I read an article today by Samar Halarnkar today, called “Making Walking Easier”. The article is his reflection on his time here in the US, as a visiting professor and the stark differences that he sees between life in an Indian city and life here.
Being part of a Ph.D program where we discuss walkable neighborhoods and their impact on health almost daily, I have always been struck by the contrasts between the narrative in the US and in India. My mom who lives in India, and visits the UK often, has pointed out often, how sacred sidewalks are to the cities there as opposed to India. Even though my American and maybe Indian counterparts here in the US, love to point out the exclusionary tactics prevalent in Western society, but somewhere there is definitely a deep contrast between India and the US in that respect. In India it seems to me, we don’t even pretend to include.
Potholes, water stagnation, crowded and in most cases non-existent sidewalks are a norm in Indian cities. Empathy is a word that seems to have been largely forgotten.The roads are a dangerous mix of different kinds of vehicular traffic, with almost no crosswalks. The pedestrian, the infirm and the old alike somehow must navigate their way through this. I recently read “Locked into Place” by Vivek Chibber for a class. What I found fascinating about his comparison of the Korean post-war developmental policy and the Indian developmental policy after independence, was not so much the structural difference, but more the differences in implementation. It was not just that the capitalist firms with their personal agendas were able to collude with the politicians to change policy but that fact that there was almost no opposition from the masses, the middle-class.
Its been my personal experience that people you come across on a daily basis, the bus conductor, the librarian, the electricity repairman– they are all angry and frustrated. Almost no one is happy with the way things are. The lack of civic amenities irks all, however nothing seems to change. Inevitably all such discussion turns to the problems of population, dearth of money, lack of space and civic sense. These are all legitimate problems for our country but these are also veils we hide behind. The ‘making the most of what you are doled out’ attitude makes us resilient to a large extent but it also makes it possible for myopic self interest groups to triumph. We have a rich, long history that we must be proud of, we have achieved much since independence, that too we must acknowledge. Where we go from hereon forward is the question: do we demand and strive for more, or do we keep making the most of what we’ve been so ‘graciously’ granted?