B S Raghavan

The India to which Indians are blind

B.S.RAGHAVAN | Updated on August 26, 2012

Sean Paul Kelley’s credentials are impressive. Formerly an asset manager for a Wall Street investment firm and a top professional adviser to Solar Winds, a software company based in Austin, Texas, he left both the jobs to become a travel writer who has been to 50 countries. He is credited with founding The Agonist in 2002, which is considered “the top international affairs, culture and news destination for progressives”. He is currently the Global Correspondent for The Young Turks, on satellite radio and Air America.

His reflections after an exhaustive as well as excruciating tour of India by all means of travel are doing the rounds of the Internet Web and blog sites and evoking gasps of horrified surprise, not the least from the Indians themselves who ought to have known better. No wonder. He holds the mirror to an India that Indians see every hour of the day without being put to shame, leave alone being roused to anger and outrage, leading to efforts to do something about it.

Here are a few sample opinions of his: “India is a mess…..The filth, squalor and all around pollution, indicates a marked lack of respect for India by Indians. I don't know how cultural the filth is, but it's really beyond anything I have ever encountered…

“In major tourist areas filth was everywhere, littering the sidewalks, the roadways, you name it. Toilets in the middle of the road, men urinating and defecating anywhere, in broad daylight… Take the trash, for example, civil rubbish collection authorities are too busy taking kickbacks from the wealthy to keep their areas clean that they don't have the time, manpower, money or interest in doing their job.


“The electric grid is a joke…the ports are a joke…Roads are an equal disaster…Railway system is awful… Getting train tickets is a terrible ordeal, first you have to find the train number, which takes 30 minutes, then you have to fill in the form, which is far from easy, then you have to wait in line to try and make a reservation, which takes 30 minutes at least and if you made a single mistake on the form, back you go to the end of the queue, or what passes for a queue in India.

“The government is notoriously uninterested in the problems of the commoners. Too busy fleecing the rich, or trying to get rich themselves in some way, shape or form….

“What have (all the Nobel Laureates, nuclear physicists, eminent economists and entrepreneurs) brought back to India with them? Nothing!”

Finally, of course, the wooden and lethargic bureaucracy and the hydra-headed monster of corruption.

(In the midst of all this horror, he finds Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode deserving of an appreciative pat on the back. All other States must now rush study groups there to profit from their performance.)


There it is, all laid bare, in explicit, if hurting, language. As he puts it, “If you are Indian, or of Indian descent, I must preface this post with a clear warning: You are not going to like what I have to say. My criticisms may be very hard to stomach. But consider them as the hard words and loving advice of a good friend. Someone who is being honest with you and wants nothing from you.”

All of what he has said should be welcomed in the spirit of the Tamil proverb which says that only the person who really cares for you, will tell unpleasant truths about yourself to your face. However, there’s no chance of its stinging anyone into any remedial action. For Indians are more prone to take offence at frankness and impute motives to those who criticise them.

In the 1920s, one Katherine Mayo came up with a book called Mother India in which she unburdened herself of all the off-putting and ugly features of the India she saw.

Even Mahatma Gandhi was so upset that, instead of asking Indians to introspect about what she had seen, he asked them to dismiss it as a “drain inspector’s report”. Kelley himself is aware that he won’t be let off lightly by Indian readers who might castigate him as “a cultural imperialist, a spoiled child of the West”.

And that, precisely, is the fate he has invited on himself. Poor man!

Published on August 26, 2012

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