The Pipe-Dream of a Developed Society

How we are at least 2 generations away from being "developed"

Bhavin Jankharia

So now that it has been declared that we will be a developed society within the next 24 years, by 2047, let us understand what that truly means.

One metric is the economy. Perhaps we may move from being an LMIC (low middle-income country) to a middle or high income country (MIC or HIC) in 24 years. But being a developed nation means much, much more than that.

The large number of people who migrate to developed countries will tell you that it is not just about the economy or the wealth of the nation, but the countless small things that differentiate a developed country from a country like ours.

Five years ago, a doctor friend of mine, at the age of 53, went to Australia, and last year became one of the oldest doctors to clear the licensure examination in his specialty. When I met him last year after his exams, I asked him whey at that age, with two grown children, with a better than average practice in Mumbai, he had left for Australia. He paused and then gave me a list, all of which were basically about the quality of your day-to-day life.

1. Driving and obeying rules:

I don’t think we will ever become “developed” until such a time that we can stop wrong-side driving, reign in the unruly two-wheelers and get drivers to stop at signals, take turns around roundabouts in the correct manner and stop honking. In the last 24 years, as we have moved from an LIC to an LMIC, it has only become worse. People from other cities at one time used to praise the rule-obeying Mumbai traffic…but now Mumbai is as bad as any other city in India.

2. Honking and noise:

It is insane. Even in Istanbul, which is as densely populated a city with clogged streets as Mumbai, hearing a horn is a rare phenomenon. As I am writing this, with my windows open, I can hear scooters and cars blowing their horns incessantly for no reason at all. Two-wheelers honk each time they pass a crossing and cabs honk each time a traffic signal starts, apparently because the honking is supposed to make the traffic go faster by one or two seconds. I wear my AirPods Pro whenever I am outdoors and/or in the car just to reduce the decibel level by 30db to maintain my sanity. Just as manyJains do 8-day “athais” (fasts) during pajosan, perhaps people should do no-horn “athais” on a regular basis.

3. Garbage:

No “developed” country has people throwing garbage, in bags or without, outside their houses or on the corners of the lane they live in. We are not even talking about the garbage in low income areas within the city. This is garbage thrown by well-to-do people or their house-help, without a thought of what it does to the surroundings. The garbage mound then attracts stray dogs, who along with the rag-pickers strew it all around, attracting flies and rodents and in the end just making it unhealthy for everyone around. We have one such garbage dump 200 meters from our house and while it doesn’t affect us directly, it is an eyesore each time we walk past it. We have tried everything; talking to the local corporators, the BMC, the local residents who are affected and/or responsible for the garbage and have tried to counsel or shout at the people who we have come across throwing garbage there…nothing seems to help.

4. Breaking queues:

Last week, I was waiting for an elevator and had kept a two feet distance from the lift door to allow whoever was coming out to do so without bumping into me. Just as the elevator door opened, three people came from behind me, rushed out in front of me and entered the lift without even waiting for those inside to come out. These were so-called urban elites at the NMACC, the new cultural hotspot at the Bandra-Kurla complex in Mumbai. If we can’t respect boundaries and get rid of the scarcity mentality of rushing in to grab whatever we can whenever we can so that we don’t lose out, we will not really be “developed”.

5. Grace:

Many Indians, when they meet over drinks or at parties often talk about how lonely life is in developed countries and how our family values are so much better than the so-called better-off countries. This is so much hogwash. We are still not good at saying “thank-you” or “sorry” or just being nice to strangers or having the grace to hold doors for people or not stand too close to them in airport or other lines. A lot of our so-called values are just for show…respect should not just be for our family members and friends…it has to be for everyone.

I understand that part of the problem is individual and national wealth or the lack of…that as people become wealthier and start traveling and seeing the developed world and learn more and move away from the scarcity mentality, many of these issues will get sorted out. But it will take two or generations, not just one and so while we may economically become developed by 2047 (and I have no epistemic understanding of this), I do believe that it will be 2074 before we actually start behaving like a “developed” country when it comes to the nitty-gritty of daily life.

I hope I am proven wrong. It is one of those win-win situations, if I had to place a bet with any of you readers today. If I win, then I have the pleasure of being proven right, but if I lose, I have the pleasure of being part of a “developed” society in my lifetime.