Physics of Poverty series by Dr. Tara Thiagarajan, Chairperson, Madura Microfinance
There is this strange sense of duality that India seems to bring upon you. On one hand there is this feeling of being on the cusp of something extraordinary. The giddy experience of watching something once so far removed from the developed world morph so rapidly and palpably into a modern society. The sense of possibility, the sense that something big is about to happen is now regular dinner party conversation.
The journey of one generation to the next has been so fast that parents often have little context for the lives of their children. Particularly for the lives of the children who have been abroad and returned speaking, dressing and acting differently. This new India is English speaking, moves easily from one city to another, sometimes one country to another. It is hyperconnected and watches all the same TV shows as the rest of the English speaking world, hears the same news, and eats burgers and chicken nuggets almost as often as dhal and rice. This is more significant than you might think. “You know”, a friend tells me at dinner last week, “when I was young when we met kids who had grown up abroad we never knew what to talk about. We used to feel so awkward – they watched shows you never heard of, ate things you never heard of and talked about things you never heard of and had an accent you could never understand”. “But now it’s so different”, she says “recently my kids met some kids that had grown up in Singapore and the US and they got on immediately playing games with the same characters and constructs”. There is the feeling that we are increasingly becoming one world. Another friend who runs a global business and has lived in London, New York and Moscow has decided to now base out of India because its “here that its happening now and you want your children to understand it”. It’s easy to go to the US or Europe and get into the system in a few years, but to understand India is much harder, he contends.
And not least because there is the rest of India that evokes an uneasy fear. The thick mass of humanity that operates in a realm that is unaccounted and off grid, swarming every available space. They are unaware of the internet, speak no English and hold an entirely different world view. Almost like a different species. Literally.
There are two ways in which the concept of species has been thought of. One view, which is in morphological terms, holds that members of a species are individuals that look similar to one another. The more widely accepted view, which is in biological terms, holds that a species is a group of actually or potentially interbreeding individuals who are reproductively isolated from other such groups. The process of speciation occurs slowly over time as one interbreeding group separates into two groups with an increasing rarity of interbreeding. While we typically think of this as occurring in the context of ‘postzygotic’ reproductive viability – or the failure to conceive viable offspring due to genetic differences that arise, speciation often arises because of ‘prezygotic’ isolating mechanisms – conditions that prevent the attempt to interbreed. In nature these can be due to groups occupying different habitats or engaging in distinct courtship and mating rituals.
As one group of India changes so rapidly leaving behind the other on its slow journey (The internet is now even changing our brains, research says), the reproductive barriers are becoming a gaping chasm where interbreeding is increasingly rare and each group is more easily distinguished by visual cues – the clothes they wear and the habitats where they are seen. So much so that our mobile, connected group even has a name to refer to the other – we call them the Aam Aadmi - and we all understand. What will we be as a country and a planet when the process of speciation is complete? When the dichotomy that India carries is as large as it can ever be? It’s a thought experiment that would be an interesting theme for a film, I imagine.