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Jamal Mecklai, "In the Long Run…We Will All Be Indian"

"In the Long Run…

…We Will All Be Indian"

Jamal Mecklai

Keynes was wrong. Darwin was right.

Keynes famously said, “In the long run, we will all be dead.” Of course, he was speaking just of himself and people around him. I am speaking of all humankind. Darwin, too, was speaking of the species of man, and he famously recognized that diversity is the basis for sustainability – something that environmentalists have been trying to sell the world’s populist leaders on.

Last week, I met an interesting gentlefella – American, venture capitalist with Sand Hill Road pedigree and investments in many diverse parts of the globe. His first time in India, though, and he was curious about several (to me) very obvious elements of the culture. Being men – all right, boys – we, of course, talked about women. He told me that he was amazed that when he (and his wife) had asked an Indian woman to take their photograph, the woman took his camera and handed it to the man with her, who, smiled at them and took the photograph. In America, he said, any woman would have taken the photograph thinking nothing of it. Even in China, where he had spent a lot of time, this would not have been an issue. He was surprised and curious, and wanted to know more about the difference between the sexes in India and whether it was different in the case of Hindus or Muslims and so on.We were in a bar, and although neither of us was drinking – he since his early teens, me as part of my Ramzan celebrations – and all of this sparked a lively debate. In fact, the evening got quite rowdy, involving, oddly enough, a raw egg, confused waiters and an annoyed patron.

Be that as it may, by the end of the evening, I found myself ruminating on the diversity of India and the fact that if diversity were the measure of development, India would be, by far, THE MOST DEVELOPED COUNTRY IN THE WORLD.

Now, my rudimentary knowledge of Darwin’s work – I know his great great grandson, a reformed heroin addict who is now a wonderful musician and writer, and have, on two occasions bought copies of The Origin of Species, fully intending to read it – tells me that diversity is a necessary condition for sustainability of a species. Extrapolating that into the long run – sorry, Mr. Keynes – Indian-ness becomes a necessary condition for the sustainability of man (and, please God, woman.)

What do I mean by Indian-ness? Well, look around you – if you live in a big city like Mumbai, there are more forms of human life, in terms of shape, size, colour, smell, dress sense and, critically, religious belief – and I use the word “religious” in its most catholic avatar here – than you could even dream of anywhere else. New Yorkers come here and get exhausted in just two blocks of Kalbadevi. Some of this does have to do with sheer numbers, but it’s not just that – there are more crowded places in the world. The reality is that, as another California friend of mine had said a couple of decades ago, India is the freest country in the world, certainly from a point of view of tolerating behaviors that would seem grotesque anywhere else. Have you seen those Tamilians who, on a particular festival, pierce their cheeks with iron rods and pull carriages? Or that sect of Muslims who beat themselves with chains during Muharram? Or, simply, the sadhu walking naked down the street?

You’d never see that in the U.S. – even in California – or in Europe or, for that matter, in Japan or China. India is where it’s at, if you’re after diversity. And, since diversity is a necessary condition for sustainability – thank you Charles – India (or Indian-ness, if you will) will remain the lasting condition of man.

Of course, evolutionary processes take a long, long time, but, if you look carefully – in fact, even not so carefully – you will see Indian-ness spreading all over the globe. On an individual level, Indian food is probably the favorite cuisine of more people in the world than any other. Yoga, meditation, carnal practices from the Kama Sutra – these are some of the more obvious individual expressions of Indian-ness that have, by now, become commonplace.

On a subtler level, although likely to be much stronger in impact, is the recent evolution of Indian multi-nationals. One of the remarkable things about Indian capitalism is that even the most money-grubbing of Indian capitalists has – and expresses – a deep, personal religious belief. Interestingly – and, I would say unsurprisingly – this doesn’t at all get in the way of making money. Quite the contrary. As more and more Indian companies acquire global assets, we will see this key aspect of Indian-ness disperse even more rapidly over the next few decades. [Which means, of course, that over time, the rupee’s strength will reassert itself, to more rapidly enable this process.]

Now, there are many who feel that Indian-ness – our disorganization, multiple holidays for multiple beliefs, the almost studied randomness with which we seem to work – is actually limiting our growth. To them, I would say, your time horizon is too short. I would commend them to Master Charles Darwin and, importantly, to another of the fundamental laws of life – the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that all systems move towards a state of greater entropy – i.e., disorganization.

Another way of saying that Geneva will be like Benares, before Benares will be like Geneva!