Shortly after the tsunami a small group of us worked in three villages to rehabilitate fishermen. It was heart-rending to see poor fishermen rush out to buy me one of the ubiquitous chilled water bottles. It required a series of tantrums to stop them from running to the shop. Clearly the leadership class of India has well sold a consumerist model of ‘modernity’ and since the poor always mimic the rich, the ruination of spirit is near complete. At least one fruit of modernising India has trickled down to the poor.
I was convinced that the real poverty of India is the poverty of role models all around us; there is a huge absence of them in homes, schools, offices, businesses and politics. People, both the rich and the poor, are in starvation of satisfying values to live by. No doubt the heroes of GNI are genuine, but their number is too small to blunt the cynicism rampant in the land.
A more immediate experience went to make me re-evaluate GNI’s role. [I warned you it’s a long story!] A local beach resort, the MGM Diamond Beach, encroached on a parcel of public land and turned it into a party place. That story has been told in detail here. What I learnt from that battle was that you can have the time and attention of educated, affluent Indians only as long as their comfort is ruffled. You can seldom have their participation where a larger principle might be involved. To wriggle out of the jam it was in, MGM filed a frivolous case against an aging fisherman and then proceeded to set up an obstacle course for the law to run. As months passed, I was the lone visitor to the court ensuring the proceedings did not flag or left unattended. That the case eventually [-after 3 years!] resulted in the defeat of MGM’s charges is another matter. Civic causes do not get our mind share, except perhaps to the extent of signing online petitions