Monday, August 08, 2005

The super-power of large towns

India, they say, is a rising super power. An economy which is precariously placed to eventually take a slot just after the mighty US of A in a matter of just four decades from now. Considering that it was in the shackles of a foreign power just about 60 years ago, this would be no mean achievement. You are just left to wonder if one century could make such a huge difference to a country. And if this dream would ever become true?

It has become a fashion these days to compare India's performance with "the-fastest-growing-economy" - our much respected - and envied - neighbour. The first thing, people say, you notice when you reach Shanghai is the pace of life. Coming back to our very own 'Shanghai-to-be' Mumbai too is an experience in itself, albeit of a contrasting kind. The traffic jams and clogged roads just seem to be a fatal arterial blockage obtructing traffic, business, and eventually lives of millions who commute through them.

A resident of the mighty 'Dilli' would be proud on reading this. Proud of their roads and now their very own 'metro rail'. But their joy gets transformed into gloom as soon as they reach their offices. What welcomes them daily is the omnipotent - and perhaps the most regular thing in the city - powercut. "What use reaching office early?", one gasps, "at least you could get some fresh air while you were on road".

The most dreaded Indian city for Americans is 'Bangalore' these days. The trend of jobs getting 'Bangalored' has now become a phenomenon. IT, the powerhouse of the resurgent India, is headquartered here. The weather is great. The infrastructure is non-existent. A typical example of growth-before-planning, this city exemplfies all the problems faced by any other big city in India. The number of people who go to office is growing while the width of roads has matured. And for good reason now, many big companies are either moving to the outer Bangalore or 'out of' Bangalore. While the state government fights with centre over petty issues on the infrastructure projects.

But put your brains together and try to go to the root of the problems and you will realise that, a change is happening. At the most this situation is more becuase of the growth happening inside the cities than the stagnation they face. True, they are the dirty showcases of an 'India Shining' but they are nevertheless the best we ever had. This is the first time over decades when the governments are learning to be service-oriented. This is the first time since independence that we sincerely realise that our cities are in virtual shambles and felt the need to rebuild them. The citizens now demand 'improvement' and in due time they may actually get it.

India is a democracy and a professed one at that. With all its divergent opinion making mechanisms, there are bound to be delays. We cannot compare India with the west simply because they prospered all the early modern age looting the likes of India. And on top of it, the early Socialist, Non-aligned policies did more harm than good to the infrastructure of the country. When, we finally had to open our economy, we were living on a rubble of an economy and cities.

Today, the citizens are gathering courage and a will to actually make a difference - themselves, if the government cannot. When did you hear of India refusing foreign aid in case of a natural calamity and actually sitting on the donors' table for a change? When did you hear a minority girl 'talking' her attitude on court? When did Indian companies felt the need to acquire majors in foreign land? And why does a city that gets back to work in exacly 24 hours after a huge bomb blast? A feat that even London could not accomplish. Sure, the spirit is of perseaverance. The will is to make a difference. And even the acts are getting together !!