On my way to India, I am in the university town of Leuven, close to Brussels. I have become quite a regular — last year I was here in February and then again in September. Along the way — I think it was on the flight from SFO to New Jersey — I caught a bug. I had a sore throat upon arrival at NJ and over the next few days it became a chest cold. By the time I left for Brussels, I was running a temperature (confirmed with a thermometer on board the flight) and I declared myself officially sick.
Jan 12th Boston
The talk in Boston on Sunday 12th January went well. It was a small gathering of about 40 people in a private home. Dr Mahesh Mehta spoke first, followed by Shri S. Gurumurthy who was in Chennai. I was the last speaker. Since it was Swami Vivekanand’s birth anniversary that day, I began by mentioning that Vivekanand had stressed the importance of physical fitness as a prerequisite to any spiritual development. Analogously, I said, it is important that India become economically strong before it attempts to give to the world whatever of value that it has to give.
As I always do, I began with the matter of India’s lack of economic prosperity. India has almost all of the ingredients necessary for prosperity — natural endowments, human resources, etc — except for good governance. Although the British raj ended in 1947, India continued to suffer the ill-effects of a colonial rule because the institutions that the British had created for their own exploitative and extractive purposes remained intact and fully functional under the new dispensation post political independence. India lacks freedom and therefore it continues to be underdeveloped.
Following my introductory remarks, I took questions from the audience. I find audience-led discussions much more interesting than making speeches because I learn a lot from the questions. The audience was expectedly right of center when it came to social matters. However I have noticed that the right of center are not right of center as regards economics. Most people are still mired in leftist rhetoric. If we follow free market economics, they ask, what about the poor? It takes some doing but eventually it is possible to persuade them that economic prosperity cannot bypass the poor even if one wanted to.
Overall the talk was well-received. I had a great time. A few people had read this blog and I enjoyed meeting them.
I don’t read newspapers nor watch TV news. However, I do keep an eye on twitter and it gives me a good sense of what is going on in India. From what I can tell, the Indian media’s obsession is almost entirely political. Nothing that happens in India is not tainted with politics. Journalism, sports, writing, commerce, entertainment, business, governance, policing, courts — everything is contaminated by politics. An endless stream of small matters march across the stage and capture the collective consciousness briefly, and nothing of any significance is debated or any enduring lessons learned.
The Tejpal drama lasted a couple of weeks. Then came the Khobragade drama. That was replaced by the Kejriwal/AAP drama. The drama du jour is Mani Shakar Aiyar’s statements.
Why do the trivial and the tawdry have such a hold on the popular mind? (I was tempted to write the aam aadmi mind.) Which came first: the trivia which molded the mind to be fascinated with it or did the small mind prompt the media to cater to it?
I find Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party’s success in the Delhi elections very revealing. It is reminiscent of Tehelka’s success. Tehelka’s spiel was that it was out to fight the good fight against corruption and deceit. It would speak truth to power. In truth it was the powerful Congress party that was using Tehelka as a front. I consider AAP to be a “politically weaponized Tehelka” to counter Modi.
Like Tehelka, AAP started off with the grand promise to fighting corruption but beneath its mask (or shall we say beneath the Gandhi topi) is the ugly face of the money-grubbing Congressi. The front end is Kejriwal in his Gandhi topi; the back end is Madam Antonia Maino, aka Sonia Gandhi and her minions led by the despicably dishonest appointed prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Karma is a bitch, as they say. It may take a few weeks or even a few years but Kejriwal will go the same way as others before him. His hubris will be his undoing.
I am going to be in India in a few days. Once again, I will be struck by the awful state that the home country is in. I know that it did not have to be so pathetically poor but it is so because of the small minds that govern its fate. Why do the people of India continue to allow these small-minded crooks to rule over them will continue to puzzle and sadden me.
India should have been a wonderful place for all Indians to be proud of and all the world to admire. It should have been but it is not. The people are distracted from the sad reality by trivial matters and petty dramas.
I am reminded of a favorite line by the great physicist Richard Feynman. In the context of the monotheists’ stories about the nature of the universe, he had said, “The stage is too big for the drama.”
India is too big a stage for the dramas that the media puts on for the entertainment of the masses. The people need to get out of the theater and create a story that is worthy of the stage.