Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The 400-crore yacht, among other things - Part 2/5

The ever-lengthening bridge
The contrast was, as it always is but only when we care to look at it closely enough, spellbinding. While NDTV India's Zaika India Ka had Vinod Dua roaming around and sampling the local cuisines of the remote streets of Maharashtra's Konkan coastal region, the news that was flashing on our screens was the 400-crore gift that Anil Ambani has given his wife Tina. A bit of research revealed that this is the latest form of sibling rivalry - "Mr. Big" answering his industrialist brother, who gifted his wife Nita (note the coincidental anagrams) a 250-crore private jet. Congratulations on your mighty efforts, sirs.

The brothers, along with a handful of other people and industrial groups, represent everything that is shining about our country. Then again, this "shine" is confined to certain pockets in no more than the Big Six cities. I don't know how many of you are from or have spent considerable amounts of time outside the Big Six, so I'll just talk about myself here. Till the time I turned 14, vacations every year meant a trip to Patna. And though my age didn't stop me from realizing that it was a much smaller place than Delhi, the fact is I was really young, and also hardly had any reason to step out of the house and roam around. Of course, after that my maternal grandparents shifted to Calcutta and that was the end of my yearly visits to the capital of Bihar.

Now, I love travelling in general, and travelling by trains in particular. And I've travelled quite a lot, but haven't really experienced life in the small towns. But observing closely gives me quite an accurate picture of the ground realities. That, and the fact that due to certain quizzes, I happened to be first in Nasik and then in Anand (in case you don't know, the home of Operation Flood and Amul), and subsequently in Baroda. These are the places that occupy the middle rungs of the social ladder. They are nowhere near a Delhi or a Bombay, but are better off than the vast stretches of our lands where Reliance or Idea might have reached, but landlines have not; where only the richest farmers with sizeable holdings can afford that elusive solitary lightbulb which provides the only other glow in the wilderness, other than the headlight of a dusty old two-wheeler belonging to who is possibly the only person from that locality to have ever been to a big town or city.

I can keep romanticizing about real India - I feel I'm in that phase, and I sincerely hope it doesn't desert me. I feel wiser than I was a few years back. How wise I am not sure, but I was definitely very naive back when the whole "India Shining" campaign was launched by the people in power at the Centre, and whole-heartedly endorsed by the industry and the media, and predictably, therefore, urban India. In the firm grasp of the "feel good" factor, I refused to acknowledge my dad's remarks about real India. Come to think of it, I rarely ever acknowledge what dad, who has travelled to the most remote areas and troubled hotspots over the past five decades and is by far the most knowledgeable person I know, says. Anyway, I have a much less hazy perception of real India now.

(to be continued)

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