Thinking out loud

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Suketu Mehta speaks...

I have begun reading Maximum City by Suketu Mehta. So far it is strangely depressing. You almost feel like the city (Bombay) is engulfing you. With the rains not having ceased for the last several days and being stuck in my room, the feeling's much worse. However, there is something which is very cliche but which he says very well. I thought I'd put it down...

Long before the millennium, Indians such as the late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi were talking about taking the country into the twenty-first century, as if the twentieth century could just be leapfrogged. India desires modernity; it desires computers, information technology, neural networks, video on demand. But there is no guarantee of a constant supply of electricity in most places in the country. In this, as in every other area, the country is convinced it can pole-vault over the basics: develop world-class computer and management institutes without achieving basic literacy; provide advanced cardiac surgery and diagnostic imaging while the most easily avoidable childhood diseases run rampant; sell washing machines that depend on a non-existent water supply from shops that are dark most hours of the day because of power cuts; support a dozen private and public companies offering mobile phone services, while the basic land telephone network is in terrible shape; drive scores of new cars that go from 0 to 60 in ten seconds without any roads where they might do this without killing everything inside and out, man and beast.

It is an optimistic view of technological progress - that is you reach for the moon, you will somehow, automatically, span the inconvenient steps in between. Inda has the third-largest pool of technical labour in the world, but a third of its one billion people can't read or write. An Indian scientist can design a supercomputer, but it won't work because the junior technician cannot maintain it properly. The country produces some of the best technical brains in the world but neglects to teach my plumber how to fix a toilet so it stays fixed. It is still a Brahmin-oriented system of education; those who work with their hands have to learn for themselves. Education has to do with reading and writing, with abstractions, with higher thought."

Slightly exaggerated in my opinion, but on the dot. I hope its not all gloomy later in the book. I don't want to lose hope on India even before I try to do something myself.


  • I've read as much in a review - that it brings out the extremes of the city - the Maximum in Maximum City.

    You may disagree with the opinions, and that's a different thing, but maybe the book is depressing because it reminds us of things we'd rather forget?

    By Blogger Kartik Vaddadi, at 11:43 AM  

  • I'd rather not forget anything about this country. Its just depressing to be told again and again about it. The only reason I read such things and the only good that comes out of such frank expression of opinion is the increasing clarity I get of India's many problems. I have said before in other posts that India is too large a country for one man to understand, let alone for one man to fix. If reading such literature helps me understand my country better, I'd do it. That said, reading such things cannot be but depressing whether you want to know more or you want to forget.

    By Blogger Parijat, at 12:24 PM  

  • so jaa

    By Blogger Harsh Jain, at 2:53 PM  

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