This is not an amusing thought and I reflect on this through the wisdom and sagacity of my once upon a time illustrious neighbour. In the mid sixties and at an impressionable age, I was fortunate to have the Late T.M.Mahalinga Iyer (TMM) as our neighbour. TMM was a mischievously sarcastic scholar who could handle the English language, law and music with such ease and perfection that lady luck didn’t consider him “average” and was jealous of him. He was not elevated to the bench. He lived a 100+ years and left a lasting impression on me and some others. He used to say “If you were to put a coconut, mango, tapioca, jackfruit, yam, banana, cashew, onion, and a cabbage in a basket and shake it up, can you draw an average?” That is TMM’s India for you.
Decades later I am reflecting on TMM’s proclamation and wondering if that is still true. The concept is both elusive and evolving. The term “average Indian” is used effortlessly and without demur. A country with a over a billion people, about 3000 communities, 29 states, 6 union territories, about 600,000 villages, 18 official languages plus 96 other languages not listed in the Constitution and 216 mother tongues is to say the least a complex amalgam of castes, races and religions with its own unique colours, odours and tastes. Add to this the huge disparity in income and wealth; you have a unique brew called India. TMM’s analogy was rather playful but not badly chosen.
Borrowing TMM’s thoughts and contemplating on it in the context of the post 2009 election scenario let me ask – is there an average Indian Voter? Take a look at the organized manner in which we conducted the recent elections for 543 Parliament seats. Over 800,000 polling booths, 700 million plus voters, about 415 million votes polled and many of the statistics surrounding the elections are staggering including our ability to elect as many as 150 members of Parliament who have criminal cases pending against them and perhaps the richest Parliament so far with about 300 crorepatis ( one crore is ten million) . I had a sense of pride as I went to the polling booth on the 7th morning at 7.30 am along with my wife to cast our votes. The diversity of candidates was both revealing and disturbing too. I was impressed with the orderliness at the polling booth and the seriousness with which the polling officials were doing their job. It is remarkable that a country as huge as India could get their act together in a systematic manner. It is indeed a matter of pride that we have our own indigenous EVM – the Electronic Voting Machine. The EVM is reported to be faultless and enables the announcement of results an efficient and relatively accurate one unlike the vote counting errors reported in the US and the latest errors found in testing some US machines in New Mexico. In spite of this, it is amazing that our politicians are not questioning the accuracy of these EVMs. The votes are cast, they are counted and results announced. No one questions except a very few who may have lost by meagre margins. If you win, it is your fate and if you lose, it is again your fate. What a wonderful concept!!
So is there an average Indian after all in Incredible India ? How do we stick together as a nation and perform impossible feats? How do we tolerate and adjust to live together as a nation? How do we as very rich and very poor people stay together to run this nation? What is this glue?
Are we fatalists?
Are we a happy lot even when we are in gloom?
Do we all share a unconquerable spirit of hope – whether we are rich or poor whether we are urban or rural?
Is prudence a virtue that all Indians share?
Are we a parsimonious lot across the board?
Are these some of the shared attributes (some sort of glue) of the enigmatic average Indian? Do we have less of a blur when we qualify the average Indian with a suffix like – average Indian voter, average Indian farmer, average Indian business man, average Indian politician, average Indian driver, average Indian bureaucrat, average Indian musician, avearge Indian cricketer and so on?