Puja for a new car
This new year will bring the 20th anniversary of that shimmering, amorphous thing, the new India.
Like China and South Africa and other made-over nations, India has more than one birth date. There is that midnight hour in 1947 when Jawaharlal Nehru proclaimed the end of British rule and spoke of India’s “tryst with destiny.” But it is to 1991, when India began to open its doors to the world and loosen the economic controls on its own citizens, that the present form of the country can most easily be traced…
Who is this new India? Its character is coming into ever sharper focus, and it is becoming clearer which ideas have most shaped its remaking.
Here, based on my own years of traveling in and reporting on the country, are five ideas that have done much to turn the new India new — out of a larger pool of ideas that could be mentioned.
Class is a situation. Every society has distinctions of class. But in an earlier India, these distinctions were taken to be intrinsic and eternal and heritable; class was not circumstance, but identity.
The ancient caste system was the most obvious symbol of this idea. But it had many subtler expressions, too.
Businessmen made a point of hierarchically noting that “he came to meet me” or “I went to meet him,” rather than simply saying, “We met.” Waiters hunched and bowed and obsequiously overdosed on the word “sir” or “sahib” when serving.
A rising group of young Indians conceives of class very differently: not as a fixed identity, but as a transient situation, and a situation that can change…
The next three areas of change are Family, English language, Gold is old. RTFA.
Modernity is best served traditional. Changes of this kind have been disruptive, to say the least, in many parts of the developing world. India is often faulted for modernizing too slowly and chaotically. But there is perhaps another way of seeing its journey over the past 20 years: as a different model of modernization.
It is a model of forward movement in which the past retains the upper hand and the future stands on the defensive. Change, however inevitable it might seem, must prove itself before being allowed to work on India.
But the Indian model is more than just cautious. It tends to assume, against all odds, that the traditional and the modern are ultimately compatible.
I don’t think that’s so unusual, although not necessary. Where it might be considered a requirement, say, in Mainland China – much, much less so on Taiwan. For a direct comparison.
Time will tell. Indians will make the decision. How much of the nation is involved is still a key question.