The Indian Angle

The nation of yoga has lost its balance. It wants to buy everything.

I spent a decade in Pune as a student where most girls cycled to school. It was a quiet city made of a strong responsible middle-class, largely compromising of the Maharashtrian Bhat community. It was a society with minimum needs, truly content with Fireball XL5, Sherlock Holmes and Star Trek on Sunday mornings. Education, sports and falling in love was what made life rich, and always in that order. There was genuine interest in culture which made families step out for live classical music, bring home discussions of original theatre works, discover European cinema and learn about other cultures.

Trees were always a feature outside houses and alongside streets, and climbing up and across hills was a regular morning activity. Living modestly and cultivating friendships to last was an important value in everyday living. News, good and bad, was shared across fences or balconies, and there was always a friend’s house to go to when one got bored at one’s own. Children saved their pocket money for a parent’s birthday gift, and parents did not spoil their children at all. It was a great life because the one thing Pune didn’t have was lots of money. Everything was modest- the shops, the shopping, the hotels, the houses, the attitude. Everyone lived within their means and spent every rupee after reconsidering the price tag at least once.

And then suddenly, one day it all changed. The country’s growing economy brought with it the opportunity to become rich.  Soon, every bit of civility gave way to making more money in this little town. The taste of money introduced in a disciplined life the temptation for comfort. A new Pune was born under the spell of cash-to-spare. Traditional bungalows crumbled to make space for tall modern buildings. A new standard of living was offered to people who walked on trusted old floor tiles. Society changed to create hold over its members by spreading a uniformity in thought and outlook, so as to not disturb its fresh arrangement of financial flow.

Pune’s society traded everything it knew and everything it stood for,to have more and to possess better. Everyone wanted to keep up with the Joneses, or in this case, with the Joshis. And long before you knew it, a new society was born. So the trees fell and the hills crumbled. Comfort became the norm in which everything was provided to minimize the usage of body and mind, making it sluggish and sick. People began to show-off their wealth, human equation changed- insensitive became the new smart. Not only did the craze for making money move the people away from their culture, it removed them from their own nature, making them strangers to themselves.

But the saddest thing was that what happened to Pune, happened to all India. Years of deprivation to buy quality products and an excessively stringent lifestyle, let loose quite simply, a disadvantaged child in a multi-storied toy store. The original relaxed Indian who has been exposed to something called lifestyle ended up pawning his mental peace to a life of compulsion to own things. The will of an entire population switched to pleasure over discipline, greed over contentment, attention over modesty. Or in other words, all eyes turned to money-making, corruption became rampant and more and more people started storing money in huge quantities.

And then years later, came a Prime Minister who made a declaration that threatened to turn all that money to toilet paper. All mayhem broke loose. The tiny creatures got crushed. The word demonetization was introduced to the Indian people and it remained a word. For if you suffocate Indians with one rule and they will find a way to let the air in because they are master floaters. The rules of the world can’t apply them.

Even the way business works in India is unique. India’s parallel economy still adds sustenance to its growing mainstream economy. It is a fact that a non graduate Indian businessmen has great innate craft can teach a thing or two to the best business schools. The sense of how money works and moves and builds is an essential gift among most Indian communities. Business here, is learnt from a deep understanding of life, of people and the craft of making profit without spending. Every single person involved in the process of earning, uses money with a unique sense of grounded practicality to it. The approach has worked because it rises from the fundamental need to survive. The regular Indian relies on his skills of inherent innovation, something popularly known as ‘jugaad’.

Unlike habitants of any other country, Indians have developed a strange but unique intelligence which is masked by their obvious stupidity. They have an intelligence to understand life in its rawest form. In all probabilities it is this intelligence that lets them stay committed to survival in chaotic conditions. I suspect nobody understands surrendering to life with a smile better than an Indian.

That is why saving tax money is not a crime in the eyes of most Indians. They think it’s their right. And the reason for that is simply this- the country guarantees you nothing. Absolutely nothing. Having money is equal to feeling safe here. It means getting medical treatment, getting heard, avoiding endless queues, avoiding the paperwork, avoiding the incredible irrational reasoning, and most of all, ensuring a dignified old age. Naturally then, people try to create their own guarantee so that they can break, buy, bend and even make their own rules.

Indians are a very unique lot. They have to be understood before new ways are thrust upon them. Look at it this way: In India, you risk tearing your skin every time you try and open a bottle or a carton or a packet because packaging is so poor. And yet, Indians have learnt to work around the flaws of packaging in such a way that they don’t even notice them. Put in other words, Indians have learnt to work their way around a badly packaged life- it’s the supplement for their resilience. And they will do anything to make it a better one for their children.