Thomas Friedman is a one-man factory churning out outsourcing stories by the dozens. He asks and answers the question below in his latest column.
How did India, in 15 years, go from being a synonym for massive poverty to the brainy country that is going to
take all our best jobs? Answer: good timing, hard work, talent and luck.
I would have asked a slightly different question:
How did India, in 15 years, go from being perceived as a country of massive poverty to being perceived as the brainy country that is going to take all our best jobs? Answer: Spin, racist zenophobia, and ignorance.
Let’s take the last one: ignorance. People are generally ignorant of the fact that there are two distinct Indias. Sharad Joshi distinguised them by calling the urban, rich, educated one India and the rural, poor, uneducated one Bharat. I will borrow that nomenclature. India is small, say about 100 million people at most. India has programmers and BPO call centers and cars and Baristas and McDonalds. Indians get educated at IITs and IIMs and travel abroad and talk to each other in Hindi sentences such as, “mera sleep bahut disturbed ho raha hai these days.”
In contrast to that, Bharat is a huge country of about 900 million, most of whom live in rural areas. They are largely illiterate, poor, have little education, don’t speak in English, do manual labor in farms, wouldn’t know what to do with a computer even if one came and bit them on their skinny behinds, have no illusions about anything shining and are generally ignorant about feeling good.
Ignorance about the existence of Bharat is widespread in India. Examine any magazine published in India and you would learn that the most pressing problems in India include what to do about a waist-line, which car to buy, where the hottest shopping spots are in the world, which movie star is sleeping with whom, and how India is shining.
How foreigners perceive India depends on what they have been fed by the news media. Sometimes the news media concentrates on Bharat and the focus is therefore on poverty and hunger. Then for some reason, Bharat is ignored and India comes into the limelight. The focus is then on the IT industry and all BPO and call center and job loss to brainy Indians. The reality is pretty much what it was before.
The other two factors — spin and racist zenophobia — I may take up later or leave it as an exercise for the interested reader.