India’s problem is its romance with informality
Contd from previous issue
Ideally, all this should not surprise us, but the one dignity we offer ourselves is the right to be surprised by our country. As though we have seen far better times.
We are good at following a system if the clear consequence of a systemic failure is death. As in civil aviation. We do manage very well to fly without falling. Also, once people reach a stage that puts them on hospital beds, in the face of such clear optics of misery, India usually moves in admirable ways.
This is why my Covid prognosis in India is so optimistic. Also, there is the precedence of the United States. Indians forget, but what the US went through when Covid peaked was worse than what is going on in India today. There, too, hospitals were collapsing, people died in hospital corridors, and there were mass funerals.
Even after accounting for the fact that the section of the American media that is popular in India was anti-Donald Trump, and so its pandemic coverage was a sort of political whiplash, it is hard to dispute that the US was reeling from the disease in ways that were similar to what India is going through.
There is a big difference, though, between the American disenchantment with their Government and Indians. We have a far greater sense of failure because we have a very low opinion of our country.
The second wave of the pandemic is only a confirmation of this opinion. Our children, who always start off as patriots, have no real pride anymore in their Nation. India’s handling of the second wave has only lowered an already low opinion held by many of us.
As a result, some of India’s reasonable explanations for why we are suffering today are not appreciated enough.
A few days ago, our External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar answered the question of why India is short of vaccine doses despite being a producer of these. Apart from India’s contractual export obligations, he said, we are dependent on other Nations for some important vaccine ingredients, and so did not have a practical or moral reason to deny those countries vaccine supplies, especially when India’s deaths were very low. Now that Covid is a major calamity, India can withhold the export of vaccines.
Even so, this is a time for us to whip ourselves. That is another thing we’re good at—whipping ourselves. This is good. We have gained more from shame in our present than pride in our rumoured heritage.
But then we forget. Our civilizational shame is fleeting. Once the pandemic subsides, we will forget the terrifying days when people were dying around us and Indian hospitals were begging for help from the media and courts. We derive our peace and hope from forgetting.