Sunday, February 26, 2006

Nouveaux Rajas
Is how Somini Sengupta, the NY Times reporter headlines her article in the Sunday Times. As someone who grew up in India and continues to visit family there once a year, the title and the accompanying photograph (link above) piqued my interest. The article is a fun read.
Perhaps this article is the Times way of alerting it's readers to Mr. Bush's upcoming visit to India. There has been barely a mention about it in the news here (Might get more mention if he like his father pukes on the Prime Minister or something). Even if that happens I am not sure if the American media would show it. You know we being in a war and all that and that the media (with some exceptions) are just not doing their jobs.
I am going to offer some thoughts on this piece ----

India has beeen changing in ways that I have watched with mixed feelings (amazed, wonderment, repelled, befuddled.. India does that to you ). I get about 2 weeks to visit and after dealing with family and all the other issues that go with it, I don't always have as much time as I would like to soak it all in. Perhaps the next visit will give me enough time to study this aspect of India.

The article does capture the fact that in India (which has always had it's share of rich folks) a lot of people are getting rich and a huge number continue to stay where they are.
This one line also sums it up well - in India, it is possible today to buy all that is most coveted in the world, just as it is to be denied basic necessities of life.
The huge chasm between the former and the latter is what always strikes me. The part of Bombay where my parents live has one of those swanky American type malls and right outside it are people living on the sidewalk, being denied or unable to afford the basic necessities of life. And some of today's haves of India don't want to be reminded of the have nots. Sort of similar to some Americans who pretty much deny that there is any poverty in the US (Katrina changed that for some, whether that will change it enough for them to call for a more compassionate policy towards the poor remains to be seen).

Somini Sengupta says Gone is a half-century legacy of independent India — stubbornly socialist, avowedly nonaligned, deeply anti-American.
I have a different take on the anti-american part of her quote. I believe the government might have had an anti-american bias in the past, which often stemmed from how the US policy always seemed to be tilted towards Pakistan. I don't think that the sentiment amongst people can be called anti-american as such. I don't have the link to the poll but I recall reading that India was one of the few countries where people currently have a favorable opinion of the US.

As for the Lamborghini in the picture. It will sell for sure. When i visited last year, I recall reading that Bombay has like 10 Hummers. It was in the news because some Indian actor had got it imported it 'illegally'. As for the Lambhorgini, where are they going to drive it? If they bought one in Bombay they would probably be able to only take it for a spin on the Mumbai- Pune toll highway (3 lane expressway that connects the two cities). But getting on to that highway and off of it is still a traffic nightmare. Indeed a land of opposites in so many ways.
And for perspective the Ambassador car that still runs on the the roads looks like this (for those who may not know). Peace!


Ameet said...

Interesting post. Case in point. The first time I saw a Mercedes Maybach - one of the most luxurious passenger sedans ever made - was in Pune - Nov 2004. The contrast couldn't have been more stark. Crowded Pune street, with a complement of two-wheelers parked haphazardly outside a generic office building. And standing right next to all this was the majestic palace on wheels.

India has a tenacity that's hard to undermine. No matter what the political system dishes out, we find a way to create capitalist success out ot it. Of course, taking care of the underpriviledged, a government function, is sadly neglected.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post...I see parallels between the disparities in India and in the U.S., as well. These disparities might not be as visible in the U.S., but they are still there.

Anonymous said...

I just returned from Mumbai and I have to agree with your article...India is truly a land of opposites...I would go back in an instant...anybody got a job?

Mukta said...


In college, my teacher used to quote some guy, 'In India, the rich get richer and the poor get more children.' Stupid truism.

In Mumbai (and now I see this in Pune as well), the amount of construction over reclaimed land and the extent of displacement is enormous. The line that is quoted in the article is very accurate. It's not just that there are differences between the two classes, its the extent.

Good post, jay.