Thursday, May 08, 2003

A Long Discussion on India... Ambu studing for a Doctorate in Economics in the US... Blah marketing sports in Bangalore and Akshay (Popat) working in London



The Blah:

Like my pending mails on why I have, in the last 3 months become pro job reservations, and the one on why i am so disillusioned and fed up of indian society, this again deserves a detailed reply which i won't give at this point in time.
i know that you are referring to america, not europe.
but for me this is the crux of it and why i love europe.
I know that europe is no perfect. that i will always be an outsider.
But it fits in with my concept of what society should be, and what role an individual should play. The freedoms, the choices, the decency of the vast majority...
i know india is my home country but i have one life to live and i'd rather live it in a society that fits into my concept of society, rather than as a priveleged, rich, successful member of a society i can't stand and can't change but where i buy my way out of all the shit, buy my way ou of the society itself.

maybe popat and ambu understand what i am saying. i hope the rest also do.
will type the long mail eventually... that should make it clearer
The Blah


Akshay

Cant disagree with much of what our Hindustan Leavers (hyuk) have to say... But still, something inside doesnt agree.

Sure, its a better society in Eur / N Am. Of _course_ it would be . its a much richer society, to start with. And when you're rich, its so much easier to be civic about things... Not push people in line at a public ration shop, not elbow people out of the way in buses, be that much more discreet in the act of graft (or atleast save it for the people at the very top...Cheney, you listening?)

Note that I am not for a moment trying to justify the existence of a lot of things in Indian society that a lot of people take for granted...Just saying that its easier to resist these uncivic temptations when you're privileged.

A seond point, prob more important to me ... Esp as it comes about two months before I beome "eligible" for UK citizenship -- something thats very tempting, to be honest, when I look back at the embassy visa lines I've had to stand in over the last four years... To be scanned and searched and have my deep blue passport examined at every border check point, when a dozen EU citizens are waved past in the meantime...

But ultimately, its a no contest... Compared to if I ever, in the sixty odd years that I have left to live, had to stand in one single queue to get an Indian visa / entry permit (shudder), all these queues and more are going to be worth every second of my waiting time.

isnt your country effectively an extension of your family? My family, to start with, is far from perfect.. But that doesnt stop anyone from loving one's family.. Maybe its just me, but its simply unthnkable, unfathomable, un-DO-able, to be able to claim, let alone do anything more, to be in love with any country other than mine... To "swear allegiance" or whatever else you have to do, "to defend", to "protect", to "cherish"?

Maybe there'll be a time when circumstances may cause me to think otherwise. But right now, it seems unlikely.


The Blah:
Cant disagree with much of what our Hindustan Leavers (hyuk) have to say... But still, something inside doesnt agree.
Blah's atrocious puns?!!!

Sure, its a better society in Eur / N Am. Of _course_ it would be . its a much richer society, to start with. And when you're rich, its so much easier to be civic about things... Not push people in line at a public ration shop, not elbow people out of the way in buses, be that much more discreet in the act of graft (or atleast save it for the people at the very top...Cheney, you listening?)

Note that I am not for a moment trying to justify the existence of a lot of things in Indian society that a lot of people take for granted...Just saying that its easier to resist these uncivic temptations when you're privileged.


But my whole problem is that it is the priveleged who are the actual dregs of Indian society. Do a corporate job in India popat, you'll be shocked at how greedy and self-centred people are. How they will screw others at the first opportunity. Forget about being indecent, they are positively obscene. Maybe the UK and USA are like that, i don't know, but mainland europe isnt. I'm not even talking graft or the class/upward mobility struggles. There may be some justification for that, as in i can see where it is coming from. But i am starting to question the very psyche of this society, in terms of where this ends. You would assume that at the priveleged end of the scale, there would be greater collective conciousness, social responsibility, individual accountability... but no... nothing... nada. Whether its the increasing religious intolerance or the broadening rich-poor divide (a division of opportunity as much as money), they don't give a shit. They can talk about it occasionally in office or at a party, sandwished between conversations about which Nokia model is the best and who is doing what in terms of work and material posessions, or the newest pub in town. They are the worst of the lot and it is an attitude that is spreading downwards through the classes and outwards from the cities. A generalisation but true of at least 90% of them.


A seond point, prob more important to me ... Esp as it comes about two months before I beome "eligible" for UK citizenship -- something thats very tempting, to be honest, when I look back at the embassy visa lines I've had to stand in over the last four years... To be scanned and searched and have my deep blue passport examined at every border check point, when a dozen EU citizens are waved past in the meantime...

But ultimately, its a no contest... Compared to if I ever, in the sixty odd years that I have left to live, had to stand in one single queue to get an Indian visa / entry permit (shudder), all these queues and more are going to be worth every second of my waiting time.


Again I have questioned this a lot. Will taking a UK passport, an EU passport, because it makes life and work opportunities so much easier really make you less Indian? Is Indian-ness a document or a state of mind, a reflection of your background and values. Is Ambu not an Indian?

isnt your country effectively an extension of your family? My family, to start with, is far from perfect.. But that doesnt stop anyone from loving one's family.. Maybe its just me, but its simply unthnkable, unfathomable, un-DO-able, to be able to claim, let alone do anything more, to be in love with any country other than mine... To "swear allegiance" or whatever else you have to do, "to defend", to "protect", to "cherish"?

I love the country. I will always be an Indian. I will always wish it well. I will always love it more than anywhere else. The criticism is not of India as my country, or an an abstraction. It is of modern Indian society. A society where I can't fit in, and that I can't relate to, which is guided by principles and values that are at odds with mine. I know that the concept of India and Indian Society cannot be delinked, that they are almost one and the same. But to me they can be delinked. Suppose the majority of your family (not the really awesome uncle you meet once a month, your immediate family) is filled with people you can't relate to... they are intolerant, bigoted, self-centred and impossible to handle on a daily basis. You love them, popat, you really do... they are our family... but would you really want to live with them? And you can't support yourself doing the things that our cool uncle does and modelling your life on his. What will you do? You will move, and you will love them and they will be your family. But you will move.


Akshay
Again, (yet again), cant disagree with most of your mail, BLah...
But just one qt --

Again I have quesytioned this a lot. Will taking a UK passport, an EU passport, because it makes life and work opportunities so much easier really make you less Indian? Is Indian-ness a document or a state of mind, a reflection of your background and values. Is Ambu not an Indian?


Its something I've always wondered, esp when I look at the clueless, confused, second generation immigrants to this country.. (incl my first cousins) -- Of COURSE you're Indian... Prob more Indian than the Indians... they speak chaste Gujju at home, never touch the golden liquidi, watch Zee TV religiously for 4 and a half hours a week, and eat nothing that ever walked.

But are you really British?


And what sort of allegiance are you swearing to the Queen and her country, when your heart lies 7,000 miles away, and you follow Vajpayees speeches to the Lok Sabha more closely than Blair's to the H of Commons?

God forbid, Ambu, if (admittedly a far fetched scenario) America introduced conscription _and_ went to war against India, who would you fight?

Your conscience?
Or your common sense?

The Blah:
Isn't that my point?
That your Indian-ness is not linked to your passport or citizenship, but is a manifestation of your background, upbringing and values?

Ambu:

Popat, as regards your fear of having to stand in line to get an Indian visa if you were ever to be a citizen of some other country- relax. As you've probably read, the Indian cabinet just decided to allow dual citizenship for eight countries including the US and UK.

Your other concerns are justified and certainly not to be taken lightly. But here's my philosophy as regards countries, borders, citizenship, allegiance and the rest:

The year is 2003. I look around me and I expect that given how advanced homo sapiens has become in most things, surely we will soon advance in another aspect. That will be when we realize that the entire concept of countries and nation states is little short of ridiculous. Essentially, we try to put up barriers to stop people from crossing into 'our' land or 'their' country, but we effectively impose barriers on the whole world. Surely the day will come when we realize that international borders are meaningless. That a person who, by accident of birth, is a citizen of, say, Rwanda should still have the right to walk any corner of the earth unquestioned. What right do people born in the area between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, south of the 49th parallel and north of the Rio Grande (commonly referred to as the United States), have to stop people NOT born in that patch of land from entering that land? The more you think about it, the more you realize that for all our supposed attempts to ensure equality and international harmony, deep down we are still petty and narrow-minded in that we believe that our birthland is 'our' land and nobody else's.

Of course the solution is not to open all international borders now or anytime soon because that will simply lead to chaos and massive flights of people from poor countries to rich ones. But surely we do agree that in an ideal world, there would not be borders or countries other than for the purpose of local government. Undoubtedly the day that happens is far off, none of us will ever see it. But every small step that is taken towards freedom of movement (such as EU expansions and US-Mexico open border agreements) is a step towards the ideal situation.

Personally, I dont hold much regard for 'motherland' or citizenship. I may be an Indian but that doesn't mean I swear allegiance to the government of India. In fact in many respects I unflinchingly oppose the policies of the state of India. Likewise, if I were ever to become a citizen of another country it would only be for convenience or for work-related purposes. I have no greater regard for the Queen of England or the President of the United States than I do for the President of India. In fact I couldn't care less what happens to all three persons. But if swearing allegiance to the U.S. flag is necessary to continue to work in that country (and since I could not continue my particular profession anywhere else), then I'll do it- not because the Star Spangled Banner means anything to me, but because I realize that for some misguided people such symbolism is important. It wouldn't change anything I feel about any country versus any other because I think the entire concept of countries is inherently wrong.

Of course I feel a certain affinity for people back home. My family, friends, and to an extent the wider society from which my family and friends emerged and became who they are. Beyond those people though, I dont see why I should feel any greater affinity for a Gujarati in Kutch than for a Pakistani living a few miles to the west of him, simply because an international border lies between those two people. Another example- one of my greatest concerns is about poverty and inequality because I feel that those things hold all of us back from development. But why should I prefer that a poor Indian farmer in Bihar be made better off instead of a poor African herder in the Congo being made better off? Just because I was born in the same patch of land (forgive me, COUNTRY) as that poor Indian farmer? Think about it, do we really care if Tamil Nadu beats Delhi in the Ranji Trophy even though we are all from Delhi? No. Then why should we care if India beats Pakistan in the world cup? Are those people (in Pakistan) any different from us? Infact they are culturally a lot closer to people from North India than are people from Tamil Nadu. But of course we care whether India beats Pakistan- after all the concept of country and nation and motherland has been so carefully ingrained into us.

The idea of the nation-state came about as a result of the primitive, warlike instincts of kings and conquerors of the 19th century. As recently as the early 20th century, no passports or visas were required to enter the US or Europe or most lands. Essentially, the concept of borders is brought about by racism- the need to keep people of different cultures and races out of certain lands. Why do we have to forever live by this reactionary and outdated concept? I think the whole world has been suckered by these divisions and infact that is what's keeping us back from advancement. In a couple of hundred years the people of the 23rd century will look back on these times and laugh. They'll say- those people in 2003 were advanced enough to have invented computers and networks and supersonic travel and space exploration, yet primitive enough to continue to wage war on each other and live according to this strange division of 'countries'. How silly we will all look then! If you think about it, we havent really progressed from a couple of hundred years ago. In the 1800s, people were fighting and imperial powers were colonizing and people did not care a jot for the wider world. The same is true today except that our weapons are more sophisticated and our feeling of self-righteousness is more secure. And of course, that our regard for the nation-state is more entrenched.

Call me disloyal or a heretic or a traitor or (as I'm sure Blah will) 'too American'. But the only reason I care more about India and its people than for any other country and its people is because I know and love people back home, I have seen the poverty and inequality of people in my home city and home country and I relate more to that, than to the poverty and inequality of people in any other country. I give a damn about the fact that I was born there or that I have a passport from there. Why then, if I had a choice, should I prefer that the people of India be made better off than the people of Congo or Ghana or Pakistan (aside of course from the obvious fact that there are so many people in India and therefore so many more would be made better off)? If I was the director of an international aid agency why should I give more aid to India than to any other country? If I had to fight a war for someone, why should I fight for India rather than for any other country? I think, that when we stop giving so much credence to the concept of 'country' is when we'll all be able to rise above our petty differences.

The Blah:
Contrary to what you believe, I will not describe you as too American. I have not had this discussion with anyone on this list earlier, except Lala to some degree, but what you have described is almost exactly how I feel, though possibly to slightly lesser degree than you. It is a point of view that I have expressed countless times over the last two years, although not as articulately in written words.

Like you, I question the very basis of the modern nation-state, and its relevance in the day and age. I have despaired at all the bullshit talk of a global village and a shrinking world, when the barriers that prevent travel, work and living outside of your man-made boundaries are higher today than at any point in human history. Having had to face the fundamental injustice of this system myself, when the only thing that stopped me from staying on was a work permit, may have hardened my point of view, but I believe that in a truly modern civilised world, a man should be free to practice his profession and live his live in a place and manner of his choosing, as long as he abides by the norms of the society he chooses. I know that current geo-politico-economic realities make this degree of individual choice unrealistic, but this MUST be the direction in which the world must move, and for that to happen, the existing primitive notion of the nation-state must go.

One of the things that has upset me about initiatives towards greater freedom of movement so far is that they have been largely driven by economic self-preservation than any fundamental desire to increase individual freedom, thereby deepening the wedges that exist between different blocs. To me, the Shengen or EU movements are unsettling rather than encouraging, and free movement between well-off EU member states has very little impact (or actually a negative impact) on the options available to people in Africa or South Asia. All it does is perpetuate a hegemony of the elite. Which is why the latest round of expansions is so encouraging. I know that the Eastern European countries represent a huge market opportunity, and that the key drivers are still economic, but it makes me happy that individuals who come from far poorer countries, who have faced the same sort of barriers as us, will now be able to have access to the opportunities that I so dearly crave for. I believe that at least in the short term, the EU will no longer be an exclusive old, rich boys club.

Finally, like you I feel that in a modern society, in a true global world, there is no reason to differentiate between the suffering of someone in Africa or India or South America. The issues that affects me most are the wide economic and opportunity disparities that exist in the world today, the manner in which a life that has greater consumption power in its lifetime is genuinely regarded as more valuable than one with minimal consumption power. Because that's what it does come down to, when you look at it, that is why it seems fair for companies to do things like spend millions on research for obesity drugs for their high-paying populations while millions die every year of things like unclean drinking water.

I want to work on these issues, to make an impact, and I feel that I can make a far greater impact working on a more macro level, keeping in mind my communication/lobbying skills and internationalism and my complete ineptitude at grassroots work. I really don't care if the difference is made to an Indian or a Pakistani or an African... or actually I do, I think many Africans need all the help they can get, and I feel that I have the ability to make a difference.
So, I feel far more inclined to build a career that lets me make this difference rather than try and start an NGO here or do grassroots work here. Yes I know it's not as clear cut and unselfish as that, but the bottom-line is that I will be far happier in a situation where I work on Global awareness/fund-raising campaigns than in grassroots work here. And I feel that it should be a role where I can make the most difference regardless of which country the results of the work impact.
But no, i have had countless arguments with friends making nonsensical statements like "charity begins at home" and how if i want to really make a difference, I should do stuff in India. And how can i talk about making a difference in Africa when people in India need so much. I find it extremely difficult to explain that yes I know that like Africa, people in India are also in need, as are people in Pakistan and China and East Timor and god knows where else. I see my role as identifying where I can make the most difference, and working towards that.
Why should I place a greater premium on an Indian life just because I happened to be born within the same political boundaries and share a central government?
In what way does that make an Indian life more valuable than another?
Isn't part of being a human having empathy for other human life? So why differentiate? And why hold it against me if I refuse to differentiate?

India represents the social and values background from which I emerged as did many of my older friends. I have a fondness for the family and friends that exist here, and I identify with the family values here, they are values I would like my children to have. This is where I come from, and I am an Indian. But I don't define my Indianness in terms of citizenship or political boundaries, and I refuse to fight wars to defend these boundaries, I refuse to limit myself to working within these boundaries, to work on the upliftment and development of the people and economy that exist within these boundaries.
I'd be very, very grateful if Ambu can help me express myself better when I say that I am an Indian and I love "India" as the fabric from which much of my life has been created, and I will always wish it well, and do what I can for it.

But I increasingly I feel that I am a global citizen, in the true sense of the word, not as a buzz-word. And as such, I am unwilling to define and limit myself by my Indian-ness, and am unwilling to accept that I have a greater obligation to people within the political boundaries of the Republic of India, than I do to people anywhere else.

I believe that is a fundamentally more evolved, more just, more "human" way of looking at an individual's role in the world and in society at large. And the only way that more people will come around to this point of view is by attacking the entrenched, archaic notion of the nation-state and the ideological baggage that comes with it.

The Blah