Youth drive progress in a rising economy

There may have been of late a hiccup in India's economic growth for a variety of reasons.

By Aditya Sinha

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Published: Wed 27 Dec 2017, 7:00 PM

Last updated: Wed 27 Dec 2017, 9:37 PM

Recently at a niece's engagement party her dad was a bit sore over the expenses. Perhaps it would have mattered less to him had the party been less exclusive and had he been able to invite all his and his wife's innumerable relatives in their small town (in a distant state capital). The party was nice, filled with youngsters (including my daughters) doing choreographed dancing, and it was hard to believe that the five-star hotel we were at was a part of small-town India. (Not so hard, actually, according to economists who say that India's biggest growth is in its tier-2 and tier-3 cities.) People had splurged on clothes and shoes and jewellery and designer sunglasses, which bizarrely they did not remove even for official photographs.
On my previous trip there I was next to a young man who was flying for the first time. He asked me how it was that we would reach in two hours when by train it took nearly two days. He also wanted to know if he could catch a rickshaw from the airport to his village. He worked in a restaurant in Delhi, but it was not a restaurant that any newspaper would review, and his employer had got him a ticket online some months back so that it was dirt cheap. I was happy that he got the chance to look out the window and see the earth, which he had tilled as a sharecropper not too long back, far below him at this (literally) high point in his life.
After the wedding, when I returned home to Gurgaon I took my clothes to my local dry-cleaner. He was in a good mood. I asked, and he told me he was going to Bangkok, Thailand, for New Year's Eve. "With family?" I asked. He broke into laughter. "No, with friends," he said. "I've told my family I'm going to Mussoorie." His younger assistant chipped in: "They'll figure it out by your location on facebook. Your son will tell his mother that papa has gone to Bangkok." The fellow became sheepish and said he would deliberately leave his phone at home. I was reminded of a friend's high-society wife who some months back sniffed about how downmarket the flights to Bangkok had become, with all sorts of "paan-shop" passengers. More power to them, I told myself.
My cousin had a mini-stroke last weekend. He or his immediate family did not know it was a stroke, though he had no control over his limbs and was heavily slurring his words. His local doctor told him to get an MRI done. He has a choice of private hospitals, living in Gurgaon which is a medical destination whose superspecialty hospitals are popular with patients from West Asia, Central Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa, among other places. Despite recent episodes where private healthcare has received adverse publicity, he decided to go to a local modest private hospital. Since the next day was Sunday, Christmas Eve, and the day after that was Christmas, so he did not go till the 26th.
Somehow late in the day I also rushed over to the hospital, and looked at the patients. When my children were born in the '90s, the private hospital my wife was admitted to made me cringe with its seemingly five-star atmosphere. Now it seems so downmarket in comparison to the chain hospitals or even to the fancy neighbourhood clinics, or even those labs which collect your specimen for analysis. I waited at the reception of the hospital for my cousin to get his MRI done, and I watched a lot of "socially mobile" small-town Indians who aspired to being "fancy", bustle about, getting their parents checked for various lifestyle ailments.
There may have been of late a hiccup in India's economic growth for a variety of reasons. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government likens his twin measures of demonetisation and the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) to bitter medicine that the economy necessarily had to take to get on a higher growth path. A wealth manager recently tried to convince me that the recapitalisation of banks, which have heavy debts and non-performing assets on their books, was a part of this "joining of the dots" in which to take the economy to a higher trajectory. Perhaps they are right; perhaps those who criticise them for only servicing India's big industrialists are wrong. It seems to me, however, that India is growing nonetheless; that its growth is rooted in its massive population, its spread of small-town energy and initiative, and in the hunger of its "socially mobile" population. The government may try a slew of measures to hurry growth up, but I often wonder if it would be better for the government to merely get out of the way of its people.
Aditya Sinha is a senior journalist based in India

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