Atanu Dey On India's Development

Me Write Pretty Some Day

Time has come for a bit of stock-taking. I have been writing this web log for a while now and it is time to examine what motivates it and what justifies its existence. Until the motives are clearly understood, it is likely to be misunderstood, as some have done after a superficial reading of some items in this blog.

First, a tip of the hat to Rajesh Jain for insisting that I write a blog specifically dealing with Indian economic development and growth. I already had a personal blog Life is a Random Draw at UC Berkeley; but this one was to be more focused on issues economic and developmental. I have neglected my personal blog almost entirely since I moved from California to Mumbai in September of 2003 and started this blog. One of these days, once I get my act together, I will resume my personal blog.

While this blog has been moderately successful (it won the Best Indibloggies Award in 2005) and has a modest readership, I don’t believe that I have been successful in my objective. I will try to express my objective here. My basic objective is to provoke thought about India’s development and economic growth. That objective is motivated by my desire for India to progress materially and spiritually beyond where it is today. That immediately implies that I somehow do not approve of what India is. I see India as an extremely overpopulated desperately poor massively corrupt largely illiterate insanely over-regulated country of over a billion people. I use no commas in there to stress my belief that all those characteristics are not disjoint and are mutually dependent: overpopulation, poverty, corruption, illiteracy, insane regulations are inter-related and mutually reinforcing.

I cringe with distaste in having to describe the land of my ancestors in such unflattering terms. I wish it were otherwise. But how will it be otherwise? That is precisely what I am trying to understand: What should India be? The answer to that question is not immediately obvious as some may insist. We have to ponder that and have a reasonable answer to where our destination is before we start on our journey. And to properly plot our course, we have to have a reasonable idea of where we are to begin with.

Therefore the questions we need to grapple with are: Where are we? Why are we here? How did we get here? Next, where should we be going? Is there a reasonable chance that we can get there? If so, how should we get there? Only then should we begin the journey.

Why all this pondering and thinking, you may ask. Why not just do something? Because I take the Buddha’s admonition very seriously: First Do No Harm; Then Try To Do Good. Or, from a Zen perspective: Don’t Just Do Something; Sit There.

We need to understand something before we intervene. Otherwise we may make a bad situation worse. Or even make a perfectly good situation bad, as illustrated by one of my favorite sayings “Let me save you from drowning, said the monkey to the fish, and put it up on a tree.”

Akira Kurosawa recounted in one documentary on his life that when he was a small boy, his slightly older brother took him to see the death and destruction that occurred in wartime Tokyo. Akira could not bear to see the dead and wanted to turn away. His brother told him, “Akira, you must see this so that you can work towards preventing this sort of thing from happening.” (I am paraphrasing.) Akira later realized that his brother was probably more scared than he was and it was an act of courage on his brother’s part.

So my first objective is to look frankly and as dispassionately as I can at what India is today and then describe it as best as I can. Look, here is India with all its ills. We have to face that reality and acknowledge it without shying away. Only then we may be moved to say that we don’t like it and gather sufficient resolve “to break this sorry scheme and remold it closer to our hearts’ desire.”

To see what is wrong with India and write about it is not pretty. Me write pretty some day but I cannot yet. For me are denied the pleasures of writing how India is unbound for an adoring readership. Even if I wanted, I probably could not write in glowing terms how India is an IT superpower. I am not gifted with a golden pen that I will be able to describe how India is shining. And for that, I am run the risk of being labeled an “India-hater.”

In the next bit, I will justify my obsession with fully knowing and acknowledging what is wrong with India. Understanding the problem is the first step; the next is to figure out the genesis of the problem; the next is to eradicate the root cause of the problem. In the next bits I will give a brief outline of what I think the methodological error that are made in problem solving, which is that people try to mask symptoms instead of addressing the underlying causes.

Until then, goodnight, goodbye, and may your god go with you.

Post Script: Part 2 of “Me Write Pretty Some Day”

  • Navin

    Atanu,

    I just randomly browsed thru your personal blog and found this

    http://are.berkeley.edu/~atanu/blog/archives/000268.html

    Wonderfully inspiring.

  • Akash

    I think if we the Indian ppl want to achieve progress, we need to strike a balance between being so objective that we do nothing in the thralls of glum resignation, thinking this situation is beyond rapair, and being so jingoistically blind that we do not even see the rot. I think most Indians belong to either one or the other of these two sides. And before we proceed on our mission these attitudes need to be changed. Just my two pence. Thanks.

  • http://www.broadbandblog.in Dr Abhishek Puri

    Atanu,
    India of our dreams is gone sour. With marauding politicians and worse off Congress, I strongly believe that this is the root cause of problems. Over the number of years, Indians have been fed on diet of “secularism”, minority politics and spoon feeding at the cost of merit and of course the reservations.
    The worst off problem is the elites, in my opinion, who sit back from their ivory towers and would in all possibilty denounce this comment too.

    Frankly speaking, you write what I would write; I dont have time. Hence the “comments”.

    Dig more deeper, and your post here raises fundamental issues here. We as a nation have forgotten our Hindu roots; Hinduism in it’s pure manifest has lot to offer than anyone else. I know, I am opening a can of worms here; I am ready to defend my point of view. Till the time, India moves towards asserting it’s Hindu right, there is no way we can progress.

    On the hindsight, there is a lot made out of UPA and it’s antics. Mid Term Appraisal shows that UPA inherited growth at 8% +which has slid down to less than 6%. I dont believe in numbers that can be cooked up; frankly in the name of “rebuilding this country for the aam aadmi”, there is an open loot. Oh WTF, we have been looted before. Refer to the post on Monkeys.

  • Sanjay

    >We need to understand something before we intervene. Otherwise we may make a bad situation worse.

    Interventions can be illuminating and fruitful, probably much more than pure thinking. That’s why scientists run experiments. In most cases, thinking is a poor cousin of action, particularly when it comes to understanding complex systems. Action allows us to see how the system develops over time, first-hand. No amount of thinking can approximate the insights from such an experience. This is one of the primary motivations behind doing simulation studies, which are ‘toy’ models that enact situations, thereby helping track the complex interactions between different elements over time, something the human mind is not capable of doing.

    You can make a bad situation worse only if you are not willing to learn, change your ways, go back to the drawing board, and iterate. Anyone who has done any kind of implementation will tell you that there are no one-shot solutions, development involves constant learning-by-acting.

    The idea of action-as-pure-execution-of-thought is old hat, and not supported by evidence. Most modern pedagogical theories emphasise learning-by-doing over learning-by-rote, and these models are based on solid psychological (and increasingly neuroscience) data.

    Aside: Using Buddhism to justify pure contemplation is not a good idea, almost all models of “enacted and embodied cognition” are inspired by Buddhism. Look up The Embodied Mind by Varela, Thomson and Rosch.

  • http://tarunsblog.blogspot.com TTG

    >We need to understand something before we intervene. Otherwise we may make a bad situation worse.

    So…what did you understand? That things in India are mess? Ummm.. gee.. isn’t that something we already knew? Did you make any suggestions for improvement? Did you give even one word of encouragement? One flicker of hope for the generation of 20-somethings which is about to dominate the country demographically? Did you inspire them to change with your lovely analogy of seeing the dead bodies of tokyo? Did you tell them to look forward to the future? And that if they believe in a prosperous future they may go out and create one? Did you tell them what you thought the root causes of India’s troubles are? Did you give them even one concrete step on how to go about being able to allow the Great Atanu to write pretty someday? Did you inspire them with hope by saying that “India’s IT industry hasn’t even matured but it is already making headlines – imagine what the future could be like”? Or did you instead decide to denounce it, oh how grudgingly you must have pressed the buttons the keyboard, that too with the most flimsy evidence and anecdotes ever seen, so that if there is a young person in the crowd of Deeshaa sychophants, she or he can decide to absolutely give up hope on their home country, like you, and migrate to the West, to get a degree and come back and be able to pompusly denounce anybody who trys to improve their home country? Of course, you’ve already stated elsewhere that blogging can not change India, or anything. Thanks for the inspiration man. I really needed that. Now I feel ready and charged to go out there and fight the ills that bedevil my country, now that I have a western-educated academic telling me how much my country sucks, through his very unbiased, and objective eyes, which couldn’t possibly be viewing things through and American prism, or a Western Prism. Oh no, not at all. Thanks deeshaa.org, you’ve managed to re-affirm my faith in my country, because I know that the story you tell, is one of half-truths, without frames of reference, or any background, or even a remote understanding of history, or your origin country’s culture.

  • http://blogontheweb.com/navin Navin

    TTG,

    Thanks for voicing out your thoughts / concerns !!

    But let me take a shot at clarifying few things.

    you ask “so that if there is a young person in the crowd of Deeshaa sychophants, she or he can decide to absolutely give up hope on their home country”

    That young person needs to be cognizant of the reality. There are obvious problems and he ought to know that. Its his tenacity which decides to give up hope or not. HIDING the reality is tantamount to CHEATING ?

    Will India Shining campaign help India to automatically scale heights ?
    Don’t you believe in “critical analysis” ?

    I kinda feel sad when people are “foolishly patriotic”.

  • Sukumar Chatterjee

    Dear Atanu,

    Many thanks for your interesting articles. Some people may call you an India-hater. But they are just blind and selfish people. Please ignore them. One should never hide the truth. What sort of India we have created during the last 50 years? Yes, there may be some 20-30% of Indians who have now got more material wealth. But for the majority, unemployment and povery is the daily reality. They can not make use of private education, an array of sleek imported cars, or private healthcare facilities now available to the rich.

    What sort of development are we talking about and for whom ? We are indeed monkeys. We copy everything from the West. We have no brains to copy the good from them and reject the evils. I wonder where is India heading? We have now got the evils from both worlds: corruption from the East, lack of moral and ethical values from the West. We are going to be leader in both. I happened to watch a small part of a recent Hindi film. It contains more sex scenes than you will find in western films. Some state governments are now encouraging people to set up more alcohol shops to earn more revenue. All moral and ethical values are fast disappearing.

    We were poor, but at least we had some values. India gave birth to great people like Buddha, Vivekanada, Ramakrishna, Aurobindo……Now the rich in India only want to eat, drink, enjoy sex and be merry, while a large percentage of the population have no access to education or healthcare. These people are listening to wetern music being played in the Titanic, while the ship is sinking. These selfish Indians only want to hear the sucees stories – India is a superpower in IT, an Indian is now a Formula 1 racing driver. India is indeed shining for some. These selfish people will call you an India-hater because you expose the truth. They are least interested in facts and in the truth. But I know, like me you also love India. We want a change for the better and for the majority of the population, that’s why we criticise and tell the truth. There are many who enjoy reading your intelligent articles. Please keep on writting.
    Thanks and Best Regards,
    Sukumar

  • http://tarunsblog.blogspot.com TTG

    “That young person needs to be cognizant of the reality. There are obvious problems and he ought to know that.”

    1) Whose reality should he be cognizant of? The “India is fucked and hopeless” reality or the “Things are improving” reality? Who are you decide what that reality is, who made you the guardian?

    2)”There are obvious problems?” If the problems are obvious, then why do we need to keep harping on them? If a doctor keeps telling a sick patient he has cancer, is that helping to cure the cancer? Boy am I glad you’re not my doctor, that’s for sure.

    Sukumar, it’s nice to know you’re a monkey, but please don’t use that insult on my parents. For they are Indians too, and I’m pretty fucking sure they aren’t monkeys.

    So apparently more sex scenes in films is a sign of moral degradation. Who the hell made you the keeper of morals for India? You’re not my fucking father. If you don’t like what you see, don’t watch it. Believe it or not, it’s a free country. Second, legalising the sale of liquor is a good thing, and the fact that you think it’s bad clearly shows just how misinformed you are about the world – please read this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prohibition

    specifically the following lines:

    Over time, however, people drank illegally and money ended up in gangsters’ pockets. Gangsters would then bribe officials to ignore their illegal activities. The cost of enforcing prohibition laws thus increased. In some cases, the money likely ended up in corrupt Prohibition agencies.

    Does that sound familiar to you? Banning alchohol or restricting its sale too much is the stupidest thing anybody can ever do. You need stop living in your dream world where you expect everbody to be free of “vice”.

    “Now the rich in India only want to eat, drink, enjoy sex and be merry, while a large percentage of the population have no access to education or healthcare.”

    Wow eating, drinking, enjoying sex and being merry are crimes? So I take it that you are a supporter of the Taliban, most likely. This is the exact attitude that has brought the country to the ground. What is your fucking problem if rich people are enjoying themselves? Why don’t you just go and take care of those who aren’t rich, and mind your own bloddy business about the rich. Clearly this is all just bitterness talking – you are just jealous that you don’t have a piece of the pie – so instead of creating a bigger pie, you want to steal the existing one.. It is true, you are a monkey, who simply continues to ape the same rubbish that communists and socialists have been brainwashing the world with since Marx.

    “These selfish Indians only want to hear the sucees stories”
    Yes, that’s right. Because if things went your way, all we’d hear about is how we’re just a bunch of worthless monkeys. If you would like an address to the nearest Pakistani/US/Canadian/Timbuktu embassy let me know. Since I wouldn’t want you living with so many monkeys.

    “India is indeed shining for some” – So apparently since some people are actually doing well here, we should feel bitter about it, and also take away their success until each every single one of the 1 billion “monkeys” in this country are as successful. Wow, the communism is so deeply ingrained in your head, it’s amazing. And this is why our country lags behind.
    Because all of you fault the people, and not the system.

    “We want a change for the better and for the majority of the population, that’s why we criticise and tell the truth.”

    How is this change going to come about? By teaching us all that we’re monkeys, who can’t achieve a single decent thing in life? Is that supposed to motivate and mobilise the masses into action? I can promise you telling people to NOT strive for eating, drinking and enjoying sex will definitely NOT motivate them.

    “HEY MONKEYS – YOU SUCK. NOW GO DEVELOP YOUR COUNTRY, YOU BUNCH OF NO GOOD IDIOTS”

    Thanks for the encouragement Sukumar, I will try that on some Indians, and let you know what the result is.

  • http://imaginathon.blogspot.com Suhail

    Atanu,
    My 2 paise on your introspection:
    a) Try not to allow others define your identity/thoughts. (India-haters risk).
    b) I do not claim the expanse and world-view which you as an economist might have and rightly you will see things through that prism. But I think that there IS NO grand solution. No one swoosh of a magic wand, which will solve all problems of India (for that matter any country). No doubt all problems are related, povery, population, education, progress..etc..etc.. At the sametime they are disjointed at some levels, such that they can also be solved individually at micro-levels. There are umpteen no. of examples of people trying to bring in change in their own little sphere.
    All revolutions started with simple act of defiance. A Mangal Pandey refusing to chew bombskins. An old bespectacled bald lifting salt in his hands. The bangladeshi grameen bank, started with just one solution to provide easy credit to peasants, farmers. Even google started with a simple search. Eventually they all grow into BIG things which can bring about significant changes in our lives.

    Awaiting your followup post. Cheer up !
    (Somehow you sound morose in this post)

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  • CG

    This TTG guy is stupid. He is also mentally sick. TTG, you should consult a psychiatrist immediately.

  • http://www.wangonet.org Kwabena

    Atanu,

    “So my first objective is to look frankly and as dispassionately as I can at what India is today and then describe it as best as I can. Look, here is India with all its ills. We have to face that reality and acknowledge it without shying away. Only then we may be moved to say that we don’t like it and gather sufficient resolve “to break this sorry scheme and remold it closer to our hearts’ desire.”

    This is so well captured… I call this bridging the reality/ illusion gap and we suffer the same predicament in my part of the world…Africa, specifically Nigeria. This is the exact same process I have adopted in describing what needs to be done in order to bring about change.

    Greatt blog Atanu and I do plan to visit with you and Rajesh.

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