8 December 2011


Its an interesting time to be alive.

Personally, I'm doing something that flies in the face of traditional thinking. There's all these cute films about NRIs coming back, and everyone talks about it, but no one actually does it. When you have an M.Phil. in Economics from Oxford, and a cushy job that most people would give an arm and a leg for in these times; when you live in the most multicultural and accepting city on earth, where you can walk down to the local market and get freshly ground coffee from Malawi, or authentic food from Ethiopia; when you have the right to live in a country where fundamental rights are guaranteed in practice, and where everything works; when you have a life that most people on earth cannot even dream of ... you don't just throw it all away ... especially not if new immigration policy will make it all but impossible for you to get it back.

But that's kind of what I'm doing.

For what? Chasing my dream? Perhaps. I don't even know if what I'm going back for is what I want to be doing for the rest of my life. Hell, I don't even know if it will give me any sense of happiness on a long term basis. I could be an economist for the rest of my life. It will always be a part of my life - I'm just going to try and figure out it its going to be the largest part of my life. What is it about acting that I enjoy? Is it the process, or the adulation? I don't know.

Is it even a question of what I'm good at, or what I want to do? Maybe the right question is how best to be of use to society. Am I of best use to society as an actor? Or as a thinker? Or as a consultant? Or an academic? Or a policy maker? Or will nothing matter in the end, and will no one remember me when I'm dead and gone? Is that it - that I have a deep seated craving to BE something, to DO something, to be in the limelight, and to be remembered? If I do, is it such a bad thing? Wouldn't the world be a better place if everyone wanted to do something to be remembered by (in a good way, of course)?

I like to think I'm brave, and not averse to taking risks. But deep down inside, I'm apprehensive. Of the unknown. Or of what happens if I find out that the grass isn't actually greener on the other side. I'm apprehensive about whether I have what it takes.

Anyway, I'm coming back. Maybe part of the reason is that I feel guilty for not doing my bit in contributing to the debates that will shape how my country of birth evolves going forward. India's given a lot to me. A sense of pride. Music. Discipline. Rigour. Jugaad. If there is a power up above, I'm thankful I was born in India. And I'm thankful that I grew up there. There's something about India that is irrepressible. That is ancient and futuristic at the same time. It's so full of life. It's so full of variety. It's ... EVERYTHING all at once.

As I said, its an interesting time to be alive.

There's a wonderful piece of work that an economic historian called Angus Maddison put together. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_regions_by_past_GDP_(PPP). The interesting thing is that until the industrial revolution, India and China were always the two largest countries on earth, economically. Then the industrial revolution happened, imperialism happened, and it all went away. Now, slowly, things are going back to the way they used to be.

Its this journey back that makes this an utterly fascinating time to be alive. India's building a modern nation. And it needs to build a nation that doesn't only give it's people a good standard of living, but it needs to build a nation that other nations will look up to because of its sheer size and economic power.

Of course, that's easier said than done. There's so, SO much that needs doing. And I want to be a part of all that doing.

We need to reform our political institutions. Honestly, I used to be a cynic. I used to think it would take ages. But its happening a lot quicker than I thought it would. The way the whole Anna Hazare thing happened was almost surreal. For the record, I don't like most of the things Hazare does one bit. It's the job of the elected representatives of the people to make law. I share the frustration that most people have with the fact that parliament rarely functions smoothly and efficiently, but surely the correct reaction to this should be to coax parliamentarians to do their job, rather than for one person (or group of people) to take it upon themselves to write law? The concept of democracy (imperfect as it may be) has been thought up as the best available mechanism for an entire population to have a say on how they should be governed. If people are not confident that their views are being properly represented, then the system needs to be fixed, not subverted.

Of course, politicians will indulge in efficient law making if they know that's what will get them re-elected. We need to become a society that ties votes to good performance. Where people don't vote for a candidate based on his caste, his surname or because 'uski kya mast puss-nal-tee hai yaar', but based on whether the candidate's views on how to run the country coincide with theirs. The one thing I liked about Anna Hazare was the time when the (very high quality debate) was taking place in parliament and he said something to the effect of listen to what they're saying, and vote them out if you don't agree with them. (Well, actually he might have said to vote people out if they didn't support the Jan Lokpal bill, but hey, that's why I don't like him.) We need to become more proactive as citizens. We need to become acquainted with our MP's views. We need to write to our local MPs and tell them what we think. We need to make them feel that paralysing the functioning of parliament is a sin punishable by being voted out.

In order to progress, we need our smartest people making policy. One look at Lok Sabha TV and you know that isn't the case. Another look at everyone who went to college with you, and you DEFINITELY know that isn't the case. We need to create an environment where becoming a politician is a lucrative career that our best minds aspire to. I look forward to the day when the creme de la creme of St. Stephen's College will aspire not just to investment banking in London, but to fighting local elections and making policy.

But of course, all of this isn't something that a mass movement of people can achieve. The tragedy of any developing or underdeveloped nation is that the systems in place are not efficient, and they incentivise sub-optimality. The biggest insight that any educated economist can have, in my opinion, is that PEOPLE RESPOND TO INCENTIVES. It is silly to suddenly expect young smart people to want to get into politics if it isn't lucrative. It is silly to expect people to acquire information about the opinions and views of their parliamentarians if that information is not readily available, or if they do not have the capacity to efficiently process it. It's a fairly simple catch-22 that all underdeveloped nations have - an inefficient system never gets changed because it doesn't give people enough incentive to critically evaluate it.

Developing nations have somehow found a way out of this vicious circle. There are spurts where things change, and then phases where you seem to regress. I want to be a part of this change. I want to be a part of the debate on what shape our national consciousness should take. I want democracy to function properly. I want to see the most intelligent people of the land sit in parliament and debate on legislation.

And that's just building a true democratic process. There's so much more that makes it an interesting time to be alive. How, for instance, we are in complete and utter danger of losing our culture, our music, our languages in a mad race for modernisation, which, sadly, too often gets confused with Westernisation. I've written in the past (http://saattvic.blogspot.com/2009/08/old-is-gold.html) about how it pains me no end to see that so many of my contemporaries are completely unaware of their heritage and culture, or simply reject it without giving it a fair trial. If there's one thing I've learnt from being in the UK, its that national heritage and culture need to be preserved, studied, analysed and understood.

Then there's that fundamental test that any nation worth its while must pass. One that India fails miserably at. It's the test of opportunity. Does my nation give every child born within its borders the opportunities necessary to realise its full potential? No. I'm lucky - I was born to intelligent and now well off parents who made sure I had the best education and had a free hand in deciding the course of my life. But if I wasn't so lucky, I might not have had a good education, and my career might have been shoved down my throat before I knew it. The state owes it to society to provide good quality primary education to everyone. In fact, I think I'll write an entire post just on education at some point. It needs it.

Yes, it's an interesting time to be alive. History's being made, people. Be a part of making it.


  1. I can moreover or less fall under the same spectrum of retrospection and disagreement with what actually we are going through in day today life in India. Having stayed in West for couple of years,I unprecedently will miss out certain comforts and privileges that I enjoyed in Sweden, but the opportunity cost of returning home with acquired knowledge and brain drain is a infinitive compromise and to get real insight of you and your country inherited is beyond comparison. I correlate to most of your concerns and I share the same feelings you have mentioned upon ancient culture, tradition, language and so on.

    I could see people's reactions towards social injustice like corruption, political immoralities and so on are overwhelming and one such attempt to showcase their dissatisfaction by taking part in Anna Hazare movement with the hope that something could change from the existing state, irrespective of righteousness to analysis good from bad.The end result being biased and subjective to ones own ideologies. There is no doubt of uncertainty about the future India,a strong thug of war between mixed amalgam of modernisation and fight for cultural survival. Only future carry the answer.

  2. the brave died along the way while the weak never started...