Thursday, November 5, 2009

The British left six decades too early

By: Ankit Arora

The British left in 1947, and they left too soon. We celebrate Independence Day, but another six decades of dependence as Great Britain’s colony would have been good for us.

Mumbai’s Sea Link bridge took 10 years to make, cost Rs1,600 crore.For Rs50, it carries drivers across the Mahim Bay from Bandra to Worli’s Seaface. The bridge is designed to shorten the drive from north Mumbai suburbs to the city’s south, where the business district is. Once the driver gets off the bridge at Worli, however, he cannot continue south.And there are many infrastructural problems relating to how the exit from the link has been designed.

Indians don’t fully understand modern infrastructure because we have made no contribution to its advance, though we can purchase its designs. For us a bridge is an independent thing. Its environment is a different thing.

Our response to terror attacks is to add a security layer to five-star hotels. The idea of controlling the environment rather than the venue, the idea of a system and its process is alien, and difficult. We can learn about this, but we have nobody to teach us.

The British left in 1947, and they left too soon. We celebrate Independence Day, but another six decades of dependence as Great Britain’s colony would have been good for us. We could have learnt how to run cities. No harm in admitting what is obvious for all to see: We cannot even manage traffic.

Mumbai, not Hong Kong, would have been the centre for finance in Asia, instead of the second-rate city it has become since the British left.

Delhi would have more bits like the ones the British built, the only elegant parts of the city, just as British South Bombay is the only elegant part. Cities such as Surat and Ahmedabad and Hyderabad and Indore would have become civilized. Under English and Scottish bureaucrats, architecture, certainly civic architecture, would not be as ugly as it is.

Justice would mean something. Gandhi and Nehru repeatedly got arrested voluntarily because, correctly, they trusted British justice. Today’s politician resists arrest even though he may be innocent, because he’s liable to get stitched up, like Omar Abdullah.

What else would be better? Education, through the Macaulay plan.

Europeans, of course, told us who and what we were. After 3,000 years of illiteracy, we learnt of the existence of the Indus Valley civilization from John Marshall in 1924. The identity of our greatest emperor, Ashok (died 232 BC), whose lion capital is our emblem, whose wheel is on our flag, was revealed to us by James Prinsep 175 years ago.

Our Aryan ancestry (or fantasy) was gifted to us by William Jones in 1786, when he reported the link between Sanskrit, Ancient Greek and Latin. The barbarism of Muslims at Vijayanagar was revealed by Robert Sewell, when he translated the 16th century work of Fernaos Nunes and Domingos Paes. Between 1879 and 1894, Max Muller translated the entire Upanishad, Vedas and Dhammapada. This helped Vivekanand go lecture the Americans on India’s greatness at Chicago in 1893.

The great German tradition of Indology continues through men such as Heinrich von Stietencron, but a sustained engagement through colonial government would have resulted in more attention to Indian studies.

The British stuffed education down our throats like medicine, educating the first reformers, people such as Narmad Shankar who attended the Elphinstone Institute. Shankar compiled Gujarati’s first dictionary in 1873, but the native instinct was strong and he reverted to Vedic tribalism in the last decade of his life.

That is the cycle South Asians normally follow: illiteracy, awakening through contact with European culture, and then a belief in our superiority.

But our bombast is groundless. America’s First Amendment says that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. Article 19(1)(a) of our Constitution also gave us the absolute right to freedom of speech. Within one year, the government amended that, denying us that freedom—and wisely. That was because we cannot have freedom of speech in a country where you can get killed for what you say. Or start a riot.

Today our best minds accept colonization by migrating to nations where they cannot vote. But they go anyway, because they can succeed under the other man’s law, where the environment is better controlled than in the Indian city.

This blog has been contributed by Ankit Arora a friend of mine. He is a Software Engineer working with IBM. He regularlt writes in his blog Wanderer


Burlpen November 7, 2009 at 3:06 AM  

I juss bumped into this post of yours.. well yes in bits n pieces agreed british shd have had been a lil bit longer to make mumbai and not HK the financial capital of Asia but like u know it too... its not that far behind. and considering the civilization ur talking about i would suggest you visit Gujarat once before u actually talk abt the civilization abt Ahmedabad and Surat. Ironically Ahmedabad is the fastest growing city in India and in Infrastructure its one of the most booming cities compared to even Bangalore and for Surat it is now the cleanest city in India after the Deadly Plague. so its juss the matter of time before India does become an actual superpower (seeing the amt of growth even during the time of the so called recession which hit us - ya we were affected too but not as much as the western countries) yes british left early but let bygones be bygones and im the one to think of that its better not to cry in future thnking abt the past, rather than juss crying over the past, and to actually move forward like INDIA is moving right now. Peace
- Harin

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