Itravel around India often, sometimes on business and other times for pleasure. Rural India has more or less stood still for as long as I can remember. No drastic change that one can see except for the ubiquitous satellite TV dish antenna and the mobile phone. Everybody nowadays has them. They are the status symbol of the new resurgent India. There are but few Indians out of touch with each other, and with the world! During the independence struggle back in the 1930’s, I am told that Gandhi perceived the mass and centre of gravity of India to be in the heartlands and hence that is where he focused himself, the revolution was in the villages. When I now travel in the interiors of north India, the first thing that I notice is that there are but a few people about in the heartland. One could drive for miles, without seeing a human being. There are miles and miles of verdant cultivated land, all using modern mechanised machinery, but very few people. So where are the Indians, teeming millions (one point two five billions to be exact)?
The major part of rural India have sold their land to agro consortiums and migrated to urban India. I believe that around 1954, the first census after independence, there were around five metros (A class cities with more than 2 million population), around 12 B class ones with more than 1 million population) and about 24 C class ones. In 2004, we had 32 A class cities, 322 B class ones and no count of the C class ones. The whole demography of India (mass and centre of gravity) has shifted to cities, the urban centres. The revolution is now in the cities. There is no better example of demographic overload than Delhi. Half a century ago (1961), when I first passed through Delhi on my way to a boarding school in Dehradun, along the foothills of the Himlayas, Delhi was probably about 20 km wide in two parts. A highly congested town called Old Delhi (OD), and a world apart, the new swanky colonial Lutyens’ Delhi called New Delhi (ND). Fifty years later OD and ND merged. Delhi is now 185 km wide and in 8 parts. Lutyens’ Delhi is now called ‘Central Delhi (CD)’, a reserve forest for the most influential and powerful political animals in India, with a few rich and equally powerful industrialists sandwiched in between the colonial villas. Rest of the ordinary Delhiites live in satellite towns of Noida, Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Gurgaon, Mayapuri, Jehangirpuri and so on.
The rest of the Delhiites live in DDA flats (housing colonies built by Delhi Development Authority). These are buildings that look like ‘Lego’ blocks put together by a child. But there is another Delhi, called National Capital Region (NCR), on the outer fringes, where it is difficult to tell whether one is in Delhi or in Dubai or Washington. It is the new ‘New Delhi’, with swanking skyscrapers, huge lifestyle “malls”, landscaped surroundings, wide roads, metros, a fully air-conditioned concrete jungle, a place where one cannot distinguish night from day. This is where all the Non Resident Indians (NRIs), foreign investments, and foreign culture have come to roost. This is where all Indians are aspiring to go to. By the stroke of a pen, the govt of India removed the poverty line. It is now known as the ‘Scooter Line’. The lot who have a motorised vehicle (scooter or better) and the ones who don’t. The revolution is brewing below the surface. In the ‘urban jungles’ we have different kind of people. The political lions and tigers in CD, the worker ants from DDA colonies, and the ‘noveau riche’ nocternal animals from NCR. Only a few can hope to get to the tiger country in CD. So the teeming millions in DDA aspire to get into NCR, the NRI domain, by hook or by crook. The cultural and economic chasm between lower strata and the DDA’s are increasing by the day.
The first causality is the “Indian-ness”. Nobody wants to be an Indian anymore, unless he is an Indian with a Green Card from US, employed in India, on a US salary! The young Indians are learning every language possible, and queuing up before every embassy possible, to go out of India and be somebody else other than be Indians! Americans and Americanism are the role models for them. Few years ago, the BPO business created a revolution of it’s own. They rounded up every teenager in sight and put them to work like battery hens in call centers. To make them effective, they gave the youth pseudonyms, new identities and new accents. Prithipal Singh became Pat, Shalini Nair became Sally. For 8 to 10 hours a day (mostly night, since they had to talk to a world beyond the day/night line), they live a charade, lying about themselves and pretending about the world they live in. Food and clothes are the indicators of the cultural disintegration. The most popular food, even in my own home is take away ‘Subway’ sandwiches. The most popular clothes are imitations from Vogue. Morality is so passé. Some NRI friends of mine who live in the US and Canada want to send their children to India to learn about our culture and ethnicity.
“What the hell for?”, I asked one of them who was tucking into my plate of Chicken Tikka with gusto. “You know”, he said gulping down my share of Kingfisher lager. “I want them to have sanskar (virtues), I want them to learn our culture”. He burped and spit tikka flakes on my face. “Oh that is simple”, I commented dryly. “Just tell them to use MC and BC (Punjabi bad words) more often”. My friend looked at me incredulously. “You, see”, I added rather witlessly, “that is just about the only culturally ethnic thing that has survived in the 21st century”. When I think of the people lamenting about Indian culture and ethnicity, like moral policemen, I am reminded of Rip Wan Winkle. With the rapid changes in world order, I sometimes wonder, whether it is really worth the effort, to maintain the ethnicity and a unique identity? To my generation, it sounds cute, the right thing to say, and the right thing to tell other people to do.
But one day, very soon, it would be difficult to find Indians in India, you will soon find a fully westernised world in India, with no Indian-ness that you and me wish for. My own wife and son, and my dear DIL, are all part of the New India, like ‘New Delhi’. The ‘Subway’ sandwich eating, suit and tie wearing, fork and knife wielding, BC & MC cussing, American accented, Anglo Indians, with aspirations for the NCR, to get there anyhow and somehow. Maybe I am part of that too, but a reluctant and confused one. I still like my rice and sambar, idli, dosa, I slurp it up licking my fingers afterwards. That is when I am not compelled to eat the Subway stuff and dream the NCR dreams. I do draw a line though, I refuse to change my name to Jimmy Carter! I am lost in New Delhi.
— The author is a trained air force test pilot and a tactics thinker