“This is indeed India; the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendor and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of a thousand nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition, whose yesterdays bear date with the mouldering antiquities of the rest of the nations—the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.”—Mark Twain, Following the Equator, 1897
The essence of Mark Twain’s quote above regarding India is true even today. It was an experience of a lifetime for me to travel around a country with 40 individuals from the US, to show them the country I grew up in, to help them relate to the sights and experiences that they had never seen or imagined before. EMBA 24 however, with a little help from us, the Indian origin students in class, saw and experienced the country with a very mature perspective.
As I reflect on an email I received just today from an EMBA24 classmate which said “To see so many people struggling to get by without food, water, sanitation...but yet be so genuinely happy...makes you realize what is important in life.”, I am proud of the discovery we have made as a class together.
As we went around Mumbai and Delhi, we found abundant poor people, dirty streets and chaos. India has a long way to go in improving the several human developmental indicators. Over 200 million Indians are illiterate and below the poverty line. Over 300 million Indians lack decent sanitation and over 100 million do not have access to clean water. A large number of children are below the acceptable nutrition level. The Infrastructure in many areas is breaking apart - BUT amidst all of this it is easy to forget what India has achieved since independence.
India has been independent for only 65 years, hence when one assesses this young country, one has to be generous and base the assessments on an evolving trend. To understand the complexities of India at Independence, look at European Union and multiply the diversity of the EU by 1000 and divide the resources by 1000 and you approximately get the semblance of the India in 1947. When the British left India, the life expectancy for an average Adult was 32 and there were a few centers of higher education. Over 25 million Indians had died in the preceding 100 years of foreign rule owing to famine and mismanagement of resources.
Since independence, the life expectancy has gone up from 32 years to 65 years. India has built a vast road network that is second only to the US and China. In education, India produces the second largest pool of the educated population in the world today . But most importantly, India has nurtured and maintained the pillars of democracy. It prides itself on having an independent media and a free judiciary. And as the CEO of Super Religare, Dr. Sanjeev Chaudhury said, during his presentation to the class – We rank high in Gross National Happiness. Indians don’t know where their next food will come from, but they are happy.
While there's a lot more to achieve and millions of Indians to uplift, looking at the rate at which India has progressed in the last 65 years, I have no doubt that the trend is positive and the remaining human developmental indicators will continue to improve.