1) An Indian flu more lethal than a British one. I’ve had one for five days now and my head feels like a truck ran over it. Five times. I usually get rid of a flu in two days. Someone save me, please.
2) Indians love it when a foreigner comes over and speaks Hindi. Even better if you’re an NRI (Non Resident Indian, as they call us diaspora folk). And even better if you’re Indian but don’t look Indian *and* can speak Hindi fluently. You’ll be surprised how easy the bureaucracy becomes.
3) Democracy is often described as the rule of the majority. Except in India there is no real majority, unless you are naÃ¯ve enough to believe Hindus can be vaguely seen as one group. This makes India an extremely vibrant democracy because people align themselves, quite rationally, along identity markers such as caste or tribe and then exercise block votes. Thus parties constantly have to weigh up and appease block votes, even on local levels.
What’s also bizarre is that the system is never under threat of being overthrown. The week I visited there were strikes all over the place (Chandigarh – farmers, Maharashtra – oil pump workers (bring that state nearly to a standstill), Kashmir – protests over the Pope’s remarks. Yet, no sense of national crisis. Instead some of the TV channels were quite vigorously discussing whether the country should repeal its act against homosexuality. This being the only state in the world where a Communist government has legitimately taken and lost power (in two states) without there being McCarthyite outbreak of paranoia. In fact nothing much shakes this mammoth of a democracy. I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing.
4) Until a few years ago, Indians had generally resigned themselves to the ‘Hindu rate of growth (GDP)’ at around 2-3%, even after the liberalization of 1991. Over a decade later the fruits of that liberalization kicked in and suddenly the economy went into overdrive at 6-7%, even 8% growth.
Now with the Hindu rate consigned to the rubbish bin everyone in India talks of competing with China for its growth rate or even leapfrogging it with a focus on software and service industry development. Fat chance, given the terrible infrastructure and lack of education but at least Indians are aiming a bit higher.
5) The massive growth of the media industry has possibly been the best thing for Indian democracy. There around 15-20 news channels, four (maybe more) weekly political magazines (Outlook, India Today, Frontline, The Week), and untold regional and national newspapers. As they all clamour for attention they continue to dredge up weekly ‘exclusives’ and sting operations.
Although these sting operations are quite amusing sometimes, most of the TV channels seem to have taken their cue from the BBC in opting for entertainment style news. The newspapers, especially the Times of India, are rapidly going downmarket for whatever reason.
6) It’s still worthwhile avoiding Mumbai completely.
Ahh… there’s plenty more but I could be here all day and my head still hurts. A write-up on what I did out there will follow soon enough but I’m waiting on some pictures.
Update – These generalisations are nothing ground-shaking to be honest. I was going to write another one saying that of all the states, Maharashtra was the one like Germany because in a state of crisis it would be the first to embrace Nazism… but I won’t. Heh.
Instead I’ll tell you about the books I bought:
Amartya Sen – Argumentative Indian
Indian Philosophy (Vol 1) – Radhakrishnan
Exploring Sikhism – McLeod
The Path of the Buddha – Renuka Singh
Covering Islam – Edward Said
Hinduism and Modernity
Exploring Indian Sexuality (couldn’t resist!)
Operation Blue Star – KPS Gill
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