India, it seems, is the new black.
Every magazine worth its salt has covered the ‘India Story’- some enormously optimistic, others a little skeptical. But most have agreed that be it technology, consumerism, global takeovers, art, and movies India cannot be ignored.
I am an Indian who, after having lived in Hong Kong and New York for about twelve years, returned to my land two years ago seduced by the much hullabaloo about ‘India Shining’. My husband – who’d lived in New York for six years – and I had been thinking about moving back for a while. It was, and still is, a time of colossal optimism in India. Multinational corporations were offering unprecedented salaries, entrepreneurship was being rewarded like never before, the rupee was stronger, real estate was riding a huge wave, world-class highways were connecting cities, and India seemed poised to become the world’s third largest economy. Added to this idyllic picture was our desire to raise our child, then only in the planning stage, in India. Not only would we have doting grandparents to help us look after her, but we’d also have a larger house, few maids, a cook, a chauffeur and a gardener, and we’d have this all for less money than we were spending on the rent of our Battery Park City apartment in New York.
It was time, we realized, to make that reverse journey home – lock, stock and barrel.
Have I regretted it? Is it truly shining? Does the future really belong to India? Has it changed for the masses? What about the infrastructure? There are many questions that come to mind and the answers are not easy, as India is a complex land – of puzzling dichotomies and stark disparities, of over-abundance and abject scarcity, of great hope and even greater despair. I am not going to make any bold declarations of knowing the answers, but in these posts, I’ll talk about different aspects of this alluring land and let you decide.
This is a moment in history for India. The country is going through a dramatic change, one that’s at times too fast and too magnificent to register. It is not, by a long shot, the country I left behind when I moved to Hong Kong in 1993. That was nothing short of a culture shock. It now seems comical – not to mention downright embarrassing – that even the sight of an ATM (called ETCs in Hong Kong, for “electronic currency”) seemed to send me into an excited frenzy. Some of this ‘starry–eyedness’ was typical of the first-time emigre, some to my being an impressionable twenty year old, but not all of it. Much of what I saw and experienced just over 10 years ago simply did not exist in India at the time.
Fast forward to 2004; I returned to India. Well, it was culture shock all over again. When I left India had no McDonald’s or Coca-Cola. There were nowhere near as many TV channels as there are today. A telephone installation could take a few years. Indian companies could not dream of being recognized globally. Aishwarya Rai had not become Miss World, let alone a Hollywood movie star. And going out for a drink meant going to a hotel coffee shop. Returning to Delhi, where I now live, I realized that the India in my memory was just that; it did not exist in reality. Too much had changed, both physically – what with all the high-speed metros, super-luxury penthouses, plush bars and flashy cars – as well as mentally. It was a bold, confident India that could walk into Europe or the U.S., take over its companies and hotels and not bat an eyelid.
It took me a while to re-orient myself to my own country.
India, thus, is going through one of its proudest moments. And Indians are, justifiably, lapping up the praise being showered upon them. However, there is also a growing realization that a lot still remains to be done, and more importantly, the boom needs to include the masses, something that has not really happened so far. The nation’s largest daily, The Times of India has been running a popular campaign called, ‘India Poised’ since the start of the year. It declares that this is “the year of India” and the flash intro on the website croons a nationalistic song (loosely translated) called ‘If you move forward then the country moves forward’ sung to a sentimental jingle that makes the Indian patriot’s heart swell. The print edition of the same newspaper, however, carries headlines about corruption, crime and red-tape bungling by the government, all underlining a dire need for a better infrastructure: Roads, reliable electricity, water and sewer pipes.
Where India will go from here is not as easy to predict as it might appear. Cynics warn of a crash while optimists, who outnumber the former by miles, insist that the only way is up. Only time will solve that debate, but for the moment global companies continue to furiously research the Indian market and send their people here by the droves to set up shop, not wanting to miss a slice of a market of some 250 million middle class Indians – a group equal in size to the entire U.S. population.
It’s fashion, of course. But is it a fad or a new, enduring classic?