Thursday, May 13, 2010

i-TFTD #279: We Are, But Do We Want to Be, Like This Only?

i-TFTD #279: We Are, But Do We Want to Be, Like This Only?

I am sure we all receive several forwarded mails a week containing scam schemes, irritating marketing offers (thank you, corporate firewall, this is only a problem in my personal email IDs) and occasionally a nice quote or anecdote a la i-TFTD, but often embedded in a huge presentation file with scenic pictures (something we avoid doing in i-TFTD).

Some mails provoke an immediate smile or a knowing nod but further reflection may lead to different insights. Here's one I received recently from Tejinder Sethi and a couple of others.

We live in a nation:

i) where pizza reaches home faster than ambulance/police
ii) where you get car loan at 5% and education loan at 12%
iii) where rice is Rs 40/- per kg but SIM card is free
iv) where a millionaire can buy a cricket team instead of donating the money to any charity
v) where the footwear we wear on our feet are sold in AC showrooms, but vegetables that we eat are sold on the footpath
vi) where everybody wants to be famous but nobody wants to follow the path to be famous
vii) where we make lemon juice with artificial flavours and dish washing liquids with real lemon
viii) where people are standing at tea stalls reading an article about child labour from a newspaper and say, "Yaar bachhonse kaam karvaane waale ko to phaansi par chadha dena chaahiye" and then they shout, "Oye chhotu, 2 chai laao!" (roughly translated as, "People who employ children must be hanged!" followed by, "Hey boy, get me two cups of tea!")

Incredible India, Mera Bharat Mahaan (My India is Great).

Cute and clever. Yes, this largely reflects reality in 2010 in India, indisputably incredible in many good and not so good ways. As a fun or even funny piece this can be appreciated. But drawing serious conclusions too quickly would not be rational.

Let us consider a few possible counterviews as a thinking exercise.

viii) (Chai boy) Irony, yes. Hypocrisy? Possibly. What should a good human being do? Is refraining from commenting on the article a better behavior? Some friends working to improve the lives of street children in India have narrated so many puzzling conundrums of survival faced by poor families that are not easy to form opinions about.

vii) (Lemon flavor) This I like. Too many people get fooled with the aggressive advertising of consumer goods companies. Preferences within one's affordability have to be exercised prudently b! ut to each his or her own.

vi) (Famous) Slightly out of character in this list. Preachy and broad statement that does not really illuminate.

v) Footwear can also be purchased on the streets and that unorganized market is probably larger than the one consisting of air-conditioned showrooms. See also ii) below.

iv) Anything a millionaire does can be contrasted with giving the money to charity. Luckily, most millionaires ignore such melodramatic mush and some of the richest billionaires (Gates and Buffett) are really trying to contribute to changing the world.

iii) (Rice vs SIM) Let us not waste injecting logic by questioning whether one SIM card is the equivalent of one kilogram of rice. I am reminded of a picture from the early 1990s in The Economista brilliant magazine except for its occasional condescending tone towards Indiawhich showed a satellite dish being carried by a bullock cart. It symbolized the contrasts that is India. Many Indians think it is obvious that we should not invest in expensive space exploration when we cannot provide foo! d and basic education to millions. This ignores not just the a! vailable evidence of the impact of science and technology, but the entire history of human progress. On a lighter note, the comparison probably indicates the penchant of Indians to talk more than their need to eat!

ii) (Loan rates) Free market economics decides whether the nature of the product and its demand-supply equation would make education loans cheaper than car loans. We as borrowers benefit from competitive market forces and our behavior guides market trends. Hmmm... if all of us sell off our cars to fund the costs of sending our children to an American university, maybe...

i) Should quick home delivery of pizza be banned until ambulance services are made available in a shorter timeframe? We need people like Steven "Freakonomics" Levitt and Tim "Undercover Economist" Harford to enlighten us with statistics on the number of ambulances and their coverage along with those for pizza delivery.

Our Bharat will be mahaan (great) when we regain the supremely logical thinking ability that this land has seen in ages gone by (Buddha circa 460 BCE, Shankara 780 CE though some argue BCE) and adapt, as only we with the jugaad factor can, to the realities of the modern world with a scientific spirit and yes, Indian values.

BTW, I am conscious that the comments above could be construed as a typical example of the argumentative nature of Indians.

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