The Crisis Knocking on Our Door

The Indian society is in a crisis – a deep and pervasive moral crisis. For a very religious country, where the average individual spends an hour in propitiating Gods or listening to assorted Gurus on good conduct, this would be funny if it were not so tragic.

The Indian society has three types of people. The bureaucratic, political and business establishment which indulges in unabashed loot of the exchequer and public resources is the first type. The second group is the self-absorbed who cocoon themselves in their own worlds and ignore everything outside .The last is the silent but frustrated sufferers -this is the group which may be seventy per cent of the population which bears the full brunt of exploitation and relative inequality widening away as the elite plunder or cynically manipulate rules and the law. This group lives on less than ten thousand rupees of monthly income for the household and in many cases does not have enough to eat or has very limited or no access to medical facilities or education. This group generates the Naxalites and the stone-throwers in Kashmir.

The corruption is not new but with the Government’s coffers being full from years of economic growth, the scale and the amounts being siphoned off are large. Land is another asset class which is up for grabs.

Pritish Nandy has written an impassioned piece about the psychological devastations that corruption can bring and Sudeshna Sen, in ET, writes about the prevalent social mood with acute insight.

A father who failed Pritish Nandy
14 September 2010, 10:51 AM IST

Parenthood is fascinating. You live through excitement, joy, guilt, worry, hope, concern in quick succession and before you know it your children have grown up into young adults who have a life of their own. That’s when you try to quietly assess how good you were as a father and whether you quite measured up to the standards your parents set.

We were a middle class family. My father taught in Hislop College, Nagpur and then moved to Kolkata. My mother wanted to support his meagre earnings and started teaching Bengali in La Martiniere. That’s how I studied there at a subsidised fee. Much of what I am today is what they taught me to be but it has taken me a long time to acknowledge it. Meanwhile, my father went away, where all fathers go, 32 years ago, strapped to a hospital bed in an unfamiliar city. It was a simple surgery but the doctor messed it up. I never got to say goodbye to him because he was in coma when I reached.

My mother, a fiercely independent woman, loved Kolkata and the tiny rented flat where she lived with my father. Circumstances forced her to come to Mumbai to become a reluctant member of my family. Though she died with her head on my lap at 92, I couldn’t say goodbye to her either because her mind had wandered away many years ago to where my father was. The doctor called it Alzheimer’s.

My children have grown up and though I never gave them enough time, I tried to pass on to them all I had learnt. I also taught them the little things I had picked up on the way: How to write, think, create, savour the joys of discovering new things every day and add them to your life. I taught them that habit is tiresome. Life is this great adventure where you experience different things every day. Some beautiful. Some dangerous. Some sad and disappointing. You learn from each. Their grounding was done by their mothers and, in one case, by my own mother. I only added the magic to it. Or so I would like to believe, like all fathers.

Parenthood was never a chore for me and I often argued with my wife because she thought so. After all, she washed the nappies. She saw them off to school. She helped with homework. She went to school concerts and she attended the parent teacher meets. She had good reason to complain. I had all the fun with them and, according to her, spoilt them silly. It was an unfair deal but life dealt it that way and we all went along. But now, after so many years, I feel I did it all wrong. Everything I taught my children has, in effect, handicapped them. It has made them inadequate to face the world they are in. Unfortunately I knew no better. But that does not absolve me from my sense of guilt.

Every day, as a new scam breaks out in sports, politics, business, healthcare, in the army or in education, I watch their disappointment. The nation I taught them to love, respect and defend as they would their own mother has become the biggest breeding ground for rogues, rascals, thieves and thugs. The cricket they were so passionate about is now run by betting syndicates. The city we once adored is now owned by builders, criminals, extortionists, and politicians who are often all three. My own achievements and awards look like an embarrassment today because most of these are now on sale. People we once looked down on for their lack of scruples are the new icons in a world where all art, music, sport, in fact all achievement is measured in terms of who earns how much, a fact that’s gleefully plastered across all media. And here, I brought up my children never to talk money because it’s in bad taste!

What we once shunned is now admired. What we once disapproved are now the ideals of a new society being built on the premise that whatever makes money is good. We are back to Gordon Gekko. He is the God we have rediscovered. Wealth is the new measure of a person’s place in society. Success is measured by earnings. India is rated by its GDP growth and how the stock market’s faring. This leaves behind 90% of Indians to fend for themselves in a world they were never trained to cope with. They can’t fudge marks to get into college. They can’t cheat people to get ahead on their jobs. They can’t fix deals to become rich and famous. They can’t even cope with the new morality because foolish, idealistic parents like you and I didn’t teach them what they needed to know to get by in today’s world. We have let them loose, with no survival skills, in a bazaar where everything’s up for sale, from mangroves to body parts. How do we blame our kids when they rebel against us?

Letters from London It’s broken society everywhere!
Sudeshna Sen Monday September 13, 2010, 09:49 AM

“ Madam yahan pe subko tension hai. Koi khush nahin hai,” my auto driver tells me voluntarily. A few weeks ago, when an old friend told me that Mumbai is gone down the drain, there’s too much anger and conflict, in a pub off Piccadilly, I put it down to the usual middle class whingeing.

Somehow, I’m beginning to believe him. Okay, so Mumbai ain’t India. I know that as well as Rahul Gandhi does. London ain’t Newcastle, either. However, it is held up as this shining example of the new, growing, wannabe global power that India wants to be, the story Indian corporates, politicians, dignitaries and I are always telling westerners. And okay, I’m here in the middle of the rains, everyone’s grumpy.

Still, as usual, it’s the cabbies and auto-wallahs who have their hand on the pulse of a place. I dunno what it’s like in Delhi or Bangalore, but if I had to identify a single strand that stands out on this visit, it’s that I see absolutely no sign, on the ground, among the rich or the poor or middle class of this alleged prosperity we write about. All I see is almost hysterical greed and ambition, frustration , and increasing polarisation between different sections of the population.

Everyone’s not just unhappy, they’re living in a state of permanent anger, angst and stress. The polarisation between the haves and have-nots is beginning to burst out of its seams. So this is anecdotal. But in just one week, I’ve heard of at least three cases of randomised violence and armed attacks in the streets of Mumbai, in broad daylight. And this used to be a place a woman could travel alone at midnight. I don’t have the crime statistics, but I bet they’re stratospheric.

There’s an epidemic of dengue, malaria, and god knows what else, diseases that were eradicated 20 years ago which is killing off both the rich and the poor without discrimination. Neither the public health authorities, nor the medical and healthcare system is able to cope in any way. More on that next time.

Customer services, something I always claimed was way better in India than in London, is deteriorating to, as someone told me, ‘third world levels like where you live’ . Take telecoms, an example we use globally to show off India’s homegrown business success. ‘India’s telecoms industry can show the world how to do business,’ we tell the world. Now, that bane of the developed world., “please hold on, your call is important to us” , that too in an American accent, has arrived here with a vengeance. I didn’t realise that there’s a shortage of people in India, so everything has to be automated to total incompetence.

The rip-off culture has arrived too. Whether its clothes, property, eating out, movies , or basics, the prices are off the wall, even by sterling standards. The value for money culture, which gave the world the concept of sachets, something we again tell western corporations to learn from us, has given way to outrageous pricing. After all somebody is willing to be ripped off to assuage their wannabe aspirations.

Kids, no wonder they keep killing themselves at exam time, are under inhuman pressure to compete, succeed, and then what? Live a life of even more stress.

In the business sector, I thought, people should be fine. After all, those delicious growth and profit rates, all those economic indicators. But no. Everyone I meet is frustrated to killing point, working 18-hour days, hating every minute of it, but unable to get off the corporate treadmill. Of being seen as ‘successful’ . In one era, we Indians had to struggle for basic survival. Now, everyone has to struggle even harder to live with alleged prosperity.

The worst thing is, nobody seems to care. When I ask these questions, it’s met with a shrug. The middle class has too many problems of its own to be bothered about the poor, the poor are getting angrier and desperate, the rich, as always, don’t care. For a while now, ‘feel-good’ has been the holy grail of media and establishment. It’s almost a national conspiracy, let’s ignore the warts and bad things, focus only on those glitzy nightclubs and idolise success. I live in a society at the other end of the rainbow, where success is looked on with deep suspicion. Where the perils of affluence have turned full circle and come back to bite those societies in the tail so badly, that David Cameron had to coin a concept for it. ‘Broken Britain,’ he called it. You can argue with him, but he’s right. British society is pretty much broken, socially and economically.

‘Broken society’ is the only word that comes to mind to describe what I see around me, already and not after half a century. Okay, inclusive growth is a buzzword, but most people think it happens somewhere to tribals in Orissa. It’s happening right here, in the mega-cities that are supposed to lead the charge that will make India a world superpower.

What, exactly, is the purpose of all this economic growth if people are going to die of primitive diseases, and struggle even harder than previous generations did to survive? No politician or government can fix it. They tried that option in Britain , and look where it got them. It’s high time we stopped blindly celebrating success, and paid attention to what’s happening to people’s lives, and our society.


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