America, India, Religion, Serious Writing, US Presidential Elections

Bobby Jindal and the ABCD

There is a colloquial term that is used among the people from India and the Indian sub-continent. It is used to describe and/or identify children of Indian immigrants in America. The term is ABCD, and it stands for American Born Confused Desi. (Desi being a generic term for the people from the Indian sub-continent). For the most part, this term is used as a tool for mockery and satire. But from what I have seen, there is a lot of truth to what it stands for. And when I dug deeper into Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana Governor and 2016 President hopeful (!), and what he had to say about where his parents came from and how he identifies himself, this post began to write itself. But as I gave it more thought, this post took a different direction altogether (as is evident from below).

But first with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.

Just so the reader is aware, Bobby Jindal isn’t his birth name. His parents named him Piyush Jindal, but then he changed it to a more ‘American’ sounding name when he was 10 – based on a character from Brady Brunch. He then went on to renounce his religion – Hinduism – in favor of a more accepted American South’s Catholicism. Apparently, the Bible made a big impression on him when he read it under the sheets in his bed as a kid (since he had to hide it from his parents). On the other hand, I would like to know if he even made the effort to read a single Hinduism religious text, and if he did, then what he did or did not like about it. He has publicly made statements to the effect that he wants to be called American, and not Indian-American. (There is some validity to this, but that is a separate discussion in itself). He has a self portrait of a white man in his office. Yes, that is true. And his campaign slogan now appears to be ‘Tanned, Rested and Ready’.

Bobby Jindal’s Self Portrait featuring White Guy

Bobby Jindal Self Portrait featuring even Whiter Guy

Now here is something about an ABCD who was in my circle of friends a couple of years ago:

He told me I reminded him of Rajesh Koothrapalli (the ABCD character from Big Bang Theory) in front of a bunch of white people. (Oh the irony!) He actively distanced himself from where his parents were and about his (clearly forced) visits to India. He once pointed to an Indian origin anchor on TV to me and said, “Hey man! Look on TV. It is one of YOUR people.” He once pointed to other fellow Indian immigrants on the street and remarked they were ‘Akshay’s cousins’.

Apart from the fact that that was the only time anyone has ever made a racist comment to me here in America, it is extremely ironic and disappointing that it came from a guy with the same ethnicity. My first reaction was disbelief and anger. (Needless to say, I no longer have any contact with him). But over time, I have come to understand a far more fundamental issue in play among children born to Indian immigrants in general. It is what eventually manifests itself in racist remarks to one’s own kind, ridiculous campaign slogans, as an active distancing from one’s own community, and the ‘C’ in ABCD. I am not just referring to the simple case of the identity crisis, but more importantly, to how the ABCDs deal with and respond to them.

I cannot even begin to comprehend what children of Indian immigrants have to go through growing up with kids that have zero resemblance to how they look. What kind of bond do they form with the other kids? How do the other kids react when they see a non-white, non-black, non-Asian and non-Hispanic kid in their classroom? Are they curious? Or do they already have pre-conceived opinions and look at him weird? Do the other kids make fun of his/her skin color? How does the kid with Indian parents answer the question, “Where are you from”? And what do the parents tell the kid at home? How do the parents bring him up? Do they bring him up to be an American? Or have they decided that their kid is going to be brought up with what they have understood to be Indian values? How do they find a balancing act? What kind of resources do they have to guide them? Are they even aware of the impact their potential ignorance has on the kid?

Once we begin to find the answers to questions like these, only then can we claim to truly understand how it is to be the child of Indian immigrants. These are hard questions. And the answers to them generally point to a set of circumstances where the kid is the easy subject of ridicule, bullying and casual (if not explicit) racism to the point of being ashamed of his own skin color. It points to a situation where the parents have very little to no idea about what is happening or how to deal with it. It paints a picture where the kid is torn between what he is told at home and what he is expected to be at school. They tell us a story of the parents bringing up the kids in the same way they would if they were in India -and being blissfully unaware of the repercussions. They tell us the story of the brown kid who ultimately learnt that he needed to be an ‘American’ – in style, looks and thought, not just in passport – in order to fit in with the world around him.

And it is at this critical juncture that a lot rests on. More specifically, what does the kid do about all of this? The ultimate destination is clear – be more American so that you are considered part of the world around you instead of being seen as the stranger in a strange land. But the path to get there is less evident. The kid sees two major paths to get there: embrace all the things that America has to offer while remembering your own ethnic identity and heritage, or completely reject and deny your ethnic heritage and identity while going all out to prove to everyone around you that you are an American.

It is not too hard to see which path is more easy for the child to take. An adolescent kid with a natural propensity to rebel, with no real guidance around him, whose main priority is to be accepted among his school friends who are not his own skin color, and who has ‘decided’ to be more ‘American’ has very little to choose from. Rejecting and denying where his parents came from, what his ethnicity is, what his religion is, what he eats, and which languages he speaks is – in the child’s head – the easiest way to ‘become more American’. And thus the kid reaches his destination not by embracing what the American lifestyle and freedom has to offer, but by rejecting who he is, how he looks, and all the values his parents believed in.

Popular portrayal of the ABCD has not particularly helped matters. It has almost always involved showcasing a guy or a girl in their youth, having conservative Indian immigrants for parents, and is struggling to ‘break away’ from their conservative ways to explore the ‘freedom’ that America has to offer. This has pretty much been it. I am unaware of any popular portrayal of the ABCD where there are bigger questions – identity crisis, bullying, casual racism, alienation, lack of counselling – asked of being an American born to Indian immigrants. There is no ‘why’, just a ‘what’.  And that is rather unfortunate.

And so we have a world where American kids born to Indian immigrants feel the need to reject the values taught at home in order to be accepted among friends at school. Over time, this manifests as a deeper hatred and shame towards people of one’s own kind and everything that is associated with them. And this is what leads to brown-skinned people believing they are white, changing their religions, finding Indian food too spicy or refusing to eat anything that doesn’t have beef in it, making racist remarks to people of their own skin color, and actively distancing themselves from anything remotely associated with India and other Indians.

When one looks at Bobby Jindal or my ex-friend through this frame of reference, the perspective changes from mockery and ridicule to one of sympathy and understanding. I may never actually change my opinion about what kind of a person they are now, but I do so with a better understanding of how they got to where they are. Without a shred of doubt, I am extremely glad that neither me nor my parents had to go through this daunting experience. Being born and raised in India until the age of 25, I had my identity and values well set before I made my move here. As I have slowly integrated myself with what America has to offer, I have embraced those aspects that do not conflict with my core values, and did so without forgetting where I came from. But I was able to do so only because I knew who I was and what I stood for before I got here.

I started writing this post sitting on my high horse passing judgment and mockery at a set of people whom I thought were just simply bad. But as I now conclude it, I am glad that I have a better understanding of why they are that way. I will even go to the extent of admitting that I myself may not have turned out any different than them if I was brought up here. So I can only hope that a lot more awareness is spread around on these aspects of growing up as children of Indian immigrants in this country. And at some point, maybe, we will have a generation of children who are indeed proud of where their parents came from and all the good things that India has to offer.

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PS: It would be summarily incorrect to assume or stereotype that all children born to Indian immigrants end up this way. Or that all parents have no clue about how to deal with such situations. The point being made here is that more often than not, the conditions surrounding a kid growing up are conducive to such an outcome.

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America, Bangalore, Des Moines, India, Sadness, The things that happen only to ME..., Thoughts, Travel

Going Back Home After 3 Years

I finally went back home to Bangalore after a gap of almost exactly 3 years. I had never been so long away from home prior to that. Even with my parents visiting me in between, that long gap didn’t lose its significance on me. I stayed there for 4 weeks, visiting friends and family and spending time with myself at home. I had no real agenda apart from that and the 4 day trip that my parents had planned. Mostly, I just wanted to sit at home, eat my mom’s food and not worry about work or any of the many other aspects of my existence. But there was perhaps one thing that I was indeed looking forward to.

I just wanted to talk to people around me in my own language. I just wanted to talk in Kannada.

Perhaps the biggest handicap I have faced after moving to the US – and especially Iowa – is the complete and absolute absence of my ability to converse in Kannada with the people around me. Simply put, there isn’t a single person I have met in all of Des Moines who speaks my mother tongue. I am sure they exist, but the probability of them being someone I get to meet, develop a friendship with, and have conversations with them in Kannada on a regular basis is minuscule. Maybe if I lived in a big city, I would have stood a much better chance, but not in a city the size of Des Moines. And as a result, I have had to accept and live with the handicap of being unable to talk in my own mother tongue. It has never been problematic – considering my command over the English language – but it is something that I have constantly missed.

I have mostly dealt with it through secondary means. I speak to my parents, my relatives and a couple of my friends over the phone in Kannada on a regular basis. I also watch Kannada movies on Youtube or Videogirmit, listen to old Kannada songs, and read Kannada books. But none of this has ever come even remotely close to giving me the fulfillment I get from talking to someone in Kannada in person. Which is why when I went back home, the thing I was most excited about was just being able to talk to the people around me in the language that is my mother tongue.

Everybody from the immigration officer at the Bangalore airport (who began questioning me in English and happily changed to Kannada once I gave my responses in Kannada), the local grocery store guy who was trying to find me a pack of cards, the owner of the local medical shop (whom I have known since I was in high school), the guy serving me extra sambhar for my Idly at the fast food Darshini next to the bus stop, all the neighbor aunties who had differing opinions on the changes in my body mass, the old man at the small clothing shop where I bought part of my new wardrobe, the waiter at Vidyarthibhavan, all the nice folks of North Karnataka who made my vacation-within-a-vacation a memorable one, the guy who helped me get a Vodafone cell number on my Verizon Galaxy S5, the BMTC bus conductor who gave me a free ride to the next stop when he realized I was on the wrong bus, the auto driver who had Ambarish pictures all over his vehicle, the guy who cut open an extra coconut (eLaniru, or coconut water) for free because he felt he had given me a smaller-than-average coconut the first time around, the guy selling liquor on credit at the local shady bar, the bartender at Arbor Brewing Company (to whom I bragged about having visited the original one at Ann Arbor in Michigan), the guy who gave me all the snack goodies at Subbamma Store, the local gym owner who had a hard time understanding why I needed the membership only for 3 weeks, my friends from Undergrad and before, my family members of all ages and degrees of separation, and before I forget, Blackie – the creatively named black colored dog of the Black Dog fame –  I took great pleasure in speaking to every one of them in Kannada (including Blackie).

It was something that I had taken for granted all the time I was in Bangalore, and something – whose absence – I refused to acknowledge after moving to the US. During my visit, I sometimes almost forgot that this ‘return to how it used to be’ was only a temporary thing and something that I would very soon not have in my daily life. But I suppose that is what happens with the things I took for granted. I tend to trick myself into thinking it was all going to be OK every time I got to experience what I had missed for long. But the eventual and inevitable return – from nothing more than a vacation to the true consequences of my choices – never fails to expose the glaring deception my mind has me in. And I find myself looking to the past or to possibilities in the future when I get to experience first hand all the things I grew up taking for granted, and whose absence I am yet to come to terms with.

I am now back to talking to people over the phone in Kannada, watching Kannada movies, listening to SPB and S.Janaki’s old classics, and reading a Kannada translation of Kalidasa’s Meghadhootha when I get the chance. I do not know when I will get my next chance to converse in person in Kannada, but when it does happen, I will very likely just trick myself again into thinking it’s all back to the way it used to be – at least for the duration of that conversation.

And then I will go back to reality.

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The irony of choosing to write this in English is not lost on me. But such is the circumstances I chose and find myself in.

Arbit, Arsenal, Bangalore, Chelsea, India, Manchester United, media, Mediocrity, My sense of Humour, Rant, Serious Writing

Narendra Modi reminds me of Manchester United

Being half way around the planet from all the NaMo and RaGa and MaBa and ArKe waves during the election campaign, I have had little to no direct exposure to the ground realities in India. All my ‘information’ came from Facebook status messages, newspaper headlines quoting politicians out of context, memes, satire posts on Faking News and some input from my parents who are seeing all this first hand in Bangalore. So in order to get real information, I have had to make additional effort to look through the biased media, read a very long list of ‘expert’ opinions on both sides of the story, find compilation of statistics on so many issues that are being debated and of course, frame my own opinion at the end. In any case, the general gist of what I am hearing is this:

Screw Mario. Here comes NaMo

There is this NaMo dude who is the Uber Dude and who is expected to simply win the next election. Then there is RaGa who is going all out to let people know he has an IQ less than Timmy. New kid on the block ArKe is trying all in his power to just play spoilsport. Didi MaBa just wants to run for elections. The Left parties – wait, do they still exist?

Already the next Prime Minister of India

The common thread running through all the bits and pieces of information I am getting is not regarding RaGa, ArKe or Didi. It is almost exclusively about NaMo. But before I get to that, a little bit of football.

When I started watching football, it took me a while to start supporting Chelsea. Everyone around me was either a Manchester United fan or an Arsenal fan. The Arsenal fans were mostly proud of the whole ‘youth development’ ideal that the club apparently stood for. All good. The Manchester United fans on the other hand were mostly proud of their trophy collection and were generally branded as glory hunters. I get it. Every fan wants the sport team he supports to win trophies on a regular basis. It is a very natural state of mind.

But what was different with United fans was the unquestioned glorification of the club and everything associated with it. Most of the fans were convinced that Manchester United was the only true club in England. They would quote the rich history associated with the club and also point to the massive trophy collection. They would also point to one Sir Alex Ferguson as a ruthless winner who would stop at nothing to win trophies – and all the fans were proud of his long tenure at the club. But it didn’t stop there. United was considered to be a team that was beyond criticism. Going a step further, no other team was considered to be a valid team to support. If you were new to football and were still looking for a team to choose to root for, you would be made to believe that you had no choice. You would be made to believe that Man United were the only team worth supporting and it was some kind of a default choice.

United was also the club which had the largest fan base (and still does) in India and Asia. There were definitely reasonable United fans here and there that I have gotten to know over the years but for the most part most of them were just plain cocky about it. They just refused to even entertain the idea that the club was anything less than just the best damn club on the planet. There would never be any admittance of any imperfections in any of the club’s aspects. Nobody could level any amount of criticism without getting a good amount of backlash from its supporters. Moreover, supporters of all other clubs were looked down upon as if they did not deserve to be a fan.

All this inevitably led to a lot of distaste among a lot of fans who supported other clubs – including myself. So much so, that there was a fair amount of hate brewing against United. These people were our friends who we got drunk with and whom I am still in touch with. But the dislike and hate that was brewing was directed more at the club than at the supporters. Sure the schadenfreude that we experienced whenever we saw United lose grew exponentially. But the important thing to note was the strict polarization that Manchester United’s image had created. You either fully embraced it and considered it to be the flawless club ever, or you considered that to be the most vile, cocky, exaggerated, pretentious, falsely publicized, all powerful, corrupt sports organization in the world. There was almost nothing in between. And all this was a creation not of the club. (I am sure the club wouldn’t have wanted it this way). But this big divide was really a creation of the supporters.

The Panacea all Indians have been waiting for

And now I see the same exact thing happening with NaMo in India. He is considered untouchable and beyond criticism from the eyes of his supporters. There is so much pro-Modi rhetoric that there seemed to be little that he could not accomplish. He is treated as the solution to all problems. There is not a single ounce of criticism that can be thrown at him without ten counter responses coming from his supporters. (In the eyes of the supporters, they feel they are right because they are offering the statistically proven, reasonable response to a guy who is just making wild accusations against Modi). He is considered to have zero imperfections and his supporters quote the ‘development’ that has taken place in Gujarat over the course of more than a decade as proof of his awesomeness. And just like United fans sing the ‘Glory Glory Man United’ chant, there is now also a NaMo NaMo (and many more apparently) chant/song that all the Modi supporters consider their war cry. There is even a Modi-Brigade that you can join by giving a missed call or something.

All this isolation from criticism, unquestioned glorification of his past achievements and a level of expectations never before associated with an Indian politician have inevitably generated a strong anti-Modi fan base – just like it happened with United. Endless arguments and debates – both online and offline, opinion pieces from every Tom, Dick, Harry and his brother-in-law, articles listing statistics that prove the point each side of the argument is trying to make (never mind that they contradict themselves) – all have contributed heavily to the strong polarization of the Modi image.

The Rise of the Indian Youth or the beginning of a new Hitler Youth – depending on whom you ask

 

You are either a strong supporter and think he is the panacea all Indians have been waiting for, or you think he is the nightmare scenario waiting to happen where he ends up becoming India’s Hitler creating a Hitler Youth organization equivalent and there will be a genocide in his first month in office. The stronger the isolation and glorification, higher is the criticism and hate. Higher the criticism and hate, more is the isolation and glorification. It is like a feedback loop which just feeds one off the other but they both grow in size and content. And just like United, all this is a making of the supporters. Modi for one would have never wanted this divide. Part of it, admittedly, can be attributed to the hate against the UPA Govt and our current impotent PM. But most of the responsibility of this rests on the supporters.

I suppose there is a cut off point beyond which there would be no significant growth of pro-Modi or anti-Modi rhetoric. Perhaps that point will be reached after he is elected PM. Or Not. I for one can only hope that his supporters and haters can get to a more reasonable level of opinion. The worst outcome of this would be an American styled Democrat-Republican divide.

If you have not been able to figure out yet, this post is nothing more than an observation. It is not a criticism, support or judgment of anyone involved – from the politicians to the avid supporters and haters. It is merely a perspective which I have been looking through for a while. A lot of Modi and Man United supporters will inevitably disagree with me and some will even offer detailed explanations of their disagreement which are supposed to be interpreted as their idea of reason. First of all, do check out this thing called the Backfire Effect. Secondly, if you have you gone as far as trying to dispute what I have pointed out, you have already proven my point. So just calm the fuck down and think about it for a while.

When did an Indian Politician ever become so cool that he had his own Merchandise?

In all seriousness, I personally want to see Modi in the PM office and am really curious what this guy is all about. And at this point, I offer no response to speculation or the possibility of a genocide happening in India as a result of his election. But really, considering his competition is a circus clown in a politician’s disguise…..

…well you get it.

America, Arbit, Fake News, India, Mediocrity, My sense of Humour, Rant, Satire, US Presidential Elections, WTF?

Millions of people around the world go into depression after realizing Democracy does not work

In a surprising development towards the end of yesterday, hundreds of reports from all over the world poured in claiming large masses of people going to depression simultaneously. The reason : Democracy – or more specifically the realization that it does not appear to be working.

It first started with people in Japan reporting en masse to psychiatrists and psychologists complaining about general depression and a growing inability to trust anything. People were seen making long lines outside pharmacies waiting to pick up their prescription medication to battle depression.

Meanwhile, many reports started coming in about similar developments in Greece, Cyprus, Portugal, Spain, Italy and a few other European nations. This was then followed by reports in the United States where millions of people were first confused if their depression was the result of the extended winter this year. However, after continuing to watch their preferred News Channel  – Fox or MSNBC – just to see the ‘other party’ get thrashed, the people found their depression getting worse and ultimately attributed it to the failure of democracy.

Depression is the only consequence

Common questions the people seem to be asking all around the world included: “Why isn’t anything getting done here at all?”, “If a party is elected by the people, then why doesn’t it get to do anything?” “Majority means they should be able to pass all the bills right?”, “I thought Obama had won the reelection. But then why is he still campaigning against the Republicans instead of getting things done?”

Questions like these were asked repeatedly by people when journalists inquired about their depression and what they thought of the economy.

A worldwide survey had shown a few years ago that democracy was “The Shit, Yo!”. It was apparently not just a ‘good system’ of governance, it was also the ‘only system’ of governance. People all around the world appeared to agree that the United States was ‘just awesome’ because it kept bringing in ‘democracy’ to all those poor souls in the middle east who were ‘totally suffering without democracy’.

A noted commentator who has been supporting democracy setups all his life had this to say about the new democracies in the Middle East: “It’s cool yo! I mean, there are a lot more people getting killed, more religious persecution, more security problems, more economical problems, and on top of it all, nobody is able to do shit about it! But it’s cool because they have a democracy, right?”

Another pro-democratic intellectual masturbator said this in response to all the increased violence and unrest in the new democracies: “Hey! At least now they get to feel awesome and brag to the rest of the world that they live in democracies right? I mean, now they actually have a RIGHT to brag and feel awesome! Yeah, take that Bitchas!”

Actually, this reporter was unable to find anybody who held anti-democratic views who could talk about the other perspective. Apparently, it was just ‘not cool to be anti-democracy’. Why? The only answer this reporter was given repeatedly to that question was “Because Democracy is the Shit, Yo!”

When more people were interviewed to hear their perspectives about why they felt democracy would not work, many of them echoed similar thoughts.

“I was told from my days in middle school that democracy is the shit. I never understood it back then but just thought it was something cool that everybody liked. So I  began to trust it as well. But I just don’t see it working ANYWHERE.”

Citizens of India, the largest democracy in the world, were initially upbeat about the next elections so that they could vote the ruling Congress party out. But then they realized that even a different party would never be able to satisfy the needs and demands of hundreds of retards  who will still be in the parliament- all thinking differently.

“The only thing that will continue for sure is the regular adjournments of the parliament sessions. No bills will get passed and no reforms will take place. Because this is democracy right? So you get to put down a bill just because it won’t help you win reelection.”

The only people who appear to be celebrating democracy and those that have not gone into depression are the folks who have been making their lives out of subsidy and welfare money from the governments. Social Security, disability, medicare, medicaid, unemployment benefits, you name it. People who utilize these welfare schemes appear to be extremely happy about democracies.

“I hope democracy continues. This way nobody will have the balls to take away my disability checks and Medicaid because if they do, I will vote for the other guy who promises me my free money. Isn’t that awesome? I  hope the people in the Middle East also begin to reap the benefits of democracy soon. Go welfare schemes!”, said a 43 year old American who has been claiming disability checks simply because his ‘back hurts a bit when he tries to stand up’.

It appears that only people who work, making money and leading generally better lives were affected by the depression epidemic that has swept the globe. The poor who have been living mediocre lives through welfare schemes and subsidies appear to be more than happy to continue to live in mediocre conditions as long as they keep getting their free money that in turn supports their mediocre existence.

All the people living off subsidies and welfare schemes were of the strong opinion that ‘Democracy indeed is THE SHIT!”.

When President Obama was asked about this mass depression epidemic, he responded with a prepared statement with beautifully crafted sentences, messages of hope, general GOP bashing, and a lot of promises and by the end of his speech, people were so excited and enthusiastic that they seemed to have forgotten what it was that they had asked him in the first place.

The President did refer this reporter (who pressed him with the same question a second time) to the following video from The Dictator…..

…..thus missing out the whole point altogether.

In conclusion, it appears that Democracy is not just ‘The Shit’, it is simply SHIT.

America, India, Serious Writing, Thoughts, US Presidential Elections

From a Land of Handouts to a Land of Opportunities

One of the most powerful sources of clarity is contrast. Societies in different countries offer glaring contrasts between each other in a myriad aspects of life – all inevitably attributed to a range of factors including the history, the diversity, the founding principles etc. When both extremes of any specific aspect of a society are experienced or witnessed, the nuances of the society’s working reveal themselves in more detail and clarity. Growing up in India and now living in the US since 3 years has provided ample opportunities to observe this very contrast in many many important facets in both the countries.

The role (and its extent) of a government in the functioning of a democracy is one such prevailing contrast. I have been fascinated to see how Americans perceive the Government in stark contrast to how a majority of the Indians see it. Several questions inevitably are raised when this contrast is quantified in terms of where the two societies are right now and what the Governments are doing in each case. What components of public life does the Government concern itself with? Where exactly do they decide they need to interfere? What are the people demanding from the Government?

Profit was a dirty word for Nehru

In order to attempt answering this question, let’s go back to the time India got independence and the first Government came to power. When Jawaharlal Nehru became the Prime Minister in 1947, he inherited a country in chaos and disarray that needed quick solutions. Tasked with the job of restoring order and generating faith among the people in a quick and easy manner, the founding fathers of the Indian Government decided that the Govt’s role was to act as the entity which had a responsibility to personally take care of every single aspect of its populace. Not only did it see its primary role  to be that of shielding the masses from the problems facing the country, it also saw that the only solution to these problems was the Government itself. Inevitably, when this school of thought manifested in the generation of policies, Govt interference became the primary mode of problem addressal at every level of public life.

The impacts the society faced over the next several decades should not only be viewed as a result of what the Government did back then. Equally important is to look at what the Government did NOT do. When it told the people, “We are the Government and we are responsible for you. We will take care of you so you do not have to take care of yourselves”, the Govt did not frame policies that generate opportunities and jobs for the people to solve their problems themselves. It did not encourage the people to seek out and build their own lives. Instead of framing policies and laws that generated jobs and opportunities, the Govt decided that the easiest way to “take care” of the poor and the lower class was to give them ‘handouts’.

These handouts came in many forms – subsidies on cooking gas, petrol, diesel, loan waivers for farmers, tax breaks etc. The lower class families were shielded from the real problems of the society by the appeal of free money. An added benefit for the Govt was that it made it more popular among the voters. (When did free stuff ever become unpopular?). But the important question to ask is how the Govt paid for all these schemes. Its answer was simple. All it had to do was to play Robin Hood. It made sure to tax successful businessmen at insanely high rates (up to 70%) in order to give free handouts to the poor. (I mean, surely those rich people did not NEED that money, right?) This led to the now obvious consequence of discouraging  job creating businesses and instead encouraging Government dependency among the people. More the people depended on the Government, more the Govt decided it was their responsibility to take care of them. The effects of this vicious cycle over the years are reflected best in the demands the poor and the lower class make now.

The entire population that has received handouts from the Govt over the years now demand only one thing – more handouts. They do not demand  better infrastructure and more opportunities for them to build their lives on. This does not appear to them to be the solution to their problems. Why? Simply because the only solution they have ever known has come in the form of free handouts from the Govt. Bad rains? Wave the farm loans. High diesel price? Subsidize it. So much so, these handouts have almost become a fundamental birth right for the long term recipients. And any attempt to get these same people to do without the handouts is going to be futile.

In addition to the obvious consequence of mass objection by the recipients to any reduction in the handouts, there is always going to be a political party that is bound to take advantage of the discontent among the voters to further their own agenda. So ultimately, we have a society in which a Govt gives handouts instead of opportunities or infrastructure, which is in turn voted to power by people who demand more handouts as opposed to opportunities and infrastructure – and all this in a democratic setup that does not allow the breaking of this vicious cycle.

Contrast this with what I have observed in the USA. The founding principles here were based on individual liberty and achievement. The people were encouraged, and in fact expected, to build their own lives by hard work and effort. Meanwhile, the Government saw its primarily role as the entity tasked with the responsibility of framing policies and laws that generated sufficient opportunities for the people to go out, build their own lives and to take pride in their achievement. The Government also sees that it has a responsibility to provide the necessary infrastructure and security that facilitates the effective utilization of the available opportunities by the people. When elections come in, people don’t demand subsidies or handouts. They want to know how each candidate plans to create opportunities, improve infrastructure and provide healthcare and security.

The prevailing mindset in a society that has been subjected to THIS process is very evident. People take pride in building their own lives and achieving their dreams. This in turn leads to improved dignity of labor  – something that is grossly lacking in the Indian context. But perhaps more importantly, we will have a society that attracts and retains the best talent in the world – and this is extremely evident in what is happening in America. You see, this is because the best minds seek appreciation of their talent through opportunities and reward for hard work, not through handouts and subsidies. Ultimately, we have a society where the economy prospers when the people prosper.

(As a side note, the fact that President Obama is going exactly in the opposite direction – that is more Govt control, more food stamps, more subsidies, bailouts, redistributing wealth Robin Hood style – is what will make him never get my support. Do read the full text -not taking anything out of context – of his now infamous ‘You did not build that’ speech and if you still feel he does not have Socialistic tendencies, then you are perhaps already an Obama supporting Democrat no matter what. This ideology, however, sets a very dangerous and irreversible precedent for going down the wrong path)

But I digress.

My main aim of providing this contrast is for it to serve as a means of explanation for the origins and roots of something so deeply ingrained in the Indian psyche. Make no mistake. This is not to imply that the average Indian will consciously NOT make an effort to make use of opportunities and infrastructure. On the contrary, Indians have shown what they are capable of when the economy was hit with reforms in early 1990’s. The middle class rose to the occasion to make use of all the newly available opportunities to build their own lives. Entrepreneurs blossomed amidst encouragement for businessmen and industrialists – generating employment for millions. Today this result can clearly be seen in the ever booming software industry.

Even the poor lower class have shown a propensity to utilize whatever opportunities and infrastructure is available to improve their livelihood.  As Nandan Nilikani has pointed out in his book ‘Imagining India‘, a million dollars spent on laying a road to a remote village is likely to create a lot more jobs than the same amount being spent to provide subsidies for the people of the same village. However,  the fact that their demands still revolve around subsidies should be attributed more to their own prior experience regarding what they have received, instead of implying an inherent hesitancy to work.

The proof is evident and clear. Whenever opportunities are provided, and along with it the necessary infrastructure, the people of India have always risen to the occasion to make use of it and succeed – irrespective of how rich or poor we are. The Government needs to recognize this and prioritize its spending accordingly. What India needs are opportunities – not handouts; it needs infrastructure for the people to effectively make use of these opportunities – not increased subsidies that increase Government dependency and drive up the deficit.

However, as I pointed out earlier, in a multi-party democratic setup like in India, there will always be someone who will seek to appease the people by promising them more handouts. And the unfortunate fact is that this approach has shown to work repeatedly. When or how this vicious cycle is broken is hard to tell. And until that point, India will never make the transition from a land of handouts to a land of opportunities.