Times of India

Best and worst of times

We are so jaded with the India versus Bharat story that nothing surprises us anymore. Yet even a surfeited soul like me blinks with amazement at this incongruity. When people from abroad are beginning to come to India for high quality, low-cost medical care, there's a 70 percent chance of being prescribed a harmful therapy in a government primary health centre in Delhi for a common ailment like diarrhoea. This is the finding of an extensive study by J. Das and J. Hammer. We had long known that two out of five doctors were absent in our primary health centres, but we didn't know that doctors in these centres were less competent than in an African country like Tanzania. Hence, even the poor now depend on private solutions and India's share of private spending in health is double that of so called “free-market USA”.

A metaphor of India

Raghav FM Mansoorpur l is a radio station which used to beam Bhojpuri and filmi songs, give community news and advice on all sorts of things, including AIDs and polio. Raghav Mahto, a 22 year old radio mechanic, started it three years ago. Bored with running an electronics repair shop in Gudri Bazar near Mansoorpur village in the Vaishali district of Bihar, Raghav stumbled one day on an innovative way to broadcast radio from his thatched roof shop by slinging a transmitter on a bamboo pole with a total investment of Rs 50.The do-it-yourself community station became an instant success.

In praise of the right brain

Last year I was on the jury of the McKinsey Award for the best article in the Harvard Business Review, a monthly journal for managers. This wasn't easy work because I was forced to read every single article in the magazine in 2005 when I would much rather have been reading a novel. Besides, I have always believed that business is more about doing and less about reflecting. I was amused to find so many of the best articles had Indian names attached to them, and I thought with a smile, India is not only producing spiritual gurus but also “business gurus”. But I am sceptical of this latter 'guru', and sometimes wonder if the acronym stands for someone “Good at Understanding, but Relatively Useless”.

Deeper into India's soul

'How is it that so many Indians are making it in the global economy?' This was a common refrain during President Bush's recent visit.   I looked for answers in India's education system for a recent essay for an American magazine, and concluded that success belonged to students rather than teachers, and the real victory might lie with parents and their middle class insecurities—it's a rare Indian mother who will step out of the house in the evening during exam season.

A great nation

For a country that was widely regarded as 20th century's great disappointment, it must feel good that the 21st has begun rather nicely. India is today one of the world's fastest growing economies, and there is even talk of it becoming a great power. No doubt Mr Bush will also remind us of it this week. I must confess, however, that such talk leaves me cold.

Nasadiya Temper

The recent controversy over Islamic cartoons in Europe is once again testing the boundaries of religious tolerance. Most Hindus, of course, believe that they are tolerant and trace their broadmindedness to their many gods. Some even ask: how did our tolerant pluralism turn into the intolerance of Hindutva?

Why Rani can't read

We are not a cooperative people, and some even accuse us of a crab's mentality—we'd rather bring down the next guy than see the team win. So, when 20,000 volunteers from 700 institutions collaborate to test 332,971 village children in 484 districts at a breakneck pace, within a month that is a victory of sorts. It also says something about our voluntary movement. Where civil society begins to flourish democracy has taken hold, says de Tocqueville, and this is worth celebrating on this 57th birthday of our Republic.

Religious narcissism

Last month I visited the 'post-secular world'. I found myself sitting next to a group of white Americans on a train from Washington to New York, who told me blandly that I would go to hell because I believed in abortion and evolution. I had heard that Bush's America had turned religious, but I could not imagine how much till that morning. I was their captive for three hours, and they decided to do their good deed and try to convert me to their faith.

A guide to clear thinking

We live in unusual times. Who would have imagined in 1991, when communism died and our reforms began, that fourteen years later the Indian republic would become hostage to the extraordinary influence of the Left? For almost two years now, it has been instructive to observe the mind of the Indian Left. And if one compares it to the Chinese communist mind, the result is a guide to clear thinking.

Metro's discrete charm

Sheila Dixit may be one of our best chief ministers, but Elattuvalapil Sreedharan will do more to knit the vast and disparate people of Delhi into one wholesome community. I rode in his Metro the other day and I came away convinced that we are about to create a new public culture in the nation's capital. The Metro was clean, quiet, and efficient, as I had expected, but I also felt a sudden bond with strangers. For twenty-two minutes, as I rode in the comfort which the Mughal Emperor would have envied, I observed people recover some of the grace and friendliness that they normally reserve for relatives and friends. I felt connected to every person on the train. It was the same feeling I had as a child when I first rode on Mumbai's suburban train in the 1950s.