Round Pizza in a Square Box
Excerpt from Chapter 1 – Still a Student
1991 was for many Indians the date of India’s true emancipation. On the verge of bankruptcy, India’s then Prime Minister and Finance Minister called for an emergency meeting. Neither man slept until they had systematically identified and reversed the country’s failing policies, which included boldly opening India’s borders to international markets. Overnight, the ailing land took its first gasp of fresh air as an unrestrained nation, making a dramatic turnaround towards a bright and healthy future.
India’s upward progress in the 90’s nourished the economy’s sunken belly as businesses grew, cities flourished, and India once again earned a competitive foothold in the global economy. It was in this decade that I finished my MBA and began a career as a business consultant.
It has been a pleasure these last twenty years watching India continue its ascent into the twenty-first century, but I also find the country to be at a critical crossroads. With all of its recent advancements, there now exist two India’s – a rich India and a poor India. While India’s affluent cities are home to many residents who speak English, hold college degrees, and earn good jobs overseas, seventy percent of India’s population of over seven hundred million people, live in substandard conditions in India’s smaller cities and villages. Almost half lack adequate travel routes, medical centers, and accessible education.
While India boasts magnificent universities and technical schools, producing one million engineering graduates each year, an estimated thirty-five percent of children and forty percent of women, are still unable to read or write because the government-run primary schools are failing. This problem is compounded in villages where poverty is often so extreme that children have to forego school altogether to work alongside their parents.
While India is home to some of the wealthiest businessmen and women in the world, hundreds of fathers with swollen feet pull rickshaws for miles, working harder than their lives give license yet earning barely enough income to feed one meal a day to their starving families. The United Nations writes that India is today home to more than a third of the world’s chronically malnourished children.
And while a number of India’s wealthy corporations prosper through municipal bribes and illegal favors, local entrepreneurs continue to struggle through a maze of bureaucratic offices and old, restrictive policies, in their efforts to earn honest incomes.
When I read books and newspaper headlines that talk about the rising India, I cannot help but ask, “Rising for whom? The fifteen to twenty-five percent who speak English and live in the cities?” For the rest, there is nothing rising about it.
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