If you are Indian, or of Indian descent, I must preface this post with a clear warning: you are not going to like what I have to say. My criticisms may be very hard to stomach. But consider them as the hard words and loving advice of a good friend. Someone who is being honest with you and wants nothing from you.
These criticisms apply to all of India except Kerala and the places I did not visit, except that I have a feeling it applies to all of India.
Lastly, before anyone accuses me of Western Cultural Imperialism, let me say this: if this is what India and Indians want, then, who am I to tell them differently. Take what you like and leave the rest. In the end it doesn’t really matter, as I get the sense that Indians, at least many upper class Indians, don’t seem to care and the lower classes just don’t know any better, what with Indian culture being so intense and pervasive on the sub-continent. But, here goes, nonetheless.
India is a mess. It’s that simple, but it’s also quite complicated. I’ll start with what I think are Indias’ four major problems – the four most preventing India from becoming a developing nation – and then move to some of the ancillary ones.
First: Pollution. In my opinion the filth, squalor and all around pollution, indicates a marked lack of respect for India by Indians. I don’t know how cultural the filth is, but it’s really beyond anything I have ever encountered. At times the smells, trash, refuse and excrement are like a garbage dump.
Right next door to the Taj Mahal was a pile of trash that smelled so bad, was so foul as to almost ruin the entire Taj experience. Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai to a lesser degree, were so very polluted as to make me physically ill. Sinus infections, ear infection, bowels churning was an all too common experience in India. Dung, be it goat, cow or human fecal matter, was common on the streets. In major tourist areas filth was everywhere, littering the sidewalks, the roadways, you name it. Toilets in the middle of the road, men urinating and defecating anywhere, in broad daylight.
Whole villages are plastic bag wastelands. Roadsides are choked by it. Air quality that can hardly be called quality. Far too much coal and far to few unleaded vehicles on the road. The measure should be how dangerous the air is for ones’ health, not how good it is. People casually throw trash in the streets, on the roads.
The only two cities that could be considered sanitary, in my journey, were Trivandrum – the capital of Kerala – and Calicut. I don’t know why this is, but I can assure you that, at some point, this pollution will cut into Indi
s’ productivity, if it already hasn’t. The pollution will hobble Indies’ growth path, if that indeed is what the country wants. (Which I personally doubt, as India is far too conservative a country, in the small ‘c’ sense.)
The second issue, infrastructure, can be divided into four subcategories: Roads, Rails, Ports and the Electric Grid. The Electric Grid is a joke. Load shedding is all too common, everywhere in India. Wide swathes of the country spend much of the day without the electricity they actually pay for. Without regular electricity, productivity, again, falls.
The Ports are a joke. Antiquated, out of date, hardly even appropriate for the mechanized world of container ports, more in line with the days of long shore men and the like.
Roads are an equal disaster. I only saw one elevated highway that would be considered decent in Thailand, much less Western Europe or America and I covered fully two-thirds of the country during my visit. There are so few dual carriage-way roads as to be laughable. There are no traffic laws to speak of and, if there are, they are rarely obeyed, much less enforced (another sideline is police corruption). A drive that should take an hour takes three. A drive that should take three takes nine. The buses are at least thirty years old, if not older and, generally, in poor mechanical repair, belching clouds of poisonous smoke and fumes. The rich still have their servants, the lower castes are still there to do the dirty work and so the country remains in stasis. It’s a shame. Indians and India have many wonderful things to offer the world, but I’m far from sanguine that India will amount to much in my lifetime.