Janus nation

26 Mar

We subscribe to two newspapers from the same parent company. The “Economic Times” with business news and the “Times of India” for the rest. Both are Indian newspapers but they could very well be reporting about two different galaxies. One is about the emerging economy where people’s worries seems to be how to catch the next trend, how to dress for cocktail parties and is full of employment news. The other describes a world where medical officers get tiny cars if they get 500 men to get vasectomies, cockerel fights and violence against women. The rest of the world sees India as a the largest middle-class economy with increasing disposable income- so the bosses of the big MNCs send their best MBAs out to plant their flags and claim the nation for their products. If only it was that easy!

My weekly series on India, on the cusp of tradition and globalization.

It is an understatement to say India is a nation of opposites. It is actually two different nations – the comment about India vs Bharat might not be too off the mark. There is India where you have the high-flying careers, SUVs, parties and ‘a-week-in-paris’ package. Then you have the Bharat where there are maids that wash dishes with green soap bars and clothes with blue soap bars. Advertisements aimed at wives who are responsible for their husband’s white shirts and their career advancement!

Economic Times lists the monthly salaries of the management graduates which is in 6-figures and then Times of India is talking about the rickshaw driver that makes sometimes just 200 rupees on good days and most of the youth are unemployed. How is this possible?

To some extent, I suppose, all countries have this kind of duality – there will always be some amount of disparity in village life Vs city life. But the faces of India are not divided geographically -it exists in the same household and sometimes within the same person. You have the CEO of a large company, who on the outside looks thoroughly globalized, wears designer suits and has a few Luis Vuitton handbags (I looked up how to pronounce that) but probably buys the same blue soap bar for her maid and is even hoping her children would register with their community matrimonial website!

I have met women who are worried whether they should be buying pure gold or diamonds as investment for their daughters who are perhaps 10 now. They are pretty convinced that in the next 10-15 years, India will still have arranged marriages with dowry involved. How can anyone be so certain that things will remain the same in the next decade? Will the youth today grow up to be the same as their parents? Will they not change?

No, change is inevitable but the rate is glacial in India. I can make this sweeping statement because India has not fundamentally changed that much in the last 30 years. The country has adapted and  been modified but has remained the same in its core.

India will  be remade as history moves on. On the one hand, change will be for the greater good but on the other, it will also mean loss of some facets of the rich diverse culture we have, it will mean changes in family structure and traditions, the country will become standardized.

Perhaps, it is then not a bad thing to live in current India, the Janus nation.

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