(This is my first post for the Indian Shitizen – a welcome-for-all blog that discusses the good, the bad, and the ugly side of all of India shared on this common blog to understand our strengths and weaknesses and work on them. The idea originated with Jhoomur Bose who is the moderator of the Blogspot site (I am the moderator for the WordPress site) and we are trying to spread it. Please mail in your posts at email@example.com. For more details, click here)
A few years ago, when the prime minister of Singapore, having heard of India’s supremacy in the Information Technology sector, came to India, he had this to say (roughly): “Nowhere in the world have I ever seen such a striking disparity in the potential of the people and the infrastructure of the country”. A friend of mine narrated that story years ago; and of late – when I generally can’t even remember the name of the last movie I’ve seen, and there have been a few hundred Bolly and Hollywood movies – I have not forgotten that statement. Now you don’t have to go through a whole lot of studies to prove that.
Just look around you: Your daily life starts with no electricity at home. You either have a smoke-coughing generator or an inverter or an illegal line drawing power from somewhere you are not supposed to. On the road, you see auto-wallahs driving with no regard for anyone else. You too resort to driving zigzag just to keep up with the anarchy. You wonder how the guy before you managed a license to drive. You then smile at your naivet; of course he got it the way you got yours. A few green bills and you didn’t even have to go to the RTO.
While you criss-cross through the daily traffic maze, a cop pulls you over. You have been riding your motorcycle on the footpath… And your amazement knows no bounds. You feel like Sanjay Dutt: Trying to tell the cop, “I was just doing what everyone else does. How come I am the only one who gets caught?” The cop is impervious to your logic till you remind him of Mahatma Gandhi: On the face of a Rs 500 bill. Long Live India; he will also oblige you with a few tips on any other “checkposts” so that you can keep some of your Gandhigiri in your pocket.
At the next traffic signal, you come across a billboard showing the Prime Minister urging the youth of the country to come forward and do your nation proud. Do the nation proud? I would feel proud enough if I can make it to office on time today without another thulla stopping me.
The point being: You and I were optimistic about our country once but somewhere down the line the fight for Our Daily Life became so monstrous that fighting for our nation started to be more of a fantasy.
I want to talk about a fascinating concept I read in the book Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell: the Theory of Broken Windows. In the words of the author, “If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a signal that anything goes (or the ubiquitous Chalta Hai, in local parlance). In a city, relatively minor problems like graffiti, public disorder, and aggressive panhandling are all invitations to more serious crimes.” While the author talks about this in the context of New York City crime in the 1990s, I can see it perfectly applicable in our case.
This “no one cares attitude” is our broken window. Like ANY Government Office, since that is where most of the frustration is directed.
How to spot a Government Office
The first thing you notice are the dirty stairwells stinking with ammonia levels approximately that of public urinals, if not higher. Paan spit uniformly paints the wall in what looks like a deliberate attempt at decorating with a weird kind of modern art. Broken furniture greets you; unkempt walls stare at you with graffiti asking you to “Chalo Ayodhya” or get a cure for your “Gupt Rog”. Pamphlets of coaching classes would have clearly hidden any board with printed directions for the common man on How To Proceed. Babus sitting behind piles of files sipping away at their tea, chatting with other babus or agents who are the only people authorized by the Babus to get your work done, for a commission, of course. Even with an agent, when you finally get across to one babu, he would ultimately decide that you need the signature of Pandey ji across the hall before he can work on it – just a euphemistic way of saying that Pandey ji also has to buy sweets for his kids. The common man, having made no sense of the affairs of that office, ultimately gives in to the agents-babu nexus to get the work done as also to get the hell-out-of-that government office.
Now, you could threaten the babu with legal action against bribery or even launch a stealth camera thing but chances are he won’t even as-much-as-flinch. His rationale: When the government cannot even keep the street dogs from shitting anywhere in the office, when they can’t keep anyone from spitting on any wall, when they can’t display proper directions for a common man about the pyramid structure of the office describing who can be approached in case of any dissatisfaction with a lower level babu, how in the world are they going to take action against him?
It dawns upon you that the dirty office is probably meant to drive home the point that over here, sab chalta hai (anything goes) aur kisi ko farak nahin padta (and no one gives a damn).
PS: The original post by me had more on the lines of “let’s do something”. That has been deliberately held back by J Bo our Blogspot moderator and the person who started this idea, so I have cut that portion out of wordpress as well. She has requested me to have patience, have trust. We should know her intentions. Pretty soon.