17 September 2010

growth, development and garbage

Lately there have been many questions that have been bothering me. I wonder why we have to rely on someone else to come and clean up our mess after I read the story of the Garbage Girl. Don't get me wrong, it's great someone is making an effort but are we so fundamentally socially backward that we cannot even insist on basic civic sense? I wonder why we don't have in place a system of municipal waste collection that actually works - this is infrastructure at its most basic. We are the civilization that invented the zero and consequently are one of the biggest players in the IT field. We have a space program that a lot of developed nations can be proud of. We have a culture and history that is unparalleled.

But we also have so many social problems - poverty, malnourishment, the highest rates of maternal death, female infanticide, a garbage problem threatening to mask all our accomplishments. In the eyes of the world, we are still seen as a filthy country in many aspects. When are we to get rid of this image?

Behind the glitz and growth of new malls, multiplexes, supermarkets and all the trappings of the west the real India is being swallowed up in piles of garbage. All of our resources are stretched, our cities are choking with pollution, drowning in filth with not enough water or electricity for the burgeoning population. Do we not deserve more? I'm tired of trying to find a reason for the way things are - corruption, government, politics etc can only get us so far. What about individual accountability? What about you standing up to say that you don't like the way things are and doing something to change it? The father of this great nation, based our independence on the power of singular change... and things went rapidly downhill from there.

I remember reading a chapter in biology in school entitled 'growth and development' and remember thinking that they are two entirely different things that are so easily confused. The understanding of 'growth' and 'development' is not just a study of semantics but there are entire philosophies, economic policies and government principles involved in the distinction. India is sadly an example of growth without development.

This country needs to be built from ground-up. All we are currently focusing on is embellishments whilst nations like China and even Brazil are focusing on grass-roots development. They have similar problems as us, so why aren't we at least trying?

For India to take its rightful place in the world, we must invest in infrastructure, education and focus on growing holistically, sustainably. The kind of imbalanced growth we are seeing will only lead to more social problems and eventual economic collapse. The center cannot hold. The center will not hold. I wonder how long we are going to try to drive this horse with a broken cart until the wheel gives way to complete irreparability... and then what?

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake - Rabindranath Tagore

11 September 2010

the not so golden triangle...

I know I have been terribly neglectful of this blog lately. It's been a month since my last post, the longest gap yet! But rest assured that I have been working hard on my Justmeans blog and have been writing about a lot of things there and now write for two categories - CSR and ethical consumption.

I recently returned from the famous 'Golden Triangle' tour covering Delhi-Agra-Jaipur and it is extremely strange to be a tourist in your own country. Travelling in India is an experience beyond anything that can written about. It is uncommonly hot, difficult, tiring and everything about the place assaults you in a myriad different ways. The kind of tourist attractions it offers is on a gargantuan scale of its own and in many ways pales the rest of the world in comparison.

In the space of 5 days I saw the largest gateway in the world, the Buland Darwaza; the largest sundial in the world in Jaipur; several forts, an entire city of red stand-stone and of course the Taj Mahal. This smorgasbord of sights is difficult to top.

For me, it was also deeply disheartening in many ways. For all the beauty on offer, the monuments in India are dismally maintained. Akbar's tomb in Sikandra which was absolutely gorgeous on the outside was a sad let-down upon entry. The intricately painted walls were peeling and in need of desperate restoration.

The whole city of Jaipur was extremely forlorn in appearance and did not seem at all like a capital city of a large state. The roads were appallingly bad and the rains did not bode well with the ancient sewer systems. The Amber Fort was gorgeous in bits but many of the walls were defaced by visitors and again several areas were in need of maintenance.

I can moan on about the fact that people in India are in desperate need of civic sense which for most part is true but who is to teach this valuable lesson. Without a sense of pride for national treasures how can preservation be insisted upon? Indeed, without civic sense how can environmental consciousness even be comprehended?

We cannot boast of trying to be an emerging super power, our IT prowess, space program etc etc when our basic sense of a civilized society is misplaced. Travelling India filled me with a deep sense of pride and an equally deep sense of shame. I wonder if things are ever going to change for this country so filled with potential and yet so encumbered with blindingly obvious faults.

Photo: Akhila Vijayaraghavan ©