It all began when my older boy was browsing through car magazines. He suddenly asked why the most expensive cars were not to be seen on Indian roads. I told him India is a poor country; he was crestfallen. I quickly added: “But India is now much less poor than it once was, and matters are fast improving.”
My son is sensitive to the psychological effect of words. Otherwise he would not have asked: “Does this mean India is becoming richer day by day?” I said yes.
He was mollified, but kept asking from time to time from then on: “Is India becoming richer daily?” Each time I reassured him: “Yes, India is becoming richer daily.” My son, like his dad, is nothing if not obsessive.
This morning, at the Independence Day breakfast table, my father, reminiscing, mentioned how skeptics like Churchill had predicted a sticky end for newly independent India; it would soon collapse like a pack of cards, they hopefully chorused. Well, they had all been proved wrong.
The younger boy (all of eight) asked with a worried frown: “How can India collapse?” Television images of buildings collapsing in earthquakes and tsunamis were fresh in his mind.
I stepped in at this point: “India was a bunch of kingdoms earlier. Some people did not expect India to hang together. They thought India would split up.”
And now my father told the boys how far India had come. In his boyhood, even pencils had to be imported from outside. He still remembered the pencils in use then, Elephant brand pencils made in Bavaria. (Elephant brand pencils exported to elephant country! Oh, the irony!) Pins came from Germany, and sandpaper from Italy. Today India is largely self-sufficient. Political independence has brought industrial and economic independence.
From the corner of my eye, I could see my older boy sitting motionless, staring into space with the far-away look I am only too familiar with, hand filled with food and near his mouth but arrested abruptly in mid-air. For him, thinking always takes precedence over eating. And that’s saying something, because he’s a foodie. Again, like father, like son.
And then came his question, like an arrow from his mouth: “Appa, how richer is India becoming every day in rupees?’
This is not the kind of question one wants to tackle first thing in the morning. I tried to fob him off with some vague generalization, but he was insistent. He wanted the figure in rupees, and he would not continue eating until he had got it it.
I assured him I would research the problem and report back to him. It’s on such occasions that I think I’d have made a wonderful reporter: I’m always reporting back to my wife and boys. And I haven’t even mentioned my boss. Sigh!
My son was not mollified. He’d heard this line before. And he was right! How on earth was I to come up with the figure he wanted? I was no economist. Suddenly, I had a brainwave.
I told my son “We’ll find out what India’s GDP was in the last two years. Subtract the two figures, divide the result by 365, and hey presto! We’ll have India’s daily wealth accumulation in rupees.”
“What’s GDP, Appa?”
“Gross National Product. A country’s economic output measured in rupees.”
My son was satisfied. “Find out soon, OK?”
I promised to have the figure ready for our little finance minister soon. The food went into the mouth at last.
I wondered later if the projected growth rate would yield a more accurate figure. No matter. Superdad had saved the day yet again!
The photos above were taken from the car while we were driving to the school’s independence day function.
Happy birthday, India!