Two Sides of The Same…Country

Two Sides of The Same…Country

Little over a decade ago, I had just learnt how to drive a car, and, sorry; I must learn to be specific. I had learnt to drive a car in India. Yes, here, it takes more effort, selfless commitment, definitely more skill, and sheer bravery to even just want to learn to drive a vehicle here, let alone actually drive.

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Not even attempting to give you an idea of what it takes, here’s a picture I took on a holiday in Rajasthan a few years ago.

That said, every once in a while, random scenarios would pop up in my head. About what if I was driving and ‘this’ happened, or, how would I react if someone on the street did ‘something like that’. It was probably a natural part of getting accustomed to the newly acquired skill and to getting used to how perspective changes when you are behind the wheel.

I remember one of the ‘possible scenarios’ was about who would be to blame. Say, if a vehicle was driving within the speed limit, and if it were to inadvertently hit someone who decided to dart across the street at the last second. It would give the driver almost no time to react. So could the driver be blamed for the fault of a reckless pedestrian? One who, well knowing the risks, still decided to test their luck? The answer came back a resonating, ‘no‘. The driver could not be blamed. I then reassured myself with the example of trains. Trains travel at specific speeds, and have considerably large stopping distances. So if someone decided to cross the track when a train was close, and got run over, it couldn’t possibly be the engine driver’s fault? Knowing well that crossing tracks is unsafe, and that crossing streets recklessly, equally so.

It all seemed fine. Till yesterday. Yesterday, a speeding train in the state of Bihar in North India, ran over 37 [yes, you read correctly; thirty-seven] pilgrims who were crossing the track at the time. It was tragic. And it was the fault of the pilgrims. But for those who of you who don’t know what followed, angry crowds nearby went on a rampage, setting the train on fire, and attacking and killing one of the engine drivers, leaving the other one in a critical condition. [the news article]

So my theories on ‘who’s to blame’ went out the window. India. A superpower. Among the most promising economies, is still incapable of identifying who’s at fault in something as obvious as this unfortunate incident. It also gives one a glimpse into who we are. Not who we are capable of being, but instead, of who we have stooped to become. Hopefully not for long though. Knowing risks, we’ll still expect the other person to take preventive measures, while we try to kiss a runaway train, while we try to break Border Collies speed records while crossing before speeding cars. Yes, that’s who we have somehow become.

However, and incidentally yesterday itself, there was a story that ended the day on a note of optimism. Bombay’s public bus transport service, the BEST, has been infamous for menacing drivers who break signals, who have run over pedestrians, and damaged vehicles as well. In my family itself, we have two to three horrifying incidents to narrate. Of how BEST’s impatient drivers have damaged our cars just because they were in a blind frenzy to zip through bus stops and go home.

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BEST_Bus_Mumbai

But last night was different. I was driving mom to the market to pick up some groceries. The road I was on, required me to take a right turn to get into the market lane. However, before I could take the turn, there were vehicles coming from the opposite side, and passing my car on my right side. I had to wait with the indicator on, as 5-6 cars whizzed past. A BEST bus was approaching too. While I could have quickly made the turn, knowing them well, I decided to wait for him and the few cars behind him to pass. However, to my complete surprise, he stopped the bus, and signaled for me to take the turn, while cars patiently waited behind him. Still confused, I made the turn, mom still wondering if that had actually happened. Thank you, Mr. BEST driver, for the pleasant surprise.!

Well, we all have it in us to change. We all have it in us to make a positive difference. It all comes down to us deciding to make that choice.

I’ll leave you to think about this, with a quote immortalized by Rocky Balboa in Rocky IV.

“If I can change, and you can change, everybody can change.”

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Aid or Trade?

Britain will soon be taking a call on the 280 mn Pound a year development aid it has been providing to India.

A bit about it: UK considers India to be a key strategic partner, and it also realized some years ago, that while India has been growing at a rapid pace, it still is home to one-third of the world’s people who live below $1.25 a day, and the average income is one-third of China’s. They also identified 8 states in India where 65% of India’s poor resided. Three of these states, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa became core focus states for UK’s Department for International Development (DfID).

Now, despite the economic crisis and slowdown that UK has been facing for several years now, it has been benevolent enough to offer an annual 280 mn Pound aid to India.

But are we Indians so ungrateful and unconcerned, through this period, and now when UK is re-assessing that aid (perhaps reduce it or pull it back altogether), we act like a bunch of stupid bums with our ridiculous comments:

When Pranab Mukherjee was Finance Minister, he had dismissed British aid calling it “peanuts”.

Today, P. Chidambaram says we did not need the aid.

Both he and Khurshid have been chanting things like “Aid is past, trade is future”.

Why the hell did we take it if we didn’t need it? And why show unnecessary attitude towards the UK in this regard? When initial discussions for the aid were taking place itself, we could have told the British minister heading DfID that we could take care of the finances for initiatives to those 8 of our Indian states ourselves, and that we perhaps could use their assistance with regards to ensuring that our finances have maximum benefit to those 8 of our states. We could have told the British that they could either focus those funds inward, towards benefiting their own economy, or perhaps towards countries much more in need of the aid, instead of us. But did we do any of that?

On one hand, we have a scam surfacing ever few weeks, which proves that there is sufficient and more funds to focus not only on 8 of our states, but on all 28 of them plus the 7 union territories, and yet have some funds for similar initiatives abroad, where we could offer aid to needy countries.

But we were, and perhaps will be, too busy filling our own pockets to bother.

Greed in itself is bad, but greed accompanied by this kind of ignorant arrogance, much worse.