Opinion | While we were not looking, India won some battles

A call from a political party scare-mongered me into checking if my name had indeed been struck off the election list. A visit to the Election Commission site for Delhi told me that all it needed was an SMS to check if my name is on the list—I message at 7738299899, write EPIC space my voter ID number. Thirty seconds later, I get a confirmation that my name is there and it gives me the booth address where I will vote.

After the sheer delight at this super smooth process, I remember that I had got my Provident Fund (PF) balance on SMS too. Also, the passport and visa processes is mostly all automated and keeps us well-informed about the progress of the process. So I began to count what else works in India. We know and are vocally critical about what does not. So what works? Well, the metro network where it exists, as it does in Delhi, is superb. Do we hear of strikes or regular breakdowns in the cities in India they operate in? We don’t. Travel to Europe and see what breakdown of such services means. France especially is constantly on strike.

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New Middle India’s pushback and the Big Indian Dream

I am signing copies of my book in Mumbai. The store manager and I are sitting in an alcove and doing the signing ceremony, where he hands me the book and I sign while he cracks open the next one before handing it over. Two native European (for want of a better term in trying not to say “white”) customers are watching from the other end of the shop and begin taking pictures of this book gig. We get chatting and I learn that they are colleagues from a North European country and are in Mumbai as consultants to some infrastructure project. Three minutes into a conversation with a stranger, an Indian in Mumbai, and they are shaking their heads and tut-tutting over the Indian bureaucracy and general state of things. Back from a longish visit to their part of the world and having seen their super slothful bureaucracy, weird processes and long waiting periods for service, I am in no mood to hear this. I retort. Maybe a little too loudly. Or a little too harshly. They seem to melt away into the interior of the shop. Then I notice choking noises coming from my neighbour, the book store manager. He saw the exchange and my pushback, and then just cracked up. He was recovering, he said, from an episode where a British guest of an author made racially degrading comments because one book was not in the store, but the Indian author just stood by and allowed the colonial rant to continue.

The manager does not come from that closed club of elite Indians who boast of correct English pronunciation, the right accent, similar higher education institutions, the correct home address, a common reading list, non-Bollywood movies, similar music playlists and foreign brands, but is a newly emerged middle-class Indian.

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