I recently completed a decade of life in the U.S., and have made seven trips to India in that duration. And while I hear many others lament the pollution, dirt, and stagnation in their country of birth, my experiences have been simply to the contrary. The India I visit each year is getting progressively better. And I don’t mean the burgeoning malls, pizza and fast-food joints, or English-speaking waiters in restaurants.
To begin with, there is cleaner air. In Mumbai, autorickshavalas have the option of converting to CNG-based engines. The conversion is entirely voluntary, but the incentive is highly-subsidized fuel that burns cleaner and reduces pollution. The city of Pune has banned the highly-polluting diesel-powered six-seater rickshas from operating within city limits; the improvement in Pune’s air quality is pleasantly perceptible.
In Mumbai the ongoing construction of flyovers at severely congested intersections has brought welcome relief to thousands of commuters. Many bemoan them as ugly additions to the cityscape … small woe considering that in several sections they have cut travel time by half.
Keeping in step with the Internet revolution, the Indian Railways allows online booking (and ticket delivery for a small fee) for many of its long-distance passenger trains, making railway travel reservation simpler and more efficient.
And then, speaking of the common man’s daily life and struggle, Mumbai has a wide chain of Sulabh public toilets, which are kept clean, and their nominal fee is affordable by even the very poor patron. While these facilities have existed in the city for many years, their multiplication is an indicator that the city, and country, are responding to the basic needs of the people.
One may argue that many of these changes are in the cities; worse still, they may seem inadequate to those of us accustomed to an American lifestyle where our world can be managed with a telephone line and connection to the Internet. But even if change affects only a fraction of the population, it is commendable, especially when that population is nothing short of one-billion-plus and still growing.
As the calendar editor for the last four years, I have had opportunity to witness the Indian-American community’s involvement in the arts and culture of India. As we spare no efforts at keeping alive our heritage, let’s not forget to appreciate every little thing that makes India a better place each day. For without it, the essence of the “Indian” is lost from the term “Indian-American.”