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TECH TALK: An Indian in China: Heart and Head

March 5th, 2002 · No Comments

Shanghai’s new construction surges ahead non-stop. This is what the Shanghai Daily’s lead story said: “This year, the city will double its expenditure on urban construction compared with the 2000 level.An estimated USD 6.31 billion will be spent on 76 projects this year, including new railway lines and expressways and the final stages of an effort to clean up the Suzhou Creek.”

All this happens even as we in Mumbai struggle to build a single Worli-Bandra sea link to ease traffic congestion. The essential difference can be seen in the efforts to build a road on top of the existing Peddar Road in Mumbai. There were howls of protests from local residents, including Lata Mangeshkar, who petitioned that the pollution because of the second road would affect her voice. The plan is now on hold, or perhaps scrapped. That’s the essential difference between Shanghai and Mumbai, between China and India. One nation decides and does, the other seeks public opinion and dithers.

Or so it may seem. India’s democratic underpinnings can be a source of pain at times like these. Action is required to move ahead rapidly.But ask any Indian and not a single one will want to sacrifice the freedom that exists at every level of our society and culture. Rather than being critical of where we are and what we are doing, we need to look at the brighter side of things. Mumbai has seen 50-odd flyovers constructed in the past few years. India is having a spate of expressways being built as part of the Golden Quadrilateral Project. Look at the malls sprouting up in the metros and the second-tier cities in India. Software Services and Business Process Outsourcing will continue India’s ascendance in the IT-enabled services segment. The challenge for us lies in using India’s strengths to build the new India. (See: Envisioning a New India)

As Manjeet Kripalani wrote it in her BusinessWeek.com article:

I think of my native city of Bombay, Shanghai’s counterpart in India. It’s old, it’s grubby and crumbling — but it’s also cosmopolitan, pulsating, and vibrant. The chaos is creative. That’s where the software miracle comes from. Bombay, I think, has heart and soul.

And then I realized something: I felt little heart and soul in Shanghai. Shanghai was all head, and the head works. The soul may be there, but to a first-time visitor the glitter and consumerism dominate.

India needs a forward-looking attitude like China’s — the vision of the future that shows, through the construction of great cities and efficient factories, what heights the Middle Kingdom can reach. And China needs people like India’s — willing to sleep without electricity at night in houses without running water in sole exchange for the right to criticize their government and exercise their vote.

Maybe someday, in both countries, the two great strengths of Asia — heart and head — will meet.

It is not heart versus head. It is about heart and head. The world needs both. It is up to the entrepreneurs in the two countries to build the bridges.

Tags: Tech Talk

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