Pssst, just what are we good at as a nation?

PRATAP SHARMA writes from Delhi: Most of India’s best cricket writing is done by non-cricket writers—try Prem Panicker, Ramachandra Guha, Mukul Kesavan—who feel no obligation to be parrots of players, administrators, advertisers, sponsors, et al.

And as if to prove the theory, The Hindu‘s political columnist Harish Khare has a scathing piece in today’s paper on India’s early exit from the World Cup, after the “unrealisitic and unjustified national hysteria” whipped up by the above worthies.

Khare makes the provocative point that India was able to win the World Cup only when a strong, purposive and self-assured Prime Minister presided over the nation’s affairs. Be that as it may, there are a couple of stand-out lines in the article.

“The 2007 defeat would be worth the national pain if we manage to underline two collective failings:

a) an almost civilisational inability to distinguish the ridiculous from the sublime, and

b) a visceral disinclination to realise that the external world will not lower its standards just to accommodate our mediocrity.”

That set me thinking on something I have been thinking for a while now. We cannot go into the second round of a “World” Cup with barely a dozen serious participants. We cannot win an Olympic medal half-way decently. We cannot pick up a Nobel Prize in medicine or mathematics. We cannot make a movie which will sweep the Oscar or BAFTA awards, or an album which will win big at the Grammy’s. We cannot write a global best-seller.

We cannot make a single product—a car, a computer, a phone, a TV set, a plane, a submarine—that the world will queue up to buy. We cannot create a single, magazine newspaper or television channel that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best of the world. We cannot nurture a world-class University. We cannot build a laboratory or do pathbreaking research or making an earth shattering discovery. We cannot think of an Indian multinational. Etcetera.

You get the picture?

Yes, there are glorious exceptions—our philosophy, our yoga, our ayurveda, our food. But, as the saying goes, the exceptions only test the rule. Which opens up an interesting question: just how good are we as a nation and just what are we good at as a nation? And let’s not even get started on corruption, communalism, casteism, criminalisation.

Are we, as Khare suggests, a mediocre nation just wallowing in our own vomit while merrily providing the numbers for the world to gape at? Are we just a nation of telephone operators? A nation of consumers waiting to be sold to?

Why?

Read Harish Khare’s article here: Beyond the humiliation at the World Cup