A tale of two tales – India, Time and The Guardian

I hope it’s just me and my rampant apophenia, but here’s a tale that smells more like the tale of two tales than A Tale of Two Indias.

Time’s latest story "India’s Lust for Luxe" caught my eye and I bookmarked it intending to come back to it later – fodder for a good rant, I thought, since I’d had had my share of launching "luxe" in India. It has a link to a November 29th 2004 cover story "A Tale of Two Indias" by Alex Perry. Hold this thought – I’m tee’d off because it too was going to be fodder for a post, instead it’s become Exhibit A, your honour.

Exhibit B is an April 5th 2006 story in The Guardian, titled, very originally, "A Tale of Two Indias", this time by Randeep Ramesh. So, you think, what’s she going on about, it’s just a title of an article.

But wait, there’s  more – read them, or rather, perceive the framework, skeleton or outline of the story – they both start with a lavish description of a millionaire’s posh getaway in an Indian city, then both go on to commiserate about the utter poverty. Time’s story feels a little more balanced in it’s outlook surprisingly, while The Guardian weeps and wails about the exponential growth in the economy, implying in a sense that it is the motive power increasing the poverty levels in India. That’s not true. It was much much worse before the economy opened up and investments started pouring in. Jagdish Bhagwati is quoted by Time,

For now, the divisions that have come in the wake of India’s development seem a price the country is ready to pay. Columbia University economist Professor Jagdish Bhagwati says: "India always was a stratified society. And India has always been about poverty. The question has always been: How do you tackle it? Growth never trickles down evenly. But it’s only by opening up, by growing the economy and, yes, by producing the odd billionaire who creates thousands of jobs, that you can really pull people up."

While The Guardian’s depressingly mournful tone implies the very worst,

Globalisation in India has been a broad and brutal process, creating a
country in vital and vulgar flux. The bigger the gains in India from
open markets, the bigger the disorientating changes. And the Indians
who count themselves among the losers from this process easily
outnumber the winners. More than 400 million farm workers each earn
India just $375 (£230) a year in output. The comparable amount made by
the million or so software engineers is $25,000 (£16,000).

It is such inequalities, particularly in a culture that has come to promote assiduously the accumulation of wealth, that fuels predictions by the CIA and investment banks such as Goldman Sachs that India, along with China, will come to dominate the world economy in the next few decades. China is already the globe’s second-largest economy; India is on the verge of overtaking Japan to become the third biggest. A future of even greater wealth seems assured. But so does today’s reality that India remains a terrifying place to be poor.

Excuse me, but this is a logical conclusion? Inequalities will fuel economic growth? And the writer has got to be a brahmin, us banias have always had a culture that assiduously promoted the accumulation of wealth. /rant over

I don’t know if it’s a UK centric view versus a US centric view but certainly the odd echoes that the April 2006 article has of the November 2004 article makes me wonder whether there’s an extra twist in this tale of two Indias. For surely, things could not have detiorated so badly in just 17 months? Nor a global newsmagazine cover story overlooked?

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4 Responses to A tale of two tales – India, Time and The Guardian

  1. neelakantan says:

    Sigh! Its fashion amongst the cognoscenti and some sporadic parts of the Indian blogosphere to argue on and on how globalization has made no difference to the poor. Point is how can a few years of partial, miserly globalization ever make a difference to a 100 and more years of misery?
    The two Indias have always existed and will not go away in a hurry. The difference is that there is a big bulging middle ground where most of India is finding itself (give or take a few) – neither too bad nor exorbitantly rich – but a lot happier and money to spend and jobs to do. Things they never had a few years back.
    Some people can never understand this- and then again, in the season thats Indias, this writing sells.

  2. niti bhan says:

    Oh Neelakantan! How I agree with you! This is true and I think that it then behooves us, bloggers like you and I, to continue to write about the realistic viewpoint of what it is like in India. Yes, there is poverty, yes, there always has been and will be inequity, BUT, as you rightly say, there is also increased opportunities, jobs, goods and a ‘market’ that didn’t exist before. I remember when I first came to India after high school, in 1983, my roommates in the college hostel would exclaim over my ‘imported’ stuff, because so little was available in India’s protected market. This is *so* not the case now, where my friends and family feel that they don’t need anything from “abroad” because it’s all available in India and more besides.
    I firmly believe in the trickle down theory, if we raise the water level, then eventually it will raise the level across the board. This is the transition, the liminal period, between the pre liberalization ‘poverty’ and the post liberalization ‘economic disruption’.
    And you’re right, it sells, but only to those who want to hold on tight to the image of India as backward, poor, and desolate.

  3. niblettes says:

    So this may be a bit tangential to your point (and one we’ve crossed before) but the “facts” presented in these articles are tailored for buzz.
    For instance, China the second largest global economy? Well technically if you look only at PPP this is true (and i know you prefer PPP over GDP as an economic performance measure). However my feeling is PPP is only meaningful in terms of per capita PPP within a given economy. Comparing global economies by PPP alone is like comparing oranges with apples that are painted orange and calling them the same thing (I suspect you will disagree with that).
    So comparing raw GDP, China and India a pretty far down the list of global economies. Comparing per capita PPP they are even farther down the list. For example, Japan’s per capita PPP is $30,349 while China’s is only $6,245.
    These numbers tell a rather less dramatic, less buzzworthy story than the one the articles would have us believe. But drama *is* the point of journalism, not insight (a fact that drives my deep skepticism of pop journalism). So i guess i should stop complaining–the journalists are just doing thier job.
    This also reminds me a bit of what’s happening right here in the US. The aggregated economic data paints a rather nice picture. However, your average American is getting squeezed hard these days. The data and the experience don’t really match. So either the data are wrong, or they are simply not a reliable indicator of personal economic experience.
    Ok, back on topic now.

  4. niti bhan says:

    First, w.r.t. your comment re: pop journalism – did a little googling on The Guardian, and voila!, as they say back in Paris :), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Guardian#The_Guardian_in_the_popular_imagination
    you find the “Guardian Reader” is a stereotype for liberal hippy. I’m not here to make value judgements, since I’ve never held strong political views leaning either way, however it’s interesting to note the GROLIES – Guardian Reader of Limited Intelligence in Ethnic Skirt.
    Explains a bit about the slant of the article, and the weeping and wailing, doesn’t it? Especially if you consider that the folks Neelakantan refers to prolly fall in the same category. Still doesn’t explain the similar construction and identical titles between the two articles though.
    As for PPP, yes, Niblettes, I would disagree with you, but in the context of what you’re attempting to articulate, I can see where you’re coming from and you have a valid point. Worth looking into further, imho, especially in the context of the changes that must take place globally in the next 10 years if we’re to get off the downward spiral.

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