Times of India

A Matter of Civic Pride

This government often reminds us that we ought to have more national pride, but I think that civic pride is more important, more durable, and a stronger foundation for nationhood. Indeed, a more civic-minded citizenry might have been able to contain the damage in joyless Gujarat, if not prevented the tragedy. Mahatma Gandhi, a Gujarati, often counselled Indians that they would not be worthy of independence until they became more caring and considerate neighbours.

Disappointed Idealism

Like any great tragedy, the communal violence in Gujarat is full of other sadnesses. One of these is that we have begun to lose faith in our ideals. We had already lost faith in socialism, but now we have begun to question the efficacy of secularism as well. Part of the reason is that it has been unable to prevent or stop this murderous carnage. A major failure of contemporary Indian public life is that we do not hear voices of moderate Hindus or Muslims. We only hear the shrill voices of extremists at both ends. It was not always so. Earlier, we had sensible public figures who were also steeped in religion. Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Azad, Vivekananda used to speak with credibility on behalf of the vast majority of religiously minded Indians.

Home, Sweet Home

When I was young, owning a home was a hopeless dream. Either the company or the government provided shelter to the salaried middle class, and at retirement one scrambled to find a place of one's own and a lower standard of living. But today, this is all changed. Even a young person starting a career can put down a deposit of ten per cent of the cost of a house and can easily raise a fifteen-year mortgage loan, and this explains why the housing finance business has been growing 30 per cent a year for the past four years, and why there is a boom in middle class housing in Gurgaon, Thane, Powai, and many cities of India.

What to Believe?

The past month has been the saddest in memory as the communal violence in Gujarat has not only diminished us all but has brought home the truth that Hannah Arendt uttered forty years ago, that evil, in the end, is banal. Some Indians have persistently asked, what let us down? Others wonder what do we dare to believe in now?

Wake Up Call

Every Indian seems to have one impossibly romantic railway memory, and mine is of a journey from Kalka to Simla as a five year old when I feasted for the first time on the snow tipped crests of the Himalayas, and I later recounted it in “A Fine Family”. But these memories are rapidly dying, as are the railways. Today, the Indian Railways are in financial crisis, and if something drastic is not done, they will wither away like the state in Bihar.

Train to Nowhere

Like many Indians I was stupefied to read that the railways plan to bottle water. In that case, I thought, why don't they also grow tea (and wheat and rice) for their catering department? And cotton for their conductor's uniforms, and make shoes for the drivers while they are at it? Perhaps then we can get someone to run the trains safely. The issue is not bottled water but the astounding mindset of the railway board that is ignorant of the basic managerial concept of “core competence” and thinks that the railways with its inefficient, high cost labour can do it cheaper.

Turn on the Lights

Nothing in our country diminishes us more than our power situation. It reminds us everyday that we are a Third World country. We have lost ten years since we began electricity reforms, and had we made the same progress as we have in telecom, we would have been able to say proudly what a Chinese woman said to me in Shanghai recently, “I feel I am living in a different country.”

Ignore Pakistan, Heed China

A few years ago the respected head of a multinational company observed the unreal quality of our public discourse. He said that he had read our newspapers voraciously for two weeks and for every report on China he had counted eight on Pakistan. “To the world at large only China and India matter in Asia,” he said. “When people say that the 21st century will belong to Asia, they have China in mind, and then India. Japan doesn't count, because its demographics are wrong. Pakistan doesn't even exist in the big picture.

Playing to Win

The stubborn persistence of our software exports is a source of some embarrassment to our armchair intellectuals who have been regularly predicting their crash. Instead, they have kept growing by an amazing 50 per cent a year for more than a decade, and even in this worst year in the industry's history they will grow 30 per cent. Any other industry would die for this sort of constancy, and so would our cricket team.