India Express

I had been frequenting libraries across England for more than three years. I had visited many libraries in London and South West. I may write about the collection and the maintenance of these libraries separately. This piece is about a book India. Reading about Indian history and analysis has been one of my favourite passions. Especially by the westerners. Call it neo-colonialism or whatever, it is curious to learn their perspectives. Political commentary combined with travelogue, both my favourite genres.
It is with this delight that I devoured all these books. Whilst browsing these sections, I noticed a pattern emerging: these books are kept in Asian History or South Asian Politics sections, and this meant books about both Pakistan and India shared the shelves. The books on Pakistan are titled A Hard Country, Beyond ‘The Crisis State’, Children of Dust, etc. The books on India are titled India Express, The Future of the New Superpower, In Spite of the Gods – The Strange Rise of Modern India, Geek Nation, Unending Journey, etc. However hard I try, a small chauvinist inside me feels unashamedly proud. I know that, despite the lofty title, the moment I open these books on India, the writers will start waxing eloquent about our slums, lawlessness and the stark contrasts between the rich and poor.
Reading Daniel Lak is no different. Yes, India Express – The Future of the New Superpower, is about India’s economic rise, democratic strength, the tenacity of its people and the power of education. However, in these pages, he too waxes eloquent about Mumbai’s filthy slums, badlands of Bihar, and the stark contrasts of Bangalore’s Electronic city buildings adjacent to its slums. Interestingly enough, his views are not that of dejected foreigner showcasing the deprivations. To Lak, every decrepit Indian cloud has a silver line. So, he sees a hardworking municipal worker of Mumbai educating his sons, the ubiquitous street-corner ironwallas training their sons to become software professionals, the Brahmin priest actively working with ‘scavenger’ caste people to stop them from the humiliating job of collecting human waste through installing septic tank systems in those villages, and uplifting the people’s life by proving alternative vocation. Lak informs that this gentleman has so far transformed the lives of 50,000 families, many of them proudly announcing that their sons and daughters are currently studying in ‘English medium’ schools!
Similarly, a slum-activist in Bangalore campaigns actively in the IT companies to unionise their non-IT staff so that they can get security and better perks. Thus, story after story, Lak introduces more and more such people so much that India Express is as much about India’s activists as it’s a brief political primer on India. Today’s India thrives on activists. This could be construed as third phase of India’s evolution as a nation-state. The first phase, post-Independence, involved in nation building and installing and nurturing democratic institutions, the credit for which goes largely to Nehru. Then, after a brief darkness of Indira Gandhi, the second phase, that of economic liberalisation began, where the toddler India learned to walk and then run. This led to the third phase. The new India ran at such breakneck speed, a real juggernaut, that it stamped and destroyed many things at its vortical swirl. We needed speed-bumps. So many personalities emerged, to slow down our speed. Arundhati Roy, Hazare, Prashant Pathak, Palagummi Sainath, Veer Badra Mishra, the list goes on. Some are well known names and some are totally unknown. Our discovery of these people and their extraordinary work in these pages is as delightful and as heart-warming as it must have been to Lak. We could feel this energy oozing through these pages. And the hope brimming too.
V S Naipaul once commented that India is too complex a country to ever live peacefully. Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. Some of these activists make sure of continual disturbance of peace. The classic example of Arundhati Roy notwithstanding, some of these people at first appear as rabble rousers but god save the country which does not encourage the likes of Roys and Sainaths. And thank goodness that there are people like Daniel Lak who go seek these people and then introduce them to the world. India Express is crushingly despairing whilst utterly overwhelming, even to an Indian. But, as mentioned earlier, Lak makes sure that every such dreadful section, every such heart wrenching story ends with statistics that bring considerable cheer. These endings are not hence they lived happily ever after but hence they campaigned actively ever after. And that’s good enough for now. India may be hard country but it certainly can’t be termed beyond the crisis state, like our neighbour. How about that for a juvenile chauvinism!