Monday, 13 November 2017

The Indian Verdict

I described India a couple of weeks ago as challenging. And suggested that such a description is polite. I don’t think many people who have been to India would consider such a description to be controversial. India is challenging, on so many levels. Your senses will be assaulted. Your ears through the constant, deafening noise. Your nose and lungs through the often overwhelming pollution. Your eyes through the blight of poverty. Your mouth through the spices that explode with every mouthful of food.

Your sensibilities will be battered too. Hygiene, or lack thereof, will almost certainly cause you a few worrisome moments. Your good nature will also be tested by the constant nonsense of touts looking to drum up trade. Every tuk tuk driver knows an ‘independent’ hotel or shop that would be worth your time visiting. It can become quite tiresome. Then there are the conversations with taxi drivers, who insist upon explaining the virtues of an arranged marriage with great enthusiasm.

Love marriages are divorce marriages, you see. Arranged marriages are life marriages. There is a temptation to suggest that arranged marriages are for life only for as long as the threat of a facefull of acid is present. But I think it’s unlikely that any argument I made against loveless marriages and the disfigurement of women would have had much impact on their way of thinking. I left my thoughts unspoken.

But my time in India left me with more pressing questions. At the top of the list – where does India go from here? The recent history of the country is entwined with that of the UK, and there remain issues which are a source of friction – particularly those which posit that India suffers the poverty it does today due to the policies implemented by the British Raj a century ago. Yet the biggest challenges that India faces are with problems that are very much of its own making. Runaway population growth, inequality of every type imaginable and a level of pollution that kills and maims too many people to count.

There’s an old report that circulates the internet from time to time. It is a real study, although one could question the methodology. Regardless, there’s a valid point in there. The report claims that, based on the resources consumed per capita, our planet could support just 1.5 billion Americans. Or 15 billion Indians. I promise you, we do not all want to be aiming to live like the average Indian.

The report is probably not accurate anymore anyway. India is one of the BRIC nations and growing. Fast. And pretty uncontrollably. They are generating more wealth, although it’s not being distributed particularly well. And I can also promise you that, as uncomfortable a statement as it is, we do not want Indians to be living like the average American. So we appear to have a problem.

There’s nothing accidental about India’s misfortunes. The contamination of the rivers, land and skies is all quite deliberate. By corporations, by small business and by individuals. Delhi is, as I write this, blanketed in the worst smog for some time. The true nature of humanity is a very short-sighted and self-destructive one.

Until the country embraces a government that has the authority to implement policies to preserve the future with the resources to enforce them, there is no hope. It’s all rather depressing, isn’t it? Alas, a similar future awaits most countries beyond India’s borders. It seems to me that our continued presense on this planet has two possible futures. A green future. Or no future. At some point we are going to have an awkward conversation where we will be forced to choose between survival and liberty.

But despite all this gloom, what did I really think of India?! It’s a country of contradictions, and I have a few more. Would I have had a much better holiday if I’d gone elsewhere? Definitely. If I could go back in time, where would I have gone? I’d still pick India. Would I recommend India to others? Probably not. Would I go again? Absolutely. India is a land of contradictions. Some people say that it's a place you either love or hate. I disagree. It's a place you will both love and hate.