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2009 December Archive at Next India - Citizens' blog to promote transparency and accountability in Indian governance

Archive for December, 2009

East vs. West

The prime difference between cultures of East (most of Asia) & West (most of Caucasia) is how the age is viewed & treated.

East respects its elders as a fundamental cultural axiom. This deep inculcation extrapolates to valuing traditions & finding solace in ancient glories, real or imagined. Myth & history merge. Bottomline is that a skewed focus on past dominates and even the current or future is interpreted in a framework of bygone references.

West, in contrast, is forward looking. Rather than simply hand down the cultural baton from one  generation to next, it expects each generation to renew its culture whether in arts, technology, lifestyle &/or sciences.

Western culture thus is always work in progress. That makes it unstable & tumultuous but keeps it fresh & alive. East, in contrast, may stagnate. River roars while the lake is calm & serene. The difference is between flow & relative stillness. 

Cultures get passed on via parenting. When the teenager rebels, East tends to induce conformity by labelling the act as disrespectful. West may get worried that the child might be a wimp if upon attaining adolsecence he/she does not challenge authority. In such a case, the child is goaded to assert, to not be afraid to throw his best punch even if that invites a harder blow in return.

In East, children are provided a secure, warm, comforting environment right at the onset.  West does not mollycoddle as much and lets the child experience his aloneness & bears the discomfort of the child’s initial pain that is thus caused.

My brevity is due to non-interactivity on this blog…I could go on…the reason this subject is important is because it has a major impact on the nature of leadership that a society produces.

The simple fact is that in the past 500 years, almost all that can be bracketed under “progress” has been created / invented / discovered by West. East consoles itself  by digging out what its societies did thousands years ago.

We have had a long run of being mere spectators in a world that is not being created by us. To turn the tide, we got to look ahead. To prepare generations that could do so, we ought to shift focus from past to future. From old to young. From ancestors to inheritors. And it all starts with how we rear our offspring.

More, should you comment….

Are we a Just society…rather Can we be a Just society?

Prima facie, India has a strong independent judiciary. In practice, getting justice is rare. Conviction rate is low. Procedures outweigh the objectives. The system is convoluted & defies principles of natural justice. One would think it is quantum physics the way it is counter-intuitive and against common sense. We all know of lakhs of undertrials in prisons for periods much longer than the maximum sentence for the laws that they allegedly violated. We all know ‘open & shut’ cases which take eons with shifting goal posts with ever evolving theories. Then again there are relatively simple crimes that never get cracked and no one is ever held responsible.

There are so many cases that never will be concluded in one’s lifetime. By the time they do, it hardly matters. Deed is done, damage is done. Time heals and people reconcile. How’s that any different than the total absence of any judicial system? Prime purpose of the system ought to be deterrence by escalating the costs of crime. For that Justice ought to be Swift, Sure and Seen & not forgotten as is the case in our nation more often than not.

With all of our intellectual prowess, we cannot get simple things like rent act in place. Who is responsible for this? Do we need a law minister to come out with gems like “shady character should not become judges”. We all know the “shoulds”-what is needed is to devise systems to ensure that they happen rather than muse over them as wishful thinking.

Laws are broken with impunity all around us and none of us know what to do? Who to report to? The beat constable neither knows the laws nor is empowered to “challan” or arrest. He is mostly a meek figure amenable to bribes rather than an officer who can challenge or chase a criminal. Chor Sipahi game that we all play as kids would be hilarious were it to reflect realty?

We have laws against dowry, child marriages, child labour, corruption & what not…and politicians cite them as evidence that such ills do not exist in the society while the law enforcement is almost nil. The science of evidence gathering as practised is dismal, crime scenes are treated as a show with hordes of onlookers & dozens of cops lounging around without a clue as to what to do.

Effective law formulation, enforcement & speedy justice are basic building blocks of a society. We are not even at 101. Naxals, Maos & such movements are a natural outcome of an unjust society. It is mere vanity which makes us aspire for a permanent seat on UN Security Council, worthy of it, as a nation, we are not, although as individuals, our contribution to world bodies are significant.

I had a long interchange with an American colleague, both of us in International sales & thereby travelling the world, who wondered why Indians do so well outside India and not in India. He concluded that the reason is laissez faire, rahter lack of it in India. As an ambassador, I defended my country. My argument was when india was born in 1947, it inherited a large populace that was very poor & disadvantaged. To throw them to wolves would be genocide. Just like as parents, we protect our children till they can be on their own, India needed to be socialist in early years and shall gradually move towards the capitalist end of the spectrum as its population becomes strong & competitive.

Regretfully, it was evident even in early 80s that India couldnot carry all its people, it might as well have thrown them to the vagaries of a dog eat dog world in its earliest years  rather than create a hugely expensive pretence of a just society. I wrote in a publication in ‘89 that while China may kill its own people, India forces its people to kill themselves or simply let them wither away to die. China gets outrage & India pity + charity. The difference is in what crave as a nation from the world community. Affiliation or respect? Approval or hate? The tone for India was set by its first PM Nehru. His own psychology shaped the persona of the country.

So Can we be a Just society?? I await some comments before I expound.

P.S. I am surprised no one has proposed a single alternative to Taj Mahal as an icon of excellence. In ~500 years India has not created anything that can compete with Taj. Surely not. ….Or is it?

ICT in Development

Interesting dissertation on the topic from Dipinder.

Aesthetics & Excellence

All of the metro cities of India were built by ‘foreigners’. We native Indians upon attaining their charge ended up messing up each one of them. One hardly needs to expound on this as perhaps every reader lives in one of these high priced urban jungles characterised by incessant assault on senses, gridlocks, pollution, crime and a glaring lack of aesthetics. Portuguese Bombay, British Delhi, French Pondicherry are distinctive & highly prized while North Mumbai is hardly any different from any other crowded, dirty town of india with the ugly shutters and grimy dust lined main streets. The so called Silicon valley of India was already bursting on its seams in early 90s and yet we kept on founding new businesses in there. The original Silicon valley would be justified in suing for defamation.

At a talk at REC Kurukshetra, I pointed out that one reason South Mumbai has retained a bit of liveability is because the 3 wheeler auto-rickshaws are banned there. At the same forum, an industry colleague in his talk on pursuit of excellence used “taj” as an icon of excellence 27 times in an hour. As the next speaker, I abandoned my prepared talk on “Moving up the value chain” and instead challenged the ~400 members of the audience to collectively come up with alternative icons of excellence other than Taj. We struggled but could not come up with anything that could be credited to post colonial india. Perhaps, the reader of this post could respond with some ideas.

Once again, I shall stop here & wait for interactivity on the subject

Why Indian Software & not Hardware

At an India – US Business Alliance, Santa Clara, US, I was invited to speak on “Future of Software in India”. That led me to think of history of software in India and I realised that India has always been good in software. Much before computers were invented. Software in a larger sense. Not just bits & bytes. Rather thoughts & insights. Creations of mind rather than creation of hand. India continues to excel in software as in literature, cinema, ads, designs, programming in any media and last but perhaps most important spiritualism.

If one would to guestimate the combined valuations of “wealth creation” by Osho, Chinmayanand, Sri Ravishankar, Mahesh Yogi, Krishnamurthy, et al; I wager, it would be manifold of the cumulative “software exports” from india.

Why India always exceled in mind work and performed poorly at hand work?

I think the reason is two fold. First the climate. Though India has all the seasons, by & large, the characteristic weather is “hot”. Focus on the genesis of Indian civilization. It originated by the banks of the rivers in highly fertile plains. It was easy to be agrarian. Throw the seed, rest & enjoy the fruits in time. By & large the weather was pleasant, hot & hotter. A cold harsh weather would have induced physical activity to generate ‘heat’.  To build shelters. To hunt for clothing. For our ancestors, the weather was conducive to relax under shade of a tree to muse & meditate.

Second reason, perhaps an offspring of the first, was & is the caste system. The highest status was accorded to the “mind” work and lowest to the “hand” work  and this continues till date. We are incilned to outsource manual work to an abundance of cheap labour. By & large, we aspire to be “Brahmins”. The learned. No dignity can be found in labour.

Contrast this with the way Japan, Korea & China harnessed labour to become manufacturers to the world.

As the posts in NextIndia forum are perhaps not much read, I shall stop here. Please treat this post as a discussion. Hope to hear from you.