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Tale of Two Worlds: Urban and Village India

By Rajesh C. Oza Email By Rajesh C. Oza
November 2014
Tale of Two Worlds: Urban and Village India

with PostModern Gandhiji (PMG)

An advice column offering the Mahatma’s perspective on modern dilemmas


Dear PMG,

I was recently on a two-week business trip to Bangalore, the so-called “Garden City” or “Silicon Valley of India.” Much of Bangalore is distressingly congested, in large part due to IT growth and pressures of migration to Bangalore from other parts of India, including from nearby villages which have been displaced by an ever-expanding metropolis.

During my weekend break, I went on a tour of the nearby heritage city of Mysore, once the capital of the Karnataka region. The contrast in going from Bangalore to Mysore was captured in a headline in The Hindu newspaper: “Tale of Two Cities.” While Mysore was subtitled as “Old Capital, New Dreams,” Bangalore was subtitled as “Bloom, Boom, Doom.”

During this same trip, I listened to Indian leaders talk about budgeting for 100 smart cities. It seems to me that India is rapidly urbanizing. While it’s not clear whether these smart cities will look like lovely Mysore or become a Bangalorean eyesore, it seems certain that Gandhiji’s belief in village India as a model for the world is now a distant dream.

Dear Friend,

“India’s way is not Europe’s; India is not Calcutta and Bombay. India lives in seven hundred thousand villages.” (M. K. Gandhi)

Quite a compelling perspective from The Hindu. The first paragraph of the twin articles is illustrative of the seemingly inexorable degradation of Indian village life:
“Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has an appointment with the people of Mandur village... where some 200 truckloads of Bangalore’s solid waste are dumped every day. The people want the Chief Minister to experience the stench and see how they suffer from various health problems.”

Some argue that Gandhiji’s idealization of village life was a kind of utopian fantasy. And this argument has merit, for the self-sufficient republic isolated from the world has not been sustainable. But if one replaces “fantasy” with “aspiration,” the tone of the conversation changes, and the following question becomes the basis for honest dialogue: Should India and the world aspire to a village utopia (which might evolve high-tech growth to appropriate technology) or aspire to a metropolitan dystopia (which might devolve appropriate consumption to high-garbage growth)?

This is truly a case of postmodern choice-making at all levels, from Chief Ministers to Village Panchayats and from Chief Executives to Agricultural Laborers. It is a matter of which way forward in a fragmented world of seven billion that by 2050 could be a cohesive village of nine billion. In his day, Gandhiji suggested that “India’s way is not Europe’s.” He also maintained that “You cannot build nonviolence on a factory civilization, but it can be built on self-contained villages.” Today, if mindless consumption is not to become the globe’s pervasive way of life, then an intelligent middle path must be forged where India lives in seven hundred thousand “smart villages” rather than in 100 smart cities.

[Dr. Rajesh C. Oza serves as a consultant to organizations and individuals requiring change leadership. We invite questions for consideration in the PMG column at raj.oza@sbcglobal.net.]


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