Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Pride (In the name of Love)

Recently an email I received - one of the myriad emails that are forwarded everyday to my account - stood out starkly from the rest. Forwarded emails have become so the norm these days that most don’t get more than a cursory glance. What struck me about this particular one was not something unusual, but rather a particularly vile example of an attitude that I have been noticing with increasing frequency amongst my compatriots. I will quote the email in its entirety and then try to explain why it bothered me enough to want to write about it:

I couldn't' stop making this comparison..

inches of rain in new Orleans due to hurricane katrina... 18
inches of rain in mumbai (July 27th).... 37.1

population of new orleans... 484,674
population of mumbai.... 12,622,500

deaths in new orleans within 48 hours of katrina...100
deaths in mumbai within 48hours of rain.. 37

number of people to be evacuated in new orleans...entire city
number of people evacuated in mumbai...10,000

Cases of shooting and violence in new orleans...Countless
Cases of shooting and violence in mumbai.. NONE

Time taken for US army to reach new orleans... 48hours
Time taken for Indian army and navy to reach mumbai...12hours

status 48hours later...new orleans is still waiting for relief, army and electricity
Status 48hours later..mumbai is back on its feet and is business is as usual

USA...world's most developed nation
India...JUST A DEVELOPING NATION..oopss...did i get the last fact wrong??? Or am I just being proud of being an INDIAN

It is not possible to explain with mere words how shallow some people can be, and I will not even begin to attempt that here. When I first read this email, I immediately dismissed it as so much nonsense. But even a week later it kept tugging at my mind. I finally went back and reread it to understand the swirling cloud of anger and frustration it had managed to create in me. It disturbed me that someone could find pride in comparing death tolls of tragedies of such magnitude. In one unthinking swipe of the keyboard, the person brushed aside tens of thousands of people made homeless in the Mumbai rains. Entire slums were wiped out in 48 hours. The death toll was 1000 at the end of one week. In the US, entire cities along the coastline of two states have been completely wiped out, with countless people losing all their life's possessions. This is hardly a matter for a game of one-upmanship. Had Mumbai been in the same situation as New Orleans, the magnitude of the tragedy would have been too horrifying to comprehend. A category 4 hurricane with winds upto 250 kmph hitting a city of twelve million, with its average height below sea level and surrounded by high water on three sides ... I don't think I need to do the math. As it is, the severe rains caused floods the likes of which haven’t been seen in a long time. A city built out of reclaimed land with no drainage to speak of, built in an area lashed by severe monsoons every year. It was a tragedy waiting to happen, just like the New Orleans soupbowl. The rains exacerbated the wounds of the city. Old, dilapidated buildings which seemed to cling on to that last breath forever before collapsing have all but given up hope. There have been three collapses in the last month itself. As a gleaming new city rises in its place, the old city is dying and it’s taking its poor people with it. The rains were not good to Mumbai. It is sad to think someone feels the need to twist facts to somehow feel superior, and while in itself this attitude is not unusual, it is more frustrating because this email will be forwarded mechanically by every Indian to every other Indian in their contact list and most of them will read it and feel proud without really understanding what they are feeling proud about.

And therein lies the crux of the problem. It is this overwhelming need all Indians feel to be recognised as superior to all Westerners. After 150 years of foreign rule and the socialist mind-stifling policies of Nehru and Indira Gandhi, we are at last finding our place in this world, and this attitude keeps dragging us back. As long as we feel a need to put someone else down to prove our worth, we are lying to the world and we are lying to ourselves. We are trying to win a battle that exists only in our minds. This generation - my generation - is the first one to break the shackles of our self-imposed inferiority complex and take our country through those first tentative steps towards the greatness that all Indians like to see in their motherland. But we don't need false victories in non-existent battles to do that. Today we have Bangalore, Hyderabad and Pune as arguably the IT capitals of the world. We are self sustaining in almost all grain and food products. In 60 years we have gone from a country of farmers to a nuclear power. For the first time in 200 years any young Indian has not only the ability, but also the self-belief to stand up to any other person in the world and be as intelligent, articulate, productive and creative as them. There is no need for us to shrilly proclaim our superiority, because we are not superior - we are equal - and our deeds will do all the proclaiming for us. And while it's one thing to point up to the sky and see India Rising, one should always cast their eyes towards their feet and see the 500 million people whose backs one is grinding into the ground to feel as tall as the rest of the world.

Be proud to be an Indian - I am. But don't have delusions of grandeur. No, India is not a developed nation. But it is in our hands to take her there - and we won’t let her down.