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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How good is it? How bad is it?

When I began this column in March 2009, I remember writing my first piece on the macro mess India was in and how a spendthrift government, which took an 8% growth rate and a 26% rise in tax revenues in the previous years as the new normal, messed up big time. You can read that column here: http://bit.ly/2bynE0d . With elections around the corner, money was splurged on massive loan waivers and many other let’s-give-them-money-and get-their-votes schemes. It worked and the government came back to power. The next five years got the country closer to disaster, with bank books getting stuffed with questionable loans, policy paralysis and big corruption in the central government and bureaucracy.

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