Thursday, March 17, 2005

Give and take? Or give and give?

Some American (or maybe an insignificant non-American) once said, "Ask not what your country has done for you. Ask what you have done for your country."

Undoubtedly, a very noble thought, but rather outdated, in my humble opinion. I grew up in a middle class home, listening to patriotic songs on Aakashwani on Independence days and watching Republic day parades on Doordarshan. Those were the days, my friend, when I believed the propaganda and actually thought our country was progressing; that we were soon going to be a force to reckon with, that the west with all its perverted philosophies was spiralling downward towards its doom. Those were the sweet days when I was patriotic to the hilt, when I used to wake up at 3:45 in the morning to cheer the Indian hockey team (only to watch them get thrashed by the Dutch team); when I knew that I was going to be a brilliant engineer when I grew up and would invent amazing devices which would be the final proof of superiority of our intellect as a race; when I was innocent. The point which I am laboriously trying to drive home, dear reader, is that a decade back I would have given up my life for the country without saying ouch. I didn't ask what my country did for me. The very thought never occurred to me. All that mattered was whether I was doing enough for the country.

The first time that I went to US, my company paid me a handsome salary in dollars. Despite spending lavishly on a tennis racket, numerous garments, gifts for every relative of mine ever conceived, flight tickets to San Francisco and Boston (and many other expenses which rather set back the amount of money I had intended to save before the trip, to cut a long account short), I managed to save upward of $3000. Most of my friends advised me to go the usual way and cash the exchange through some dubious havala dealer. But no, that would have been unethical and deceitful towards mine motherland. How could I? So I went to the newly launched ICICI bank where I had an account and exchanged dollars for rupees. Then, I went to State Bank of India and paid 30% of that money as advance tax (the money deposited in my bank was accountable as extra income). I walked out of the dilapidated SBI building with a crumpled piece of paper (receipt of advance tax paid) that the gruff government employee tossed in my general direction and, for a second, wondered whether people were actually squinting their eyes because of my halo. Not once did I feel that I had done something stupid. That, as you astute observers rightly observed, is innocence. I asked not what the country had done for me. I did something assuming it would make things better for some deserving souls (not knowing that the money probably went towards a corrupt official buying a motorbike for his son).

Would I still do that? Are you kidding me? No! Not if God himself descended in front of me as I sipped my black coffee at Barista and persuaded me, or even threatened to smite me with weapons like Brahmastra or tazer.

I have decided to ask. Ask what I have done for the country. And what the country has done for me. Let's start with me, shall we?

  • I've paid my taxes. All the time. Right to the last khota paisa. In fact, I didn't cash a tax refund cheque that the state sent to me (I was so surprised that they actually sent some money back that I wet my pants, I believe). I'm not saying I did that deliberately (forget cashing the cheque, not wetting the pants), but out of sheer laziness.
  • I abide by the rules to a ridiculous extent. If I am the first vehicle at a red light and the entire population of India is waiting behind me, impatiently, for the light to turn green, I wouldn't jump the light even if there were no policemen in sight. Both times that I accidentally broke the light I paid due fines.
  • I have (directly and indirectly) resisted the temptation to flee the sinking ship. I could have joined the rat race (actually I did, but eventually dropped out) and easily left the country. But I am still here, idiotically forcing myself to believe that the future is unbelievably bright.
  • I am generating employment and revenue for the country which, as I mentioned earlier as well, I regularly pay taxes on.
Before we move to the country list, let me spell out my expectations. Since I pay my taxes, I expect good infrastructure, help from authorities and other benefits of this kind. Here is what the country has done for me.
  • I live a kilometer away from my workplace. Even for such a short distance, there are not two consecutive meters of marked and well surfaced road. Municipal Corporation and other bodies keep digging the road up as and when they please. In fact, one of my greatest desires is to dress down someday, go to M G Road, and start digging the busiest intersection. I am sure nobody will question or stop me.
  • I went out for some milkshake with my girlfriend (now my wife) around 11:00 p.m. once, and a bunch of drunks tried to get into a fight with us, and started hitting the car with their hands. There was a police jeep parked in front of our car and all cops were busy drinking milkshakes. I attracted their attention and urged them to intervene. Showing utmost responsibility and courage, the police jeep just fled the scene. So much for my taxes paying their salaries (nothing happened, thankfully, since the goons were too sloshed to do any damage and I just drove away from that place. They tried to chase my Zen in an auto. Fat chance!)
  • MSEB, in the hallowed name of load shedding, cuts our power supply for three (yes, t-h-r-e-e) hours everyday. So much for my taxes going towards infrastructural development.

The list is endless and I could keep going, but you get the drift.

Verdict? I leave it to you, o revered visitor to my humble blog. I just wanted to vent some steam at your expense, so thank you for bearing with me.

Remember, ask not...


At 3:39 AM, Blogger Vignesh said...

I left the US to take this job in India last year. I cannot say I did it ONLY because of the belief that I held, that I would make pay my debt to my country. I had other reasons, some that have proved to be worthy reasons, and some, woefully, have not. The one thing that has remained is that I still feel that I am doing something to help. In my own way, I have. I would say more, but I don't think my company would like that ;)

The catch is though, that living in Bangalore makes me feel guilty. It feels like I am contributing to the death of the city. I realise that it is the govt that should be doing something about the growth of thier own investments, but, over and beyond, everytime I travel, every time I goto watch a movie, I can't help but think... there used to be a lake here.

At 3:52 AM, Blogger Anurag said...


I completely understand your sentiments. Like I said, till a decade back I used to think just like you do right now.

We are all contributors to the state of this country, to some extent. But some more than others. I do like to believe (and I hope rightfully so) that I have tried to minimize my contribution to the bane of this nation.

I have given up now. Finally. It is good that people like you have hope and maybe something is possible. But it will take a miracle for that possibility to take shape.

I also gave up US in 2001. So I understand how you feel.

BTW, I like reading your posts. You write very naturally. Keep writing.


At 5:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

in the 1500s europeans saw the great opportunity to enrich their countries by plundering naive or stupid countries around the world. bravely they set out on this mission, colonising and owning lands unknown and mysterious.
in the late 1900s the common desi man, common in social class, not talent, stumbled upon an opportunity to make big money in the fat and lazy (??) but overflowing with riches lands abroad.
bravely these men plowed into the unknown, facing harsh winters, battling prejudice, overcoming all obstacles to succeed through force of will. their names appeared on the lists of the richest of the rich. finally, when foriegners thought of india they thought not of elephants and snake charmers but of a academically gifted race.
dont give and take and dont give and give. take from the US and give to india.

At 5:47 AM, Anonymous munna said...

paid your taxes!! even americans try to get out of that as much as they can.. and when i say "even americans" i dont mean that they are any better than desis but that there is a much higher chance of tax money being put to some reasonable use in america. the issue seems to be that you are equating the government and the country.
i would also like to distinguish between two kinds of people. those who quit their job in the US to go back to India to take another job. people say dont judge! but only a cabbage doesnt judge. so i will say this: dont you even think about claiming that its for the betterment of india.
now people who go back and can generate employment or actively contribute to the society through other work. hats off to them. they are my heroes. they do have the right to vent when the government fails them. but i hope that they continue to lead the path which i can also take.

At 11:21 AM, Blogger Senthil said...

Hmmm. Deep, tricky topic, there. The interesting - albeit sad - part of the matter is that junta who complain are told to "do something about it", which is probably a nice way of saying, "Try dirtying your hands in politics, or sod off!".

Going by which logic, if you pay for good service in a restaurant and don't get it, you should try being a waiter.

Anyways, the idea about digging up an intersection at MG road seems like fun. Count me in! :)

At 12:02 PM, Anonymous munna said...

holy cow! i guess senthil's intent is to keep this light hearted otherwise only a fool would give the analogy of a restaurant. but really.. the SAD part is that one is told to do something about it?!! no sir, we like to be beat up, trampled on, as long as we can get the beating without moving a finger, and as long as we can cry "mummy mummy, i am being beaten". uhh.. sir can i pay you by credit card to stop you from beating me, i dont have cash right now. holy mother of kali maan! india is a restaurant!!

At 11:17 PM, Anonymous Gina said...


Anurag is generating employment with the software company he's started. The frustration creeps in because it is impossible to grow a legitimate business in India without dirtying your hands.


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