I was born in a land where the idea of freedom, the notion of right, the habit of human kindness were things coldly despised and brutally outlawed….Every man in the land was a slave, if he was not a bully….A dark country, a hellish place, gentlemen, and if there is anything of which I am certain in life it is that I shall never exchange the liberty of my exile for the vile parody of home.
– Vladimir Nabokov in The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, p.19
Was the great master Nabokov writing about Russia in his brilliant first English novel.
Or should we read in the short excerpt an apposite portrayal of India, a land that would turn out no better once the yoke of the foreign oppressor gave way to native faces.
Nowhere is the saying Man is Wolf to Man more vividly embodied than in India.
Every day the shrill shrieks of Indian TV journalists bring forth revelations of new atrocities, more heinous than any that Raghunandan Yandamuri, Caligula, Ivan the Terrible or Atilla the Hun could together conjure up in their heydays.
For three days, bored Indians waste millions of liters of oil and ghee lighting millions of lamps in a hundred cities and towns in a collective spasm of feigned outrage.
And on the fourth day, all the talk is of the beastly murderer’s Dabangg 2 and the Fevicol item number.
Worse yet, 300 million Indians delude themselves, and, Mein Gott, take pride, in that hideous shibboleth, Mera Bharat Mahaan.
But is India any different from the rest of the “civilized” world once you strip the bark and see through the veneer? No.
IMHO, Yes, India is different from the civilized world after we strip the veneer and look at the innards.
Fantastic capture of the Indian social zeitgeist here –
1. Some folks think China could face an eruption any time as impatient youngsters push for more freedom and rebel against the dictatorial, corrupt regime there.
But I would not be surprised in the least to see such an eruption in India first – a huge mob one day breaking past the police barriers, storming the power center of a large city, lynching a large number of ‘netas’ (leaders) and creating a wave of mayhem.
The potential for unrest is higher in India given that we have a unique form of democracy there, the power for anyone to loot, rape, steal or kill at will.
Bottom line, social stability is in greater peril and poses a graver challenge to India than to China.
The big question for Indians now is: Do they value Social Stability/Order or do they value Economic Development?
I can’t visualize Social Instability ever marching in lock-step with Economic Development.
2. To answer the Guardian writer’s main question:
I’m inclined to believe India will be a macrocosm of Uttar Pradesh, in other words pockets of peace amidst widespread anarchy.
The weak, corrupt political apparatus makes it all but inevitable that “India Shining” will remain merely a slogan, except for a privileged few.