I called my friend Rajeev and informed him that I was travelling from Paris to Geneva by train running at 320km/hr. At first he couldn’t believe the speed and told me that if such a train were available in India, Mumbai-Pune distance would have been covered in less than 30 minutes. While I was talking to Rajeev, I noticed that a fair lady, most likely in early thirties, sitting next to me was paying attention to our conversation. I could easily guess from her deep blue eyes, very fair complexion and slender body that she must be a France citizen. Curious to know her interest in my conversation, I decided to end the call quickly. As soon as I ended the call, she turned towards me and said, “Namaste. How are you?” I replied,” Astonished”
Later, she informed me that she is associated with an NGO that works for the betterment of underprivileged children in rural areas of India and has visited the country five times; her maiden voyage to India was in 1995. She went on to say, “I visited your country recently when Prime Minister Narendra Modi scrapped the currency notes overnight! “, her tone was not as gentle as it was before. I asked if she had to face any intricacy. She told that her Jet Airways flight landed at midnight – just four hours after the big announcement which she was not aware of. By the time she could finish immigration formalities and attempt to get Indian currency at the airport, legal currency bills were out of stock. It was the period of absolute uncertainty. Further she added that demonetization was more a shock than a surprise for her but fortunately she had some Indian friends who lent her money just enough to buy food. Trying to defend my country’s decision and not to upset the French beauty I said,” I think it was a good decision with a bad implementation.” She didn’t react. I changed the topic.
Even with other casual topics of our discussion she seemed quite outspoken and proactive. More importantly she was the first French national I met who has seen the sparking skyline of Mumbai and visited un-electrified villages. I wanted to know her opinion about India’s development.
After breakfast, I initiated a conversation with her. This time expecting a positive reply, I asked if she noticed striking differences in India in terms of development since her first visit. She thought for a while and said, “Well, I consider it as growth and not as development.” Baffled, I requested her to elaborate what she meant. She explained that with the advent of internet, IT companies, state of the art Airports and highways, skyscrapers, etc India has changed dramatically in last couple of decades. However, all those changes were not well planned, well monitored or well controlled. A selected few cities are still growing beyond their capacities. On the other side, there has not been much development or growth in villages. Her NGO and even the government use free meal as a tactic to lure some kids to attend schools. Hence, she would use the term growth – just like a tree growing branches only towards sunlight! India has not yet embraced the policy of dispersed development and is short of at least 100 well planned cities and about thrice as many villages to cater the needs of growing middle class. Had that been implemented already, demonetization could have been a right decision with a very good implementation.
Like many other Indians, I knew that some of our cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, etc. are growing beyond their capacities. But I never realized that demonetization made the necessity of dispersed development quite evident. I don’t know how the French lady estimated the count of planned cities and villages India is lacking. But her opinion made sense and prompted me to share our conversation.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)