A newspaper report today said that there are over a billion undernourished people in the world. This means that roughly every sixth human being on this planet does not have enough to eat. And about a third of these people are from India. India – where there are more than 500 million mobile phone connections. Combining these two pieces of information we can roughly say that one in every five Indians is likely to be having a mobile phone, though he may not be able to afford two square meals a day. This country, just like its people, is a painful juxtaposition of many such contradictions.
I spent yesterday evening at a five-star heritage hotel sipping some fine scotch in a beautiful garden listening to a famous singer sing some sufi songs about the oneness of God and the bliss of complete surrender. There was also a whole family begging for its next meal at the traffic signal outside the hotel. I live in a city which is called the Silicon Valley of India. I come from a state which is among the least developed in the country where most of the kids never get to appear for their high school exams. The India that shines is visible to all. It is talked about in newspapers, written about in books and shown in movies. This India is truly shining. It has a fire that gives it its glow. We all see the glow, we all talk about the fire but when it comes to the fuel that powers this fire, we are reluctant to acknowledge - almost dismissive and embarrassed to admit its existence. This fuel is what provides India (the shining one), with its manpower in the form of skilled and unskilled labor to write computer software as well as to harvest potatoes, with its farmers and masons to cultivate fields and build IT parks and domestic helps for its too-busy-to-clean-their-own-home executives and housewives.
There is a huge geographic distance between these two Indias. And the distance between their developmental statuses is, well, of years and decades though it could as well be of light-years except for the fact that they both exist on the same planet. So, as they said in the opening sequence of Star Wars, “In a galaxy far, far away”, there exists another India. An India where you can still see Rajdoot motorcycles, discover what a real gulab-jamun tastes like, where women can look devastatingly beautiful in a simple salwar-kameez and where there are countless love stories that started and ended without the couple ever so much as holding each other’s hands. This is the India that lives in the small-towns. This is the lesser India that was failed by its richer brothers. This is the India that was denied what it rightfully deserved but was too humble to demand – an acknowledgement.
Among other things that the government and the electorate – and by electorate I mean the people who actually vote - has refused to see in this India, is the amazing growth opportunity. They saw the muck. They knew it’s a pain to clean it, but they failed to see what lay hidden under it. The business opportunities in each and every sector, the market for cheaper technologies and availability of resources are just too exciting for anyone to ignore, provided they take a first look. These markets are just opening up now and anyone who has the foresight to tap into this movement is bound to reap benefits way beyond one’s wildest imaginations. This India does not need philanthropists or their charity. It does not need Smart Alecs who borrow twenty thousand rupees from their dads, open a company in their garage with a bunch of friends and soon become millionaires through some smart internet idea and viral marketing. It needs real visionaries. It needs people who have the vision to see beyond the obvious problems, the belly to take strong challenges and bring about a mass movement. And it is more than willing to lap it all up. The resident youth of this India is just waiting for one such movement. Unlike the youth in their parents’ times which saw the fall from being the cultural and intellectual heart of India to being referred to as the “sandaas” (cesspool) of India so suddenly that they simply did not know what to do, this youth has seen the difference all his life. He has lived his whole life bearing the insult, beatings, prejudices and ruthless jokes and now he has had enough. He needs the same amount of recognition that the rest of his generation get because, time and again, he has proved that given the right opportunities, he is just as capable as anyone else. It is about time that the society looked at the small-town India as the new India - the diamond that is still uncut - and saw that it’s in its own interest to develop it – for India to really shine.