Saturday, September 08, 2007

Boom, Boom..Nay..its a Boon

I would like to believe that it was more than just coincidence that all my schooling happened during pre-liberalisation days and just as I, standing on the threshold of my pre-university days, was learning to shed the rawness and crudity that was hallmark of school days, learning to upgrade schoolish approach of looking at things and beginning to feel the need to develop ‘attitude’, India embarked on her LPG (Liberalization,Privatisation and Globalisation) journey, after her best pal USSR got a prefix- ‘erstwhile’. Just like me, she had, in a way, no other option but to unshackle herself and open the windows and doors for the winds of changes and make all efforts to strengthen herself so as not to get blown away. I had to leave behind the gay (yes, the word meant just being happy in those days), completely sheltered and privileged, pampered and protected life of a school student and get on with the relatively unanchored style of college life. Just as I was understanding the meaning and the opportunities that a college life offered in all its myriad shades, my country understood the limitless things that could be achieved for a better tomorrow by arranging few little things in a different way. I think the similarity ends here.
I think it was in the late 1990s that India for the first time in her history was moving almost on the same plane along with the rest of the world as far as technology was concerned. While dumping her prudish mind-set and fixation about ideologies India realized the significant role she could play in the international sphere in the changed circumstances. India was often ridiculed as the country in Slow Motion, but as she was slowly Unbound she wanted to move in Top Gear as one of my friends long back suggested. After the onset of India’s second defining moment after Independence, as the changes started to take deep roots, India’s old problems, on the priority scale did a downward trip. The problems which till yesterday were causing sleepless nights to the policymakers suddenly appeared to be blessings in disguise. I think population explosion was one such problem.
One of the oft cited reasons for India being in the league of underdeveloped nations-of course, she always called herself a developing country, technically the difference between the two I believe was just a matter of opinion- was the population explosion that had happened post-independence. The textbooks cited how the poor with no other option of entertainment were responsible for the boom. And how the population explosion was nullifying whatever economic growth and progress the country managed to achieve. And how the boom was exercising pressure on the limited resources. The total population of the country in 1951 was somewhere around 356 million, it rose to around 684 million in 1981 and within a span of 20 years it had crossed the 1 billion mark. I think, India had been the second most populous country since 1951, but after 1970s she was trying to race ahead of the most populous country China, which accounted for nearly 23 % of total world population. So the thrust was on containing this explosion. Through out my high-school period and also few years later, no stone was left unturned by those at the helm of affairs to drive home the point about the importance of small family. The mass media constantly bombarded hapless citizens about the innumerable problems created by population explosion. We were ‘informed’ with graphical depictions of the perils that could possibly result in complete destruction, if the population continued to grow at the present rate. It was often described as the hydra headed monster!!
But somewhere during 1993 or 94 something snapped and the population was no longer a monster. The multi-pronged strategy to address population problem became less multi-pronged. The mass-media no longer repeatedly told us about ‘hum do aur hamare ek’. The hoardings with that red triangle and the caricature of a happy family with that idiotic smile slowly disappeared from the city’s roads. The public walls that were decorated with red triangles started carrying different messages from importance of education to dangers of unprotected sex (1).
By the time I entered my PG, population problem had altogether acquired a new meaning. The growing population had ‘become’ part of the human resources. The only problem was that they were of poor quality. So the predicament was not exactly the numbers but the poor quality of them. You improve their quality they will become your assets, was the idea. I think, at the same time somebody in USA must have realized that these masses were not just masses but masses with some purchasing power. Nearly 600 million who constituted India’s middle class was more than the total population of US. So the huge population provided a win-win situation for both. We could heave a sigh of relief because it was no longer a ‘hydra headed monster’ and for them it was a huge market.
India’s share in the total world population now stands at 16%. Every sixth person in the world today is an Indian. We have spread wide and across the world. We have like parthenium plants multiplied ourselves wherever we have settled. Every now and then when we hear an Indian getting elected as head of State in some small island country, we rejoice. (2) Our already bloated ego gets another boost. Whenever there are racial attacks in some other country, we squirm in agitation. It is not a nice feeling to know that you are part of the unwanted majority. Numbers does not always offer a solace. Sigh.

Disclaimer: This is not based on any research. This is just a way of looking at the changes that has transformed us in a big way. The numbers in the post are given from memory.
(1) There was this hoarding about unprotected sex which said (i am translating it here) : Unprotected Sex with Unknown persons is an Invitation to Death. So my cousin had a take on this: okay, Unprotected Sex with Unknown is an Invitation to Death but with Known persons?? :-) Fortunately, they removed it after some time. It was a joke. It goes on to show the how callously things are done some times.
(2) Just think about it. Are we capable of letting the same happen here? I mean is it possible for us to accept if a foreigner gets elected to the high post? No, we wont, right. The question whether we don’t have somebody worthy from our own land is asked. Let alone that, I don’t see a chance for a Tamilian becoming Chief Minister of my state. Heads will roll, there will be bloodshed. Can West Bengal accept a non-bengali as its CM? Oh, how many times I have rued the influx of North Indians to Bangalore, which is changing the face of the city beyond recognition. What does it say about us? that hypocrisy is in our genes?

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