It’s been over two months now since my arrival here in Phoenix, and I am yet to see anything that can put me in a state of awe. Now, why should it be, anyways!? Because, isn’t America a dreamland where you find tall buildings, snazzy cars and ‘gori mems’, all unheard and unseen at home!?
This certainly was a view, unfounded or fed, but firmly entrenched in the minds of people who got a chance to travel abroad. And, to be fair, was also the case as someone from yore would vindicate. But I think this has ceased to be the case anymore. People now realize that all the above three listed are available in plenty at home and, often, are of a better quality, too.
Take for example the office campuses of companies like Infosys. The kind of infrastructure and architecture they present can easily outclass some of the heavy weights in the world. Marquee brands in the automobile sector like Jaguar have, courtesy Tata, become ‘desi’. Tata and other brands make India, perhaps the best small car market in the world. Indian ‘mems’ regardless of the color of their skin, have bagged more number of beauty crowns than any and are second only to Venezuela. And that’s just not all about us, which is the best part!
So has the American postcard got nothing to offer to excite us anymore? Well, it depends on what one is looking for in the postcard. Is it the visible and more palpable infrastructural development all around or is it the development in the societal mores – a kind of development which I would attribute to ‘soft’ infrastructure? While some may still be amazed by the former, it is, however, the latter which evokes larger interest and, here I would like to concede, has put me in a state of awe.
We, as a society back home, may have caught up, or are fast catching up, with acquiring the various amenities, which a developed world already has, but it is the ‘soft’ infrastructure that still keeps the society in the developed world way ahead of ours. And it is here that a lot of work needs to be done by us; since, on one hand we have shown remarkable growth in our economy but on the other, are definitely lagging behind in building a ‘social wealth’.
Social wealth resides in the consciousness of a society having bred on collective conscience that is responsive to the needs of all. It is a result of a gradual maturity of a society, which takes time to absorb the numerous advances man makes, and then assimilates them into its being. Therefore it is essential for any society to give itself sufficient time to grow and become mature – in other words, follow a natural curve of progression. Developing societies, which are in a haste to get up among others, would naturally tend to follow a far sharper curve which won’t allow them to assimilate the progress in a gradual way.
America got its independence way back in the second half of eighteenth century, and hence got more than two hundred years to settle down with the various advances its society was making. India, on the other hand, which was ruled for two hundred years and got her independence only six decades ago, finds herself with hardly any time to grow along with the changing times. And this is the reason why we as a society have so far been poor in accruing any social wealth.
Any invention that man makes goes through various stages in its lifetime before becoming obsolete – experimentation, exploitation and reconciliation. So any society witnessing any development needs to give itself time to allow that tool of progress to reconcile itself with the needs of the society. India came into existence amidst so much advancement that she was not able to reconcile the advances to suit her needs. She might still be in the exploitative phase of so many advancements while also at the same time trying to reckon with the rapidly changing times she is living in now.
Social wealth stems from ‘soft infrastructure’, which can be loosely described as facilities a society has at its disposal. But there is a difference. For example, there are ATMs all across the US and India. This comes under the head of ‘facility’. But ATMs that have their keypad numbers in Braille too would come under the head of ‘soft infrastructure’, which one easily finds in US and not in India. One not just finds such ATMs but also almost any other public facility in US made with enough thought for people who are differently abled. Doors have buttons next to them so that they can be operated by people on wheel chair. Buses are constructed in a special manner to aid wheel-chaired people to board and de-board easily. Traffic rules bestow the first right to pedestrians by not just asking any vehicle to stop if anyone is crossing but also by allowing the person to cross first and only then letting the vehicle to continue. Further the traffic lights have a mechanism to allow the pedestrians to change the signal so that they can cross the roads. These are but a few examples which are enough to suggest that the developed societies not only have made infrastructural advancements but are also sitting on a heap of social wealth.
While I would agree that that these societies were not having such measures in place from day one, but the fact that they do have them at least today should not take away any credit from them.
One might argue that the lack of social wealth can ever be attributed to the foreign rule India was under since, in a way India benefited from the British Raj in the sense that she had a foundation laid for her present growth courtesy the various elements of development that the Raj brought here albeit for its own facilitation. In other words, India didn’t need to reinvent the wheel and got a chance to start at an equal platform as others. But that’s the whole point – that India didn’t need to reinvent the wheel actually wasn't such a blessing in disguise as it led to an alienation of her from the evolution a human thought undergoes for any kind of development. The platform, which India got to rest her present day growth, was heavily doped with foreign thought. It hasn’t been an independent thought, or an experiment in self to determine the course to be taken for future. India continued, and continues, to leapfrog from one milestone of development to another without going through the journey that led to the development. The result is that we lap in the various inventions that man makes but stay untouched by the ‘necessity’ that led to the invention. Our base hence becomes an imported set of developments we land upon that in turn makes us good only as far as ‘application’ is concerned. We become good in applying things but not in inventing things. It is worthwhile to ask why almost all inventions and developments take place in the West and not here? Because they have had an uninterrupted chain of an evolving thought which is growing along with the progress that is being made. Ours is an interrupted and in a way a usurped thought because of the alien rule that we were subjected to. It would be a good academic exercise to ponder on the possibilities of an uninterrupted reign of the Indian society which wouldn’t have seen the rule of British Crown but rather the growth of its own civilization through its own trials and tribulations. We could have been a society with great social wealth with our own set of inventions and advancements as we would have allowed ourselves the luxury of progressing at our own pace. Our thoughts and advancements could have surpassed all others had we followed our own natural curve of progression. It is no secret that Indian science was way ahead of times and the Western world woke up to many ideas which had been invented here centuries ago. The fast disappearing language of Sanskrit is hailed, alas by the Western minds and not by us, as the only natural language best suited for Artificial Intelligence. Had these and many more chains of thought and ideas progressed uninterrupted we could have been a different society and may be an even better one than many others.
All said and done, however, nothing should stop us from becoming better and if we have been imbibing things from West, maybe we can imbibe some more to make ourselves richer in social wealth.