Posted by: cochinblogger | May 31, 2018

Exposed to the Elements

During a factory visit in Edinburgh, Prince Philip (notorious for his bluntness) said a fuse box in the premises was such a crude piece of work that it “looked as though it had been put in by an Indian.” Indian feathers were suitably ruffled. However, one can understand where the prince got this impression from. All it takes is a stroll down practically any street in India to see electrical junction boxes with wires sticking out of them haphazardly in all directions.

Here is a Swedish blogger’s take on this:

This Is India: You Know It’s Where You Call When You Have a Technical Problem with Your Computer

Yes, this is again calculated to raise Indian hackles, but in a way, we deserve it. We invite this kind of ridicule — with open arms. Nothing, it seem, can cure us of our contempt for public property. We, the Indian public, are OK with this; why else would we allow this state of affairs to persist? Blaming our officials is the easy way out, but we are willing accomplices.

Of course, the Swedish poster’s self-serving logic — that because Indians have such miserable infrastructure, they must be technologically incompetent — is fallacious. It is an argument that may sound plausible to Westerners ignorant about India, but anyone knowledgeable about India will be familiar with the country’s impressive scientific, industrial, and technological track record. Just one example: India’s successful indigenous 2008 Chandrayaan 1 mission, which made it just the fourth country (no, Sweden is not among them) to plant its national flag on the moon. The spacecraft, by the way, carried scientific payloads from other countries too, including from Sweden.

In a way, this is what makes the situation even more infuriating: the technical capacity to build and maintain public infrastructure is there. It is the will that is lacking. There is a fatal flaw in our national psyche that I’m unable to put my finger on.

It’s a multi-stranded problem, but I think I’ve been able to tease out one strand: an exaggerated and unhealthy respect for authority that is foisted on our kids in school — and in our homes. We need to inculcate the opposite: a critical attitude to authority. It’s true that East Asian countries are similar to us in this respect (pun unintended), and their public spaces are in general well maintained. However, they have one quality that we lack: discipline. If we had a basic sense of discipline, we would be horrified by the ugliness in our public spaces. And if we learned in school and in our homes to question authority figures, we would be able to stand up to our public officials, demand accountability, and shame them into action.

An outside perspective does help us gain insight into our weaknesses. They see clearly what we are blind to through sheer overexposure. A German friend who visits India fairly frequently once told me: “It’s not that you are unable to make trains run on time; it’s not important enough in your scheme of things for you to bother yourselves about it.” Let’s also revisit the Swedish blog post again. The comments below the post are interesting. A couple of Indians have tried to defend the indefensible; one even goes so far as to say that we Indians are geniuses because only we can manage our self-inflicted chaotic electrical wiring! How’s that for chutzpah! However, he is shown his place by the last commenter on the page: ”Interesting comment defending the mess. What it tells me, is that rather than consider the visual appeal of that particular neighborhood, the utilities simply “pull” another wire to replace or add to the current network. It has nothing to do with genius and everything to do with laziness and contempt for the environment, regardless of where that environment is.” Hard-hitting words, but true. “Laziness” and ”contempt for the environment” hit the nail on the head.

I took the above photo on Chittoor Road. Does it work? If it does, it’s a miracle, not genius. And if it doesn’t work, what is it doing there on the road?

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Responses

  1. I have often puzzled over the paradox of a culture which created the Taj Mahal apparently having little regard for public aesthetics.

    I asked a friend why ATM booth floors were littered with printed receipts while the waste bin stood empty. He suggested that it was only the poor and uneducated sections of Indian society who dropped their receipts, though I felt that hardly fitted ATM user demographics.

    Do you think a diminished sense of community ownership in India exacerbates the problem?

    • The “poor and uneducated” are a convenient scapegoat for the Indian middle and upper classes. Christ-like, they carry the burden of our sins.

      I think you’re right. We have no respect for public property because we don’t see ourselves as stakeholders in it. One glaring exception, though, is the Kochi Metro. Pride of ownership is evident — and the tickets do go into the bins. So it’s not a completely lost cause.


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