Photo by Oneras About a block away from my house is a local supermarket. It caters to all our daily needs of grocery, toiletries, snacks, drinks and so on. Most of the neighborhood finds it most convenient and reasonable. It was only a few days back that we happened to notice the construction of a new international supermarket at the end of our very own lane. The big signboard announced its arrival in style and it will be about a month before it starts functioning in full swing.
While taking a look at it, my neighbor suddenly pointed out that she would still prefer to go to the local supermarket even though this new entrant in our shopping oriented locality was much closer in distance. When I questioned her about the logic she promptly justified by saying that she rather support the local brand than allow foreign brands to barge into our homes.
Hmm, interesting right? I have been thinking about the same for a while and realized how much of a national debate this has been over the ages for Indians. Our strong sense of nationalism reflects mostly in superficial ways. We rejoice every Independence Day and cry on watching patriotic movies. We fight for what we deem as our cultural and social heritage, yet we malign national property remorselessly. We accept corruption as a way of life and lament on our political class. We cheer for the Indian cricket team, yet let our gold medalist in lesser known sports struggle for a living.
What is this sense of nationalism that we hold so dear to our hearts and which only rises within us when we sense an external threat? Is it because we are emotional than most other nationalities and add a generous dose of sentimentality to every action? Or is it our deep wounded pride of once being slaves to a foreign government that we find it hard to accept anything that is primarily deemed as theirs? Or is it the communist hangover which refutes the capitalist approach of business and development?
On second thought, I understand that we really would want to have a deep sense of nationalism, but we just fail to find one in practical things. Which is why we hold on to ideas and principles as last vestiges of national and local pride.
Post – 1992 the then Finance Minister of India, Mr. Manmohan Singh, opened the Indian markets to imports through liberalization, globalization set foot forward and marched on rapidly in the Indian economy and social fabric. Material foreign things became in fashion and their usage was deemed totally acceptable for the sake of convenience, quality, and competition. However, when we talk about foreign companies outsourcing work to India or opening supermarkets and retail stores, we tend to hesitate for just a moment. Somewhere, we would like to use their products but are uncomfortable with the fact that they become more popular and prosperous than our local markets.
Whether it is suggesting that call centers are an easy way to make quick money on backend work provided by foreign MNCs or that local artisans and agriculture are dying due to cheaper imported goods and crops, the great Indian debate oscillates between practical globalization and an emotional attachment that it feels for what it calls its own.
But I guess here in lies the beauty of this land. We are neither refuting the global concepts, yet our hearts beat and wish for the local to reach towering heights. We feel proud when we think of Reliance and Wipro, yet aspire to work for Google and Facebook. We will always eat the evergreen orange ice cream stick, yet relish a Baskin Robbins. We will treasure a Kancheepuram saree with as much care as an Armani suit and carry the Shantiniketan handbag with as much panache as a Gucci.
Probably all countries face this dilemma and manifest it in different ways. And looking around the global political space currently, it only seems natural to talk about globalization and its boon and bane almost in the same breath. However, we have to admit that this moral confusion is not felt so passionately and in so many walks of life, as it is felt here. I say so because, in many places entrance of other foreign markets, goods and concepts are often met with extreme reactions. Either they are hailed and upheld as exquisite or are scorned vehemently at. The global and local debate is somewhat unique to India because it is those rare cases where in spite of many benefits the main reason for its perceived snag is a feeling of guilt and guile. A sense of pride that disallows us to understand that the global does benefit the local in the end and vice versa. However, for an emotionally driven population facts usually, take a back seat.
The question is have we struck a balance or rather will we ever be able to strike one? I do not know.
For that matter, I still do not know if I will walk a block or only a few feet to shop for my grocery.