Grappling with the fear of Western development in my third world home
22 Aug 2018
Image by Alice Jones
I can map out my life so far by the things I’ve wanted. For instance, I’ve longed for somewhere to feel at home, to not be bullied, to not be lonely and in the absence of that, I’ve wanted to be a wild success.
As a Christian who only speaks English, and whose family is both privileged and liberal, I always felt out of place in India. Sometimes, I think our very existence would be considered seditious by the current administration.
Trying to do good in India is a hugely frustrating enterprise. I share my grandfather’s principles when it comes to fighting corruption, but not his patience.
I hated India, I detested Delhi, and for the longest time I wanted nothing more than to escape to the wonderful countries I read about in books.
As a result, my patriotic journey towards embracing my Indian heritage only happened over the last few years, and it was a gradual process. I was brought up to see the facts, understand the figures and then choose the right side.
It’s ironic that at the peak of my patriotic fever, I ended up making the decision to attend university in Canada. My family saw studying abroad as an opportunity for me to come into my own, to finally have a shot at fitting in and being young.
And I suppose I have. I am independent, social, emotionally stable, and physically safe in Vancouver. It’s a lovely place where people follow the traffic rules without being told to do so, and smile at each other across the street. I recognise my privilege in saying so, but life is so easy there.
To survive in Delhi, you have to be smart, and to succeed in Delhi you have to be vicious. I’ve always been the former, and always wanted to be the latter.
I am terrified that the material comforts and sheer beauty of Vancouver, will make me forget the person I am and the person I want to be.
“I refuse to believe stability in governments or society, another hallmark of ‘development’, means it is inherently good”
Vancouver is a young, quiet and developed city. I would say “first world”, but I was informed by one of my white professors that was no longer the politically correct term to use. I was bewildered, and the more I thought about the alternative, the more it rankled. In their opinion, India was to be described as a “developing nation”, but what did that even mean? Developing into what exactly? According to whose standards?
I refuse to believe stability in governments or society, another hallmark of “development”, means it is inherently good. Loud, sweaty and chaotic Delhi is entrenched in corruption, but still takes in refugees. Ending poverty in India seems insurmountable, and yet everyday there are people working tirelessly to do just that. We may be ripped apart by communalism, but there are so many writers trying to unite, trying to speak up even in the face of institutional suppression. For better or for worse, we have democracy.
People, usually older Indian people, ask me when am I planning to settle down in Canada, and after the stab of violent anger passes, I tell them that there is literally nothing I want less. I came to Canada to get a degree, not to be defined by neo-colonial standards; I always meant to go back.
Yet, I am terrified that “development” will make my country into a pale imitation of the West, complete with soul-crushing conformity, and the stale spread of capitalism.
It is probably presumptuous to think that anything I do could have that much of an impact, but I desperately want as much education as I can get before I run back and make sure Delhi doesn’t get sucked into something alien. I’ve always made sensible choices, and my education is part of that. I want those letters behind my name as licence to be unreasonable and hopelessly idealistic.
“I want us to expand sustainably and not make the same environmental blunders as the West”
I want friendship with Pakistan. I want us to get rid of corruption and stop hassling the north-east. I want us to produce more independent movies and stop censoring them.
I want the UK to apologise, and I want them to call it the first war of Indian independence, not the “Sepoy Mutiny”. I want to see peace in Kashmir, according to terms set by Kashmiris.
I want us to stop sucking up to America, and instead aggressively throw our lots in with the Middle East, with Africa and the rest of Asia.
I want our universities to be the best in the world, and I want our education system to not drive children to suicide. I want more reservation, and more representation.
I want us to be one of the brightest points in a multipolar world, and I want us to do it better, do it ethically and do it with love. I want our women to be safe and free.
I want government schools to be better than private schools. I want us to expand sustainably and not make the same environmental blunders as the West.
I want our daytime T.V to be less sexist and less awful.
I want us to disarm our nukes; it does not befit our nation, nor our principle of no first use.
I could go on.
I’m happy and nice in Vancouver, but that’s never been what I wanted, because it comes with complicity and quiet. I’m smart enough to lose my mind, to quote Fanon like it’s scripture, to build a better future with my blood and my sweat.
I could probably have a peaceful life if I chose responsibly. But I’ve never wanted that.
I want a legacy.