Thursday, April 01, 2010

India: A Remarkable Country!

I recently got an email write-up (which I later googled and found was sourced from the blog authored by Sean Paul Kelley, who calls Austin, Texas his home -- here's the link).

I thought I'd write a response to it on my blog. Please do read Kelley's write-up before you read this entry.
I am an incorrigible optimist. I have a few comments that form a counterpoint to Mr Kelley's comments, that are given below. 
In addition, there has been a rabid, anti-Indian article written by Joel Stein in the once venerated TIME magazine. Here is my riposte to that article.
  • India has, in the last 15 years, pulled more people out of absolute poverty than any other country in the world. This is an amazing achievement, considering that we are a noisy democracy with millions of opinionated people who have to be heard before any decision is taken.
  • The traffic here is different - each driver has to be constantly alert and practice defensive driving, instead of blindly following traffic rules. That is the reason why we have more minor accidents, but less major accidents. Ironically, the major pileups with maximum casualties tend to be on modern expressways, where traffic follows American patterns more closely than in the cities.
  • I know that today, Mumbai is far, far cleaner than it was when I was in college -- about 25 years back. Slums are now few and concentrated in certain pockets. Even there, there are many more toilets, and sanitation facilities than before. We see far less people defecating beside railway tracks and arterial roads than two decades back, in spite of the population pressure having become much worse. 
  • Besides Calicut and Trivandrum, Mysore is probably India's most livable town -- and a town that takes pride in its heritage. It has over 300 buildings that are protected and maintained, being anything from 80 to 400 years old. I have been fortunate to have spent over 2 years there.
  • We may have more particulate matter in the air in our cities, but then that is to be expected  -- India's Top 20 cities are home to over 10% of the massive population of India. that means nearly a quarter of the population of the US is squeezed into India's Top 20 cities. If the US were so densely populated, I don't think things would be much better there. A decongestion and improvement of Tier II city infrastructure through schemes like JNNURM will hopefully change things for the better and make urbanisation less lop-sided.
  • The US mines and burns very little of the world's coal, but consumes more of the refined energy products than the next 6 countries combined, more than all the countries of the EU combined, and as much as the bottom 186 countries (out of 207 countries) put together.  No wonder they have so less SPM in the air. The US also consumes more electricity (in kwh) than the bottom 196 countries (out of 215) consume, and more natural gas (in cu m) than the bottom 187 countries (out of 211) consume. They can easily afford to do it -- they have a currency that they can keep printing and not experience inflation at home, simply because the US Dollar is still the reserve currency of the whole world. Even with this luxury, they are now at the limit of how much extra money they can print, without affecting price levels at home or the external value of the currency. 
  • Getting train and air tickets to 80% of destinations is a breeze -- with online bookings taking minutes. The exception is for foreigners -- to whom slightly different rules apply. So what? Isn't that the same in the US, where different rules apply if you are not an American or a European passport holder? Shah Rukh Khan will second this, surely. Besides, what Sean is describing is his frustration because of ignorance of something every Indian who has booked a train ticket knows -- his train number. If he does not know it, he knows where to find it --this is put up prominently near every booking counter. Or, you simply ask someone else in the queue, and they would be glad to help.
  • Demeaning India's low cost airlines is gratuitously malicious. Anyone who has experienced Indigo, for example,  will vouch for cleanest aircraft, best on-time performance, given choked airports and better service that would give even Southwest a run for their money in all these departments, if they were to operate in India.
  • My childrens' generation will find it very difficult to have domesitc servants to help them -- because the children of today's domestic help are aiming much higher, and will succeed, thanks to education and opportunities.
  • In a land where money is scarce, corruption is admittedly rampant, and is the biggest scourge currently. However, with the world-leading biometric UID project underway, once it is in place, corruption levels and leakages in public spending are likely to fall massively. When the intended beneficiaries start to more fully benefit from the spending in their name, India will experience an effect akin to releasing the handbrake while driving. Give this 4-5 years.
  • In the same 4-5 years, I have a relatively poor prognosis for the First World. They will struggle with stubborn unemployment and rising crime rates and sluggish economic growth rates.
  • In India, we do not discard a thing that works, simply because it is old. We extract all the juice, and more, out of every asset. That explains the old buses still in use. They may not be safe to run at 80kmph, but are quite safe, albeit noisy, at 30 kmph which is nearly the highest speed that they touch on Indian roads 
  • In India, almost nothing is wasted. Not your discarded clothes, nor the junk you threw out. Someone will extract some use or the other. Outdoor flex posters serve as waterproofing or as sleeping bags or blankets for the homeless. We wear warm clothes instead of heating our homes, and very few Indians ever leave water heaters or air-conditioners on throughout the day. A vast majority use two-wheelers and bicycles (for both of which India is the largest market in the world) which leaves minimal carbon footprint, and very, very few gas guzzling SUVs and 4WDs. Planned load shedding is a sign of grid discipline in the light of less supply of electricity than demand for it, and not a sign of failure of the system. Electricity losses due to pilferage are on the wane throughout India, and huge power capacities are being set up that should alleviate power outages in most of the country within the next 5 years. Grid infrastructure is also being upgraded simultaneously.
  • I am now seeing far more non-resident Indians coming back to India and far less Indians dreaming of migrating to the US or Europe than ever before. Of course, some of the recent such returns are with the intention of waiting out the recession in a weaker currency country, so their money goes further. But when they get used to a good life in India, few will have the stomach to return to the First World.
  • India has implemented electronic voting and counting of votes, for free and fair elections time and again, which even the US has been unable to do. Recall the Florida vote recounting shame in which Bush became President, effectively by a single vote after multiple recounts? The US should consider outsourcing the management of their elections to India!
  • Indian companies have gone multinational aggressively in the last 15 years, and today there are as many Indian MNCs operating in the US and Europe, for example, as foreign MNCs operating in India. Many foreign MNCs are operating in India out of strategic necessity -- they risked becoming irrelevant in many markets if they did not set up shop in India. Thus, they need India more than India needs them. Examples: IBM, Intel, Adobe, Accenture.
  • Today, in their handling of the economy, the US and Europe are doing everything that they told India (through their mouthpieces, the IMF and World Bank) not to do. Like bailing out sick companies, instead of letting them die. We now have the hilarious spectacle of European countries like Greece being scared of going to the IMF (HQ in US, headed by a European) as if it is the worst thing that can happen to them. They prefer begging from their neighbours, Germany and France, instead. Whereas, India is now a net lender to the IMF and the World Bank. The US's last two years' fiscal deficits exceed the fiscal deficits of over 125 countries in the world over the same period in nominal terms.
  • In international multilateral fora, the US and to some extent, the UK, is increasingly getting isolated. A vast majority of countries, and a vast majority of people in the countries that went to war with Iraq, did not support the unilateral pre-emptive strike on Iraq which has since been proven to be on basis of lies told to the UN. We haven't heard of any apologies or reparation for such blatant lies and disregard of world opinion that has eventually made Iraq the most dangerous place to live in, on Earth.
  • In the WTO, Brazil has been permitted to retaliate against the US's stubborn refusal to give way on agricultural subsidies by infringing patents of US companies on pharmaceutical products. In successive WTO negotiations, India has emerged as the credible spokesperson for over 120 countries while the US and a few European countries like France and UK continue to stonewall progress by their cussed refusal to remove market-distorting agricultural subsidies. 
  • As a result, almost every Arab or non-Arab Muslim in any part of the world today has no love or sympathy for the US.
  • India has pioneered the science of "frugal engineering", with cars being sold at under $3,000 profitably, whereas American companies cannot sell a car at $10,000 profitably. 
I am proud of living in India, a part of this remarkable country. I pity the Americans, who are burdened with a 2 generations-old habit of profligacy that they need to learn in a hurry to curb. 

India is also remarkable because its Prime Minister is a Sikh; till recently, its President was a Muslim and was succeeded by a Hindu lady; and the leader of the largest political party is a lady of Christian descent, with Italian parentage, married to a person born of a Hindu mother and a Zoroastrian father. Its most populous state has a Dalit lady Chief Minister. Can you imagine such religious and economic tolerance, diversity and respect anywhere in the world? This beats hands down the boast of the average American that its current President is of African-American descent.


  1. Thank you sir for this post. I was really feeling low and sad after reading Sean's article. But now I am feeling quite good and comfortable.


  2. Sir, I am pround of you for a very good reply. Being in London since last 2 years, I see no difference in my life-style when I compare my stay in Andheri East with that in London Borough of Harrow (which is considered among posh areas).
    The difference is continuously diminishing and evidence is saving potential of guys like me whose richness has reduced by 30% during past 2 years when compared to our same-batch MBA passouts in India. There are estimates that by 2049 India's GDP will overtake US' GDP.

  3. Dear Rajesh
    There could not be a better befitting reply to those comments.
    And yes I am proud to be an Indian and for living in India.

  4. Good response .... The whole financial crisis that occured was due to the lax credit rules in place and the sub prime mortgage by the US and we saw how it affected the whole world. India is what it is, we may be in any part of the world .... but still proud to be Indians. With a population of over a billion, India is managing remarkably well, and will soon emerge as a super power. Majority of the CEOs in the USA are of Indian Origin.

  5. Rajesh,

    Thanks for linking to the article. At some point in the future I will respond to your excellent and substantive post. Before then, however, I would urge you and your readers to read the full body of my work on India:

    The reason I suggest this is that reading one article takes a great deal of commentary previous to the article you cited, out of context.


    Sean Paul Kelley

  6. Sean,

    Your article was THE context -- only that article got circulated in countless emails.

    I did read most of the articles you have written on India that you so obligingly provided a link to, but they do not affect any of the comments I have made above.

    I can sense a pessimistic filter in your writing. While you have admitted learning patience from your visits to India, there is inadequate appreciation of the resilience of the average Indian. And frugality.

    And fearlessness in the face of terror. While the US population runs scared when faced with terror (NY and much of the US closed down for several days following 9/11 and legislated the ridiculous PATRIOT Act that could make a banana republic proud, Indians have gone along with their lives in the face of repeated terror attacks, with Mumbai alone facing at least 3 major such attacks.