Sunday, May 22, 2011

Up To A Point, Mr Allison

Lincoln Allison at the SAU blog is touring that fascinating country, India :

So there are two Indias, as there have always been two versions of Italy. One bristles with enterprise, the other with Soviet stupor. There are the hotels which cannot do enough for you and the tailor who will do a perfect alteration in ten minutes flat. And there is (or was) the guy who sold me my first Indian railway ticket. I slowly and dismally became aware that there was nothing in it for him if I reached Pune, but a certain amount of power, satisfaction and schadenfreude if he could stop me. Of course, he probably just wanted a bribe; the more complicated the form or procedure, the more likely you are to make a mistake which you will have to pay for as atonement or rectification. And seen in its broad context corruption is not a redistributive mechanism because the big guys do it big, the little guys do it little and the poor don't get to do it at all.

I think Indian enterprise will triumph in the end, but I'm an optimist.
He certainly is :

I don't buy the idea that India has put the Raj behind it, an idea which is dutifully trotted out by many western writers... I'd have liked them to sit with me on the Shatabadi Express last week, Delhi to Amritsar, first class compartment, with four English-language newspapers to choose from, all stuffed with IPL cricket reports, all to be digested with the free Indian Railways Morning Tea biscuits as you listen to the English conversations going on between Punjabi and Hindi speakers.

It may not be the India that the post-1858 full imperialists imagined? I don't know. But it is surely a world that more Liberal or earlier, less racist, imperialists would have happily conceived. It involves the greatest cultural exchange in history because they got cricket and we got curry, without any of us losing what we had in the first place. Globalisation at its best and anybody who tells me that curry is un-English should get as short shrift as anyone who says that cricket is un-Indian.
Globalisation at its best, eh ? A 50-50 swap from which we all benefit and no one loses?

Well, none of us have lost what we had in the first place - except the former native inhabitants of large parts of London, Birmingham, Manchester and larger parts of Leicester, Bradford, the Black Country and the former mill towns of the Pennines. Over the last 30 years I've been able to observe first-hand massive demographic change in Bradford and Birmingham.

During the Raj there were doubtless similar demographic changes to a few very small areas of India and Pakistan - I have a 1902 Guide to Simla with maps showing large areas of housing which could, from the names, be in suburban Surrey. But these involved very small numbers of people in a very large country - and were substantially reversed after independence. The demographic changes in England (and a few towns in Wales and Scotland) involve the movement of very large numbers into a very small country, and not only is reversal very unlikely, but the process, with its accompanying loss of native habitat, shows no sign of abating.

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