Saturday, August 12, 2006
It's A Small World Out There
May 18th 2006:
00.00 hours IST: Indian Airlines flight from Bangalore to Singapore delayed by an hour and half.
Five and half hours later after what seemed to be a never ending flight, I step out and take a deep breath. I've landed in a country which does not discriminate based on caste or creed, a country where crime is unheard of, a country where people "mind their own business".
3000 miles away from corruption, politics, traffic I feel relieved to enter into a country where law is paramount. The first thing that strikes me is the magnificient Changi Airport - Winner of the Best International Airport for the 'n'th consecutive time. As I walk to the lobby of the aiport awestruck by its grandeur my mind quickly goes into a "Spot the 6 differences" mode: Bangalore Airport v/s Singapore Airport. Hell, I think of 600 hundred differences ranging from the "paan stained" airport premises in Bangalore to the pleasant immigration officer at Changi.
Fifteen minutes later I watch in awe as the taxi driver sails through the well laid roads. I feel he is gliding over the roads, not riding on them. I close my eyes as he rapidly accelerates, awaiting the moment of screeching brakes bracing myself for the impending crash. Much to my surprise he has coolly overtaken the car opposite us without much ado. I strain my ear to hear any verbal abuse from the driver of the other car. I am surprised, he has just shifted gears and is focussed on the road ahead. The taxi driver takes me to the hotel in a matter of minutes. I expect him to haggle the moment I get out and I prepare myself mentally. I am astonished as he gives me a print-out of the bill and politely says "Thank you sir. Have a nice trip".
To switch rapidly from a city of utter chaos to a well organized robotic city is asking a bit too much. My "Bangalorean" instincts got the better of me as I stepped onto the road from the footpath. Surprisingly, I was the only one to do so and suddenly it struck me. Jaywalking is an offence and the penalty to be paid is roughly around 100$. That would have meant a 2 day salary cut for me. I quickly hop back to the footpath and my eyes scan for a pedestrian crossing.
At the pedestrian crossing I'm surprised yet again when I find passing cars awaiting for the pedestrians to cross. On any normal day in Bangalore, I would have seen scurrying pedestrians and angry drivers. Well, lesson no 1 learnt. In Singapore, to honk is a sign of disrepect to the other person and the pedestrian is considered supreme.
I quickly learn that it is not hi-fi technology and gadgets that makes Singapore a clean city. It is the adherence to the rules laid down that makes it what it is.
For two weeks I am totally dumbfounded by all the high rise buildings, all the man made rainforests, the artificial beaches and artificial whatnots. For two weeks I go on with 'ooh' and 'aah' and 'wow : what a place..on the contrary, look at India..they cannot do such simple things..all they look at is money etc etc'.
For those who think I am making a God out of Singapore read on..
On 2nd of July, I am all set into move into a furnished apartment and my landlord offers to carry my luggage from the hotel to the apartment. Just to make small talk I ask him "So sir, how long have you been here?". "17 years" comes the reply. "How do you find the living here? You must be really happy". He cuts me before I could complete my sentence "I'm sick of this place la (la - a Singaporean equivalent for the Indian "da" ). I want to go to another country la". End of conversation.
At the end of my two-month stay in Singapore I have interacted with atleast 100 Singapore citizens (and I am talking about people whose ancestors started families in Singapore). I recieve the same response from each of them. I find a feeling of restlessness, an urge to break free from the monotony of life, a desperation to live in a place where one can live without having to worry about paying his/her monthly salary as fine for a forgivable offence. I find that money and technology can make high rise buildings and lot of other contraption but along with it comes a cost, a cost of being a prisoner bound to a set of extremely stringent rules and regulations.
I however do agree that there are a lot of positives that can be taken to make India better. As the famous RangDeBasanti dialogue goes "Koi bhi desh perfect nahin hota. use behter banaana padta hai".
I offer a silent prayer, thanking God that I have been born in India - a country that needs no artificial beautification, a country where I govern my life, a country which has the concept of large families/gatherings (as opposed to a "2/3 people is considered to be a group/family"), a country where I can hear laugther around and not the silence of a graveyard. I can think of a thousand other things that makes India unique but I restrict myself here.
"Mera Bharat Mahan".