Home »  Magazine »  Society  » Opinion  »  Slip And Slide Away

Slip And Slide Away

We Indians are the best survivors in the world, pushing and jostling to get ahead, be it on the street or in a queue.

Slip And Slide Away
illustration by Saurabh Singh The way a man drives his car is supposedly a tell-tale sign of how he treats his woman. So if he is a cautious, careful driver, he is caring about his relationship. If he is reckless, he is reckless in love too. I have often applied this pop psychology to people I know—usually it has a ring of truth. Just as driving can mirror psychological states, recently I experienced Rain as Metaphor, mirroring the state of the Indian Nation in the 21st century.

I was driving back home late one evening in Delhi when a thundershower exploded. Rain in Delhi is usually mild, not like the tropical thunderstorms I have grown up with in Kerala. But this was different: a sudden burst, relentless and furious, like demons thrashing wildly in a cosmic ocean. Rain became a thick blinding cascade, glowing yellow under the sodium vapour lamps. Within minutes, the streets became completely flooded. All hell broke loose.

The first thought that struck me was: what is the level of maintenance of Delhi's drainage system that all it takes is ten minutes of heavy downpour to clog the streets? The thunderstorm highlighted that we as a nation are good at crises-fighting, but lousy at preventing crises. Because the latter entails the daily discipline of maintenance. We let everything slide with our chalta hai attitude, situations deteriorate, go to hell till we are faced with a full-blown crisis. Then we do things on a war-footing, bring normalcy back in a manner that is truly remarkable. But the trouble is, we never learn the lessons. Once the situation is under control, it's business as usual again, we slip and slide... till the next crisis hits us. One lesson we'll never learn is that Prevention is better than Cure.

As rain-water reached knee high, navigation became difficult—and that brought out the beast in everyone. Abandoning the last vestiges of decency, drivers plunged furiously and unthinkingly into a free-for-all. It was a wild and desperate rush to get ahead of the others. No laws, no courtesies. It was a raw survival of the fittest. We Indians are the best survivors in the world, we push and jostle shamelessly to get ahead, be it on the streets or in a queue to buy tickets. There is a desperation in our competitiveness. It's like if we don't scramble, fight and push our way to the front, the goodies—the rations, the cinema tickets, or whatever—will be over. And it usually is.

That downpour also revealed why globalisation—insofar as it involves modern technology—is good for us. I should have been home in 15 minutes, but an hour had gone by and I was still circling around impassable roads, when I wasn't stuck in a traffic snarl. I fished out my mobile phone and informed my family so they wouldn't worry. And I remembered, just ten years ago I used to be stuck late on some reporting assignment—for instance, when a bomb had suddenly exploded. I couldn't communicate with my little son because those days we didn't have mobile phones. My son sat at home, alone and frightened, wondering whether his mother was caught in a traffic accident. Thank God for mobile phones! How much anxiety and confusion that little instrument spares us. But how quickly we have forgotten those pre-mobile phone days.

That induction of modern technology is a godsend was visible outside the car, on the flooded streets, as well. The modern cars—the Marutis, the Opel Astras, the Hondas—became amphibious and steered effortlessly. The Ambassadors, Fiats and autorickshaws stalled.They stood like abandoned relics of a bygone era. There was no place for them in the modern world. Time stood still for them, while owners of modern cars literally overtook and moved on, leaving them way behind, stuck in a mire they could not get out of.

The cars couldn't, but the owners had to. So while the owners of modern cars whizzed by, safe and dry in their Mitsubishis and Fords, the sad owners of these old vehicles had to get out in the pouring rain, push their defunct cars out of the way of the other speeding cars and leave them at the wayside. Some of the owners had umbrellas, most didn't. They had to walk in the blinding rain to the nearest bus-stop. The distance increased between them and the owners of modern cars.

As car owners, they are reasonably well off. But it took rain to increase the gulf between them and the owners of modern cars, who are undeniably richer. It took rain to push them down lower into the company of people usually much worse off than them: they were now huddled at the bus-stop with the regular bus commuters who cannot afford any car, neither used Ambassadors nor Fiats.

Recently, I read a thought-provoking article that India's problem was that beneficiaries of globalisation choose to remain silent. The writer made the point that globalisation was not only about the haves and have-nots, but that the have-somes have definitely gained. The poor remained poor before, they remain even today. But large sections of Indian society had benefited and many had moved up the social and financial ladder.

This is true. That globalisation has brought prosperity to many is undeniable. But the crux of the trouble with globalisation is that it aggravates disparity. The chasm becomes wider and wider. The gulf between the perfumed owners of Honda cars as they steer through flooded streets listening to throbbing music and the drenched, shivering bus commuters becomes wider day by day. The gap between those who have got onto the hi-tech bandwagon and those who are stuck with old technology, like the outdated cars, also increases. Most of them can't turn hi-tech, not because they are lazy or stupid, but because they are not rich or not rich enough. And so, helplessly they watch the gulf widen. That is what is intrinsically flawed and unfair about globalisation as we experienced in the last decade. And disparity arouses much more heartburn than does poverty.

(The author can be contacted at anitapratap@yahoo.com)
Subscribe to Outlook’s Newsletter

Next Story : Materiel Discomforts
Download the Outlook ​Magazines App. Six magazines, wherever you go! Play Store and App Store
Online Casino Betway Banner