My 'China' thoughts.

The question in every Indian mind would be the one Srikanth posed for me after my return. He asked: 'How many years ahead is China?' I was a bit hesitant to answer this as my visit to China was brief and I had travelled in a capsule and my only Chinese connection was that of Charlie. I did not even eat Chinese food thanks to the lunches Mala used to pack for me. Anyway I said 'fifty!' A number Nandini had mentioned in a conversation we had a couple of years ago. The comment was from their Chinese friend's father after his visit to India. He had opined that India would never catch up, could even slide back!

I did not agree with this assessment then, thought it was too extreme based on just one visit! I had heard and read that India was on the move. There was a surge in real estate activity and infra structure projects were in full swing. It is not nice to mention the stalled NICE project of Karnataka here! Also, Mutual funds in the infrastructure segment were doing well and the share market was going through the ceiling. (Now it is history! Things have changed and HOW by the time I went into print!)

We also claimed that we spoke better English and that our quality of products and services were much better and so on. In fact, we spoke with pride that Chinese even visited Bangalore to learn about our IT industry. We were very confident that we would catch up with the Chinese. The race is apparently timeless between the In and the C, the only two Billionaires in population. (There is so much written about this phenomenon and there are legions who are better informed than I am.)

However, my first China exposure was the movie 'Dr. Kotnis ki amar kahani' I saw as a kid. I do remember we were sad but felt good and proud that an Indian had gone to help in their need. I learnt that it was Pandit Nehru who acted upon a request by Mao Tse Tung to send them doctors. It is interesting to read the full story at this site. Have a look!

The war with china, which is considered a betrayal of Nehru by the Chinese had a significant impact on my life. While it is certain that this incident seriously affected Nehru's health and reduced his stature in the eyes of many Indians, it also resulted in Mahindra and Mahindra Co. securing a large order from the Army. Thus, I was hired for their Poona plant when they expanded their activities to meet this demand! I really cannot guess how my life would have turned if I had not taken up this job at Poona. For a start, I would not have met Tara! (How does one thank God for such an outcome due to a war? )

I will go back to my impressions of the city. Beijing is a clean city, full of open spaces old and new. We did not see any beggars. I did see a few women collecting recycle bottles and cans from the trash. They did not look destitute, were very small in stature and thin but were chirpy and reminded me of sparrows. They wore uniforms, surely part of the Summer Palace staff and the busy week end meant some extra income for them. Another woman while looking for bottles, took time off to read the newspaper that was in the trash bin.

I asked Tara 'where are the poor!' There were no slums or abject poverty we see in India. Tara said 'They don't allow them into Beijing. People need permits to live in Beijing'. Is it the perpetuation of the 'Forbidden city' concept, I wondered with only the borders becoming much larger.

I did not see any police around. I even wished they were there when we were stuck in traffic! I was looking for signs of the officialdom. I missed them here, I have seen more of them at Lalbaugh in our own Bangalore, driving cars and scooters, even honking and forcing walkers in the park out of their way. Probably it was a special no-officials day in Beijing.

People looked relaxed and reasonably happy. It was a pleasure to see the older people. They were special. Their demeanour probably defines the place better than anything else. All of them looked content. The Chinese way of taking care of their old is well known. I could have filled my blog with pictures of these old people as I marvelled at their composure.

Has life changed for the better for people stuck in the villages? Probably not. I saw recently the documentary 'Up the Yangtze' wherein I saw people forced to give up their homes as the water rose with the dam. I remember one businessman crying as he spoke about how officials had driven them out of their homes. But his final comment was 'I suppose it is ok we suffered, as it is for the common good of our people'.

I think it is this spirit that is driving the Chinese and the liberalisation that is propelling the country much ahead of India. It started around thirty years ago and the gap, I am about to concede after my brief visit to Beijing, is increasing.

I thought I would also plumb the mind of Charlie, my only contact, about what he felt about his country. He obviously was very proud of his country and especially so after the Olympics. He said ' We were poor and not very strong, now we are not afraid of anyone'!

But, I was not successful in drawing him into a discussion on politics or the party. Finally, I asked him whether he wanted to be as powerful as the members of the party. He said 'Yes I would like to, but I do not know how!'

It was obvious he was not cut out to be one such. This became more obvious when we saw on TV at the airport, the premier addressing the Chinese parliament. The parliament looked huge and very very orderly and again very impressive in its size! The members were all serious and grim faced. I do not think Charlie could act grim even if he wanted to.
I must mention that on our return flight I did come across a person who probably was a very minor official. While I had no direct interaction with him, I could observe him as he was just ahead of us on the plane. The way he spoke to the Airhostess, while not loud, declared his official status and the face of the Hostess was a study as she dealt with him. I would have thrown the glass of water on his face instead of giving it to him and I think I was able to read her mind and that is what she would have loved to do!

To answer another question. Yes, I saw a few bicycles in the center of the city and there were special lanes for bicycles all over except the ring roads!


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