Things have changed over the last decade or so in India. There has been development, albeit a little skewed. The situation for people like me has gotten better. Unfortunately, people like me make a very small part of this very large country.
Anyway, I saw better roads, better airports and better malls. I don’t know how important it is to have better malls for the general well-being of the population, but there seems to be a lot of them. They do prove to be a popular tourist destination in most cases. I would like to say that they contribute to the economy but they more likely seem to contribute to traffic congestion in cities. Arguments could be made that they create jobs for people who work in them, but job creation is such a slippery statistic. What about the jobs that could have been created if the money had gone in development of let’s public transport or city parks? What about the jobs taken from people whose land was taken away to create the mall? Anyway, that’s a different discussion altogether. Malls currently have become the “hang-out” spots for school kids and the unemployed. As the divide between the haves and have-nots increases in India, I see these as major contentment disrupters.
The countrywide GMR revamping of the airports has been quite impressive. When we landed in Delhi’s T3 at IG International Airport we were quite impressed with the general look and feel. The immigration process was smooth and we were out of the airport fairly quickly. I really feel that tourism in India can be an inclusive growth industry that boosts the economy at the grass-roots level and making India accessible to the world abroad is a step in that direction.
The roads are better. Travelling in North India, I spent quite some time on NH1 and I was happy to see our driver average at 100 KM/H for most of the way. Also known as the Grand Trunk Road, NH1 is going through major renovation, so we did unfortunately spent some time on the side of the road rather on it, but even then we made good time. To avoid the traffic and the dust on NH1, our driver, opted us to take us through the state highways. State highways in India typically don’t have road dividers so overtaking is quite life threatening as one always has the chance of being hit by an oncoming truck. Of course, millions of people drive and survive every day so it’s a question of practice. Even then, when our driver took the detour, I sent up a little prayer. I was again impressed by the condition of the inner roads and the average 80-90KM/H that our car maintained on the roads.
Getting “Sarkari” work done is still a pain in India. Ever since I was a kid, I have had this urge to take a mop and broom and sweep the government offices clean. Allegorically and literally. I don’t know why they are so dirty. It does not matter if it’s a post office, or a registrar’s office or the RTO, the office space is covered in dust, grime, brown files and filled with cheap but durable steel furniture that has been greased and re-greased over the years. Kapil and I had to register our Hindu wedding and even though we are way over 18 years old (the legal age for getting married in India), the law requires that our parents be present for the registration! Seriously! The entire registration took 2 to 3 hrs in which we filled multiple forms and it got over “so soon” because we knew someone. The whole attitude of the officers in the Government of India is as if they are doing us a favor and not their jobs. Why is it that way? Why does such little power go to their heads so soon? Don’t they want to get rid of the clutter on their desk and move work efficiently and smoothly? Why would you want to do a job badly on purpose? Why would you want to be incompetent? For years, people have argued that these jobs are not well paid and the motivation to do well is not inbred. I say bullshit. These jobs are more secure and better paid then some. There is no excuse for the inefficient. I am sure if the government employees were to get double the paychecks the attitude towards work would not change. I do hate making these generalist statements but you step into a govt. office and the sense of lethargy hits you and even if there is one hard-working guy he is not going to get noticed in all the rot.
So some things change, and some remain the same. I was afraid that India was going to disappoint me. That I was going to all go “NRI” on it and hop around drinking mineral water and act shocked on how horrible everything is – as if I am seeing it for the first time. I am glad to discover that I had not forgotten anything. I was neither more or less forgiving of the situation in India. It is what it is.
I can either live with it or run from it or change it.