Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"The Indian Dream"

In 1931 when James Truslow Adams first used the term "American Dream" in his book "The Epic Of America" he was not only referring to a life of "motor cars and high wages" but to "a dream of social order" where in everyone would be able to "attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position." America presented itself to the world as a place where such a dream could be realized. Its shores opened up to receive the millions of immigrants who saw great promise in their future away from all the constrains of their home country. Within its shores more specifically the African-American population and women chased the dream with equal fervor to break from shackles society had imposed on them.
Most Indians have long learned not to dream and accept the confines of society's expectations of them. A cobbler remained a cobbler, a farmer a farmer and a maid servant a maid servant. Quite like the caste system people's occupations also stayed steady through the generations. Dreams were reserved for those privileged enough to be born into an upper caste or the economically determined middle and upper class families.
But things are changing, Indians are dreaming and dreaming big! A parent's educational shortcomings or their menial labor occupation is no longer a deterrent to their children. Scores of youth leave their rural dwellings in search of an education and jobs that command both a decent salary and respect. Rural to urban migration has burgeoned so much so that it has put into question the sustainability of the cites that attract the immigrants. Even city dwellers are dreaming big, educating themselves, securing higher paying jobs, buying homes and cars. Owning a vehicle or a cell phone is no longer just an aspiration but a given in the scheme of the new Indian's livelihood. More Indians have been on an airplane than ever before and many more demand and travel in first class train coaches.
While medical and dental schools are often too competitive or expensive to join, there is a whole slew of new and alternative professions that are not just attractive but also offering competitive salaries. As cities expand and grow to accommodate its growing population and their demands, the service industry, transportation, city administration, civic services, allied health care, education and many other sectors are providing the new jobs.
In a much smaller role there is yet another nontraditional dreammaker; television. Dreams of stardom and recognition have never been this close to realization as kids and adults have been plucked from obscurity to appear before millions on Reality TV. Reality TV has become a broadcasting phenomenon for Indian television pulling in some of the highest ratings even with its questionable critical credibility. The numerous shows have churned out stars and discovered talent that would have otherwise found no way out into an industry that historically belonged to the Khans, Bacchans and Kapoors of Bollywood royalty. This has also created a new crop of aspirants with more defined goals from the huge pool of viewers.
All the successes are bound to eventually turn the social order topsy-turvy, wherein one's background or caste is no longer any determinant in their future. The opportunities and possibilities have created a great sense of optimism among India's youth. We all feel like we are going somewhere, upward and forward!
So what is the "Indian Dream"? Does the "American Dream" as Truslow described it translate for India too. I believe that it only partially relates but just as much as it relates to what the "American Dream" has become. Maybe Truslow's vision is a bit too Utopian for any country. As India becomes a society dedicated to capitalism the dream will and is becoming more of a quest for money than one for an ideal social order. But at the same time the "circumstance of birth and position" means a lot less in that quest than ever before. While most free themselves from the crushing poverty, it is up to the more privileged and the governments to work towards erasing the invisible and irrational boundaries that separate us .
"The Indian dream" in its truest form should be the opportunity for every Indian to be able to attain the fullest stature of what he is capable of without the constraints imposed by class, caste or sex.

Imagine if we could not dream, now imagine all those millions who are dreaming for the first time.


RR said...

Good article on "Indian Dream"! ....... what is the Indian Dream ? Earlier, it abroad, have their children educated as a doctor/engineer/CA/specialist, arranged marriage,retiring in their hometown !!!! nowadays, its buy property, invest in real estates, MF, spend on traveling, being a proud Indian etc.

Anonymous said...

You are right, barriers of caste and sex are rapidly being removed, and people are being recognized more for their content.
Things will slower then we want it to happen but we must look at it in the context of where we were, our population, the percentage of those living in rural areas and the complexities of the situation.
Today i find the children of my colleages who are doing so well and have empowered themselves for their future, i realize that things are changing quite fast, though it may seem slow for those visit our country or read some reviews in the tabloid.
India has a long way to go before we can say there is satisfactory social order and basic needs of all have been met. My conservative estimate is about 100 years.