India Unfinished

09/12/2014 8:20 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST
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India reminds me of a giant distracted child playing Lego. There are always pieces mislaid, left over or gone missing.

Look around you. Nothing ever seems to be well thought out or executed in its entirety. We see this in almost all aspects of our daily life.

It begins when you step out of your gate and almost fall over a pile or into the pit that was dug a few days ago for the electricity or TV cable. Why should covering up and restoring it to its former state be of any concern? The cable has been laid. Proceed further, and a heap of building rubble on the side of the road is clogging traffic. Someone from somewhere at sometime is supposed to collect and take it away; except that no one does. Unfortunately, besides inconveniencing you and I, this attitude is costing us.

So, here in Delhi, we have a BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) system that as the Mayor of Bogota in Colombia pointed out is not a system at all. We have implemented only parts of it: the parts that do not inconvenience drivers of private vehicles but instead jeopardize the lives of those who use the BRT. On the other hand, we have equally dysfunctional flyovers because the bits that would have made them a functional whole are dispensed with at the drop of a hat. An underground tunnel that will facilitate a signal-free crossing cannot be built as it is considered a threat to VIP security. Chipping into a rock to create more space for traffic is also not a viable option, as it may unsettle the Gods (more likely the priests!) who dwell atop it. The easier option it seems is to cut trees and reduce the width of the service lanes in front of houses and blame the owners if they object that in an emergency an ambulance or a fire-engine will not be able to reach them.

And now with much fanfare comes the "Swachh Bharat" campaign. Thousands of toilets will be built but whether they will be maintained thereafter and kept clean is anyone's guess. All of us have experienced public and sometimes private toilets in which you fear to tread because you may puke or pass out when the stench hits you. Pick up the broom, pass the dirt around, pile it up in a corner, preferably behind something, and then throw in a bucket of water for good measure; it's as clean as it can be.

It gets even more terrifying when history and science begin to bear the brunt, as the consequences can be life threatening. Clinical trials and vaccines for HPV (Human Papilloma Virus), that prevent cancer of the uterine-cervix, which kills millions of women in India, have been at the receiving end. Someone, somewhere, pressed the panic button and the rest of us reacted reflexively without thinking things through. How can progress be made without clinical trials or lives saved without vaccinations?

If only we could be clear and farsighted and fixed in our commitments. What prevents this? Perhaps it is an inability to wear our mortality lightly. Contrary to what we may espouse, our actions indicate that we believe that there is only one lifetime in which to achieve and accumulate. Consequently, speed is of the essence as there are likely to be at least several million more wanting to do the same. So go ahead and don't worry about how all the pieces fit together. That is not your problem.

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