, without me adding a prelude. I feel it explains the sorry state of our country, the dirt, the pollution, the crowd, and most importantly ‘the mindset’. It seems we have been exposed to so much of negativity around us that we have started to believe that its all normal and natural, and  these sights fail to move us any further. Please read on…..


Sean Paul Kelley is a travel writer, former radio host, and before that an asset manager for a Wall Street investment bank that is still (barely) alive. He recently left a fantastic job in Singapore working for Solar Winds, a software company based out of Austin to travel around the world for a year (or two). He founded the Agonist which is still considered the top international affairs, culture and news destination for progressives. He is also the Global Correspondent for The Young Turks, on satellite radio and Air America.


If you are Indian, or of Indian descent, I must preface this post with a clear warning: you are not going to like what I have to say. My criticisms may be very hard to stomach. But consider them as the hard words and loving advice of a good friend. Someone who’s being honest with you and wants nothing from you. 

These criticisms apply to all of India except Kerala and the places I didn’t visit, except that I have a feeling it applies to all of India, except as I mentioned before, Kerala. Lastly, before anyone accuses me of Western Cultural Imperialism, let me say this: if this is what India and Indians want, then hey, who am I to tell them differently. Take what you like and leave the rest. In the end it doesn’t really matter, as I get the sense that Indians, at least many upper class Indians, don’t seem to care and the lower classes just don’t know any better, what with Indian culture being so intense and pervasive on the sub-continent. But here goes, nonetheless.

 India is a mess. It’s that simple, but it’s also quite complicated. I’ll start with what I think are India’s four major problems–the four most preventing India from becoming a developing nation–and then move to some of the ancillary ones.
First, pollution. In my opinion the filth, squalor and all around pollution indicates a marked lack of respect for India by Indians. I don’t know how cultural the filth is, but it’s really beyond anything I have ever encountered.  At times the smells, trash, refuse and excrement are like a garbage dump.

Right next door to the Taj Mahal was a pile of trash that smelled so bad, was so foul as to almost ruin the entire Taj experience. Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai to a lesser degree were so very polluted as to make me physically ill. Sinus infections, ear infection, bowels churning was an all to common experience in India. Dung, be it goat, cow or human fecal matter was common on the streets. In major tourist areas filth was everywhere, littering the sidewalks, the roadways, you name it. Toilets in the middle of the road, men urinating and defecating anywhere, in broad daylight.

Whole villages are plastic bag wastelands. Roadsides are choked by it. Air quality that can hardly be called quality. Far too much coal and far to few unleaded vehicles on the road. The measure should be how dangerous the air is for one’s health, not how good it is. People casually throw trash in the streets, on the roads. I don’t know why this is. But I can assure you that at some point this pollution will cut into India’s productivity, if it already hasn’t. The pollution will hobble India’s growth path, if that indeed is what the country wants. (Which I personally doubt, as India is far too conservative a country, in the small ‘c’ sense.)
More after the jump..

The second issue, infrastructure, can be divided into four subcategories: roads, rails and ports and the electrical grid. The electrical grid is a joke. Load shedding is all too common, everywhere in India. Wide swaths of the country spend much of the day without the electricity they actually pay for. Without regular electricity, productivity, again, falls.
The ports are a joke. Antiquated, out of date, hardly even appropriate for the mechanized world of container ports, more in line with the days of longshoremen and the like. Roads are an equal disaster. I only saw one elevated highway that would be considered decent in Thailand, much less Western Europe or America. And I covered fully two thirds of the country during my visit.

There are so few dual carriage way roads as to be laughable. There are no traffic laws to speak of, and if there are, they are rarely obeyed, much less enforced. A drive that should take an hour takes three. A drive that should take three takes nine. The buses are at least thirty years old, if not older.

Everyone in India, or who travels in India raves about the railway system. Rubbish. It’s awful. Now, when I was there in 2003 and then late 2004 it was decent. But in the last five years the traffic on the rails has grown so quickly that once again, it is threatening productivity. Waiting in line just to ask a question now takes thirty minutes. Routes are routinely sold out three and four days in advance now, leaving travelers stranded with little option except to take the decrepit and dangerous buses.

At least fifty million people use the trains a day in India. 50 million people! Not surprising that waitlists of 500 or more people are common now.
The rails are affordable and comprehensive but they are overcrowded and what with budget airlines popping up in India like Sadhus in an ashram the middle and lowers classes are left to deal with the over utilized rails and quality suffers. No one seems to give a shit.
Seriously, I just never have the impression that the Indian government really cares. Too interested in buying weapons from Russia, Israel and the US I guess.
The last major problem in India is an old problem and can be divided into two parts that’ve been two sides of the same coin since government was invented: bureaucracy and corruption.
It take triplicates to register into a hotel. To get a SIM card for one’s phone is like wading into a jungle of red-tape and photocopies one is not likely to emerge from in a good mood, much less satisfied with customer service.

Getting train tickets is a terrible ordeal, first you have to find the train number, which takes 30 minutes, then you have to fill in the form, which is far from easy, then you have to wait in line to try and make a reservation, which takes 30 minutes at least and if you made a single mistake on the form back you go to the end of the queue, or what passes for a queue in India.
The government is notoriously uninterested in the problems of the commoners, too busy fleecing the rich, or trying to get rich themselves in some way shape or form. Take the trash for example, civil rubbish collection authorities are too busy taking kickbacks from the wealthy to keep their areas clean that they don’t have the time, manpower, money or interest in doing their job.

Rural hospitals are perennially understaffed as doctors pocket the fees the government pays them, never show up at the rural hospitals and practice in the cities instead.
I could go on for quite some time about my perception of India and its problems, but in all seriousness, I don’t think anyone in India really cares. And that, to me, is the biggest problem. India is too conservative a society to want to change in any way.
Mumbai, India’s financial capital is about as filthy, polluted and poor as the worst city imaginable in Vietnam, or Indonesia–and being more polluted than Medan, in Sumatra is no easy task. The biggest rats I have ever seen were in Medan!
One would expect a certain amount of, yes, I am going to use this word, backwardness, in a country that hasn’t produced so many Nobel Laureates, nuclear physicists, imminent economists and entrepreneurs. But India has all these things and what have they brought back to India with them? Nothing.

The rich still have their servants, the lower castes are still there to do the dirty work and so the country remains in status. It’s a shame. Indians and India have many wonderful things to offer the world, but I’m far from sanguine that India will amount to much in my lifetime.
Now, have at it, call me a cultural imperialist, a spoiled child of the West and all that.  But remember, I’ve been there. I’ve done it. And I’ve seen 50 other countries on this planet and none, not even Ethiopia, have as long and gargantuan a laundry list of problems as India does.
And the bottom line is, I don’t think India really cares. Too complacent and too conservative.
 

33 comments:

Nikita Banerjee said...

Is this all that they see? I mean okay we do have issues with Filth but do we go to NY and take picks of the destitute/homeless on the street?

Raj said...

hey everything you said was true, but most of it was common to everything else. other countries other planets even :P

but yes somewhere something did go wrong.

The Panorama said...

This post is provoking! Typical arrogant westerner. Well, maybe India wouldn't be in such a mess if the British didn't use the famous divide and rule politics they are famous for!We can thank Europe for the mess India is in, leaving it poor and still trying to recover from the abuse of the Europeans. Its' barely 65 years ago India won its independence and they ruled us for 100 years, impoverishing us!
Poverty has no culture and when there are scarce resources, there will be power struggle. I agree that Indians don't care by and large, we are fatalistic. Yet he was unfair in his judgment.
Yes Europe is clean and pretty to the eye but you don't see the real filth. The filth of how they treat their poor and unfortunate.
Has anyone ever thought of the fact that it is the climate that makes the country so dirty? Yes we have corrupt politicians and yes, things could be a lot better but what a pity he sees only the negative things.

The Panorama said...

I am sick and tired of westerner who see India only through Europe- coloured glasses.

sujata said...

I was hoping for atleast one line of positivity, atleast towards the end. I think he saw India with biased eyes. There is bad, I know, I am not in denial, but there is a whole lot of good too..that he completely ignored!

The Holy Lama said...

Read JRD's In Memorium today. It quoted him something amounting to I don't want India to become a superpower but want it to be a happy country.
And that's what we are- we are happy and going on at our pace and the world can't but take notice of us as we make inroads everywhere. Indian scientists, medics and engineers are spread across the world to help, to progress countries in these streams and our gurus are bringing peace to many with Yoga, meditation and love.
True, we need a lot more civic sense and hygiene in public places but that is not the yardstick of progress. What this guy, Sean Paul Kelley think is just a viewpoint that needs no comments.

The same comment is on Unsure Ascetic too.

ZB said...

@Nikita: Homeless in NY? How many? NY is a city of 19 million....how many Homeless?few hundreds? A city in India with similar population would have a million poor and homeless....The comparisons simply dont make any sense.

@Raj: Yea buddy.

@Panorama:British left India 63 years ago...And left India United...before the British there was no India, but thousands of Princely states and kingdom. They left us with a constitution, and democracy. You live in Norway which is No1 in Human development index, healthcare, and welfare.How long will you live in denial and blame the westerners about how they see India? As an India who has seen the world, i am ashamed about the state of affairs in India.We are bonded by centuries old tradition, superstitions and beliefs which we believe is our culture and heritage.

In 21st century we talk about caste and dalit vs Brahmin....We sacrifice humans to appease gods.We honor kill young women...we have more bandhs and hartals than any place on earth....millions of tons of grains rot when half of the population struggle to live.Do you know we have an electrical grid which is decades old, which waste about 50% of power produced by us? About half of the budget allocation on education goes missing...Government hospitals have women giving birth on the floor, Each ward has upto 5 patients, which in itself is dangerous....We absolutely have no waste disposal system....we still have taxis, buses(mumbai taxis are example) which are 3 decades old and consume twice the amount of fuel.

India is not Poor.Rather its one of the richest nations on earth. We are simply mismanaged. India should be managed by professions, something like in corporations. Our problem is we are run and managed by Goons.

ZB said...

@Sujata: We should Thank the westerners for criticizing us....rather than feel upset.We dont need anyone's conformity to celebrate our positivity....we all as Indians know what our positives are. But our negatives far outnumber our positives. You have lived outside of the country and probably traveled the world.Which country is a match for India in dirt, corruption, filth, pollution? Perhaps a Bangladesh, or Nepal? or a Haiti, Burma?

China which has more population than us is far-far ahead. look at their roads, their cities....their railways. And they have no Democracy....and all this Infrastructure was developed over 10 or 15 years....we blame British who left us 63 years ago....Well, we would continue to blame over the next 100 years....

Close your eyes for a minute and try to envision Mumbai, kolkata or Delhi about 10 years from today. Do you see any development? Do you feel better roads, railways in India....I dont see a change....I feel we would continue living like this over the next 50-60 years....where as China, Vietnam, Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, Russia far ahead of Us.

ZB said...

@Holy Lama:Dude, our Scientists, engineers, doctors are servicing the world bcoz we cant afford them.Its out loss and we should feel ashamed of it.

And where did you get the Idea that Indian's are happy? India is the suicide capital of the world. It has more depressions and mental illness than any other nation on earth ( party bcoz of high population)....No other nation has more child laborers....

JRD Tata is right....Who wants to be a super power which spends 10% of its GDP on Defense....Superpower is a term which implies to military strength...Sweden and Norway are not superpowers but they have their economy which believes in welfare.We should be a country which believe in the welfare of its citizen....

What is the yardstick of progress....employment? inflation? infant mortality rate? Literacy?health? sanitation? pollutions?

I think the yard stick of progress should be tangible...and not some vague notion of happiness....India should have a percapita equal to the west..thats progress.

BK Chowla, said...

Why are we surprised or angry if an outsider reacte the way this person has.
Whatever, he has said, isn't that True
e?
Govt is too busy being corrupt and the civil society has no time as they have all given up on the state.

Gayathri said...

Awesome! To the extent that it literally makes me drop my head down with shame,frustration,anguish,or whatever u call it.i can certainly not deny a single line that he stated.
Bangalore,the so called silicon valley of india has every imaginable squalor n filth as every other backward or metro city in india.poverty,filth,arrogance,meglomania,every goddamn outcome of conservatism glints everywhere.its a pity if we struggle to defend ourselves than to change in howsoever minuscule way possible

The unsure ascetic said...

Dude, agree with all ur views man!! good job!
@ Gayatri: The same can be said about Gurgaoon whicgh is the Singapore of India. Can you belive that the city has no public transport?

The Holy Lama said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
陳泓程怡文發 said...

所有的資產,在不被諒解時,都成了負債.................................................................

謝昱廷 said...

Necessity is the mother of invention..................................................................

吳林怡廷佳宇 said...

獨居時,要反省自己的過錯;在社會大眾之間,則要忘卻別人的過失。..................................................

Rajlakshmi said...

he just wrote whatever we already know... whatever we every single day crib about... nothing new... and ya we really don't care no matter how concerned we sound.

宗雅欣博 said...

朋友是一面鏡子............................................................

建邱勳 said...

你所貫徹的形象,你喜愛它有多少百分比,你就幸福多少百分比................................................

Bikramjit said...

ha ha ha ha when i started reading the article i literally jumped to the comments section to read the comments and as it would have it They say it all. the comments on how the person is westerner etc etc. Well I say enough as such and i am alreayd not in the good books ..

But one question to everyone WHO SHOULD BE SAYING THESE THINGS ABOUT OUR COUNTRY..

we surly dont say it cause as the last line in the article "And the bottom line is, I don’t think India really cares. Too complacent and too conservative" .. we dont care .. look at the way we have got all angry and worked up cause one westerner said this..

But did anyone do anything.. did anyone ask the question why so much garbage in front of the TAJ.. and I read hundreds of emails and online forums about keeping TAJ as a wonder.. my question is WHY shud it be in the list. its worsening while the rest of the WONDERS in the world are being kept properly.

Anyway I would like to say this article is THOUGHT PROVOKING... and sad state of our beautiful country.. maybe its time we shud take this as critics and do somethign rather then feel bad and angry .. Food for thought I guess

承王蓁 said...

說「吃虧就是便宜的人」,多半不是吃虧的人。......................................................................

蕾蕾 said...

若有人問你成功時會不會記得他 試問若你失敗時他會不會記得你......................................................................

Raj said...

where are you man?

write something!
and the wolf story is going again. gimme company!

凡柯柯豐柯柯柯 said...

讚啦~~多謝分享!!>ˍ<..................................................................

Gayathri said...

An update is long overdue!!

Anonymous said...

It is we who created and live in this deep hole. no one is bothered as long as they are happy.. do you think this will bring in a change with inidans(most of them) no way, life will continue

Bikramjit said...

WHere you gone dont see you anymore ?

raji said...

hi ..everthing is true .but how could you solve it? space and population??and ofcourse ignorace

Kameswaran"Hot head" said...

I cannot say the author is wrong but one Simple logic

" coming out of the shackles of an autocratic British rule India as a nation has come a long way.India is a democratic land where the common man built his nation,for a westerner his nation was built from blood stained riches of war - Imperialistic nation i would say " _ India with its filth is competing with the western nations " last statement - what we have done in 60+ years it would take 60+ centuries for a western nation Westerners lack EMPATHY " india is a rich nation built by the poor men and women .. the fight is still on

Lastly NY is not a place to live its only a place to filled with filthy money

The 100 rupees what i have with me is what i earned ( I DON'T CARRY A GUN TO COLLEGE )

Avinash Machado said...

Overpopulation is a huge problem for India.

Anonymous said...

We do not have to remain dirty. Let us make an effort to change. The likes of Tatas and Ambanis must take the lead.

Siddhartha said...

Most of the communities in the entire Indian sub-continent(such as Bengali) succumbed in ‘Culture of Poverty'(Oscar Lewis), irrespective of class or economic strata, lives in pavement or apartment. Nobody is genuinely regret ed or ashamed of the deep-rooted corruption, decaying general quality of life, worst Politico-administrative system, weak mother language, continuous consumption of common social space (mental as well as physical, both). We are becoming fathers & mothers only by self-procreation, mindlessly & blindfold(supported by some lame excuses). Simply depriving their(the children) fundamental rights of a decent, caring society, fearless & dignified living. Do not ever look for any other positive alternative behaviour(values) to perform human way of parenthood, i.e. deliberately co-parenting children those are born out of ignorance, extreme poverty. It seems that all of us are being driven only by the very animal instinct. If the Bengali people ever be able to bring that genuine freedom (from vicious cycle of ‘poverty’) in their own life/attitude, involve themselves in ‘Production of (social) Space’ (Henri Lefebvre), initiate a movement by heart, an intense attachment with the society at large is very much required - one different pathway has to create, decent & rich Politics will definitely come up. – Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay, 16/4, Girish Banerjee Lane, Howrah-711101.

Siddhartha said...

Most of the communities in the entire Indian sub-continent(such as Bengali) succumbed in ‘Culture of Poverty'(Oscar Lewis), irrespective of class or economic strata, lives in pavement or apartment. Nobody is genuinely regret ed or ashamed of the deep-rooted corruption, decaying general quality of life, worst Politico-administrative system, weak mother language, continuous consumption of common social space (mental as well as physical, both). We are becoming fathers & mothers only by self-procreation, mindlessly & blindfold(supported by some lame excuses). Simply depriving their(the children) fundamental rights of a decent, caring society, fearless & dignified living. Do not ever look for any other positive alternative behaviour(values) to perform human way of parenthood, i.e. deliberately co-parenting children those are born out of ignorance, extreme poverty. It seems that all of us are being driven only by the very animal instinct. If the Bengali people ever be able to bring that genuine freedom (from vicious cycle of ‘poverty’) in their own life/attitude, involve themselves in ‘Production of (social) Space’ (Henri Lefebvre), initiate a movement by heart, an intense attachment with the society at large is very much required - one different pathway has to create, decent & rich Politics will definitely come up. – Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay, 16/4, Girish Banerjee Lane, Howrah-711101.