It’s been one month since I returned to India. And after 18 months away in Indonesia, another emerging Asian behemoth, I was filled with optimism and excitement, ready to tackle the subcontinent’s plethora of stories again.
But the India I left in 2012 is different to the India I’ve encountered in recent weeks.
From my very first conversation with a taxi driver on the way out of the airport, to discussions with family and old friends, one thing is clear: India is in despair.
Economically, its chips are down, politically, it’s in the doldrums, and socially, it’s lost in that strange patch of wilderness between conservative and modern, Indian and “Western”.
The nation that I remember, abound with personal, heart warming (and sometimes wrenching) stories of economic miracles full of optimistic, bright-eyed students with big dreams and populated by retired folk with fond memories of the nation’s emergence on the world stage, seems to have lost its groove.
Sadly, India appears to have gone from hubris to humbled in little over one year.
India’s economy is sick, its people are wary, and its politics – observed with a fresh pair of eyes – doesn’t seem to be inspiring the masses.
On day one my taxi driver told me there is no justice for the poor. Last night, a friend from India’s upper echelons, where money can buy just about anything, told me there’s no “real” justice for anyone.
The justice system has more than one billion people begging for better. The brutal gang rape of a woman on a moving bus in New Delhi last year, and the closely watched trial of the accused that ensued, was a tragically perfect example of the lack of faith that Indians have in those that are meant to protect them and the essence of their communities.
A friend recently pointed out that now, desperate for the perpetrators of a whole host of crimes to be punished properly and swiftly, Indians are indiscriminately demanding the death penalty. This, he insists, never used to be the case.
The shock and disappointment of everything from a brutal rape, to a string of corruption scandals, and an ailing economy to boot, have made Indians more suspicious, less forgiving, and increasingly demoralised.
After hearing story after story of disappointment and disillusion, I thought surely next year’s national election, the chance to bring about political change, may jump start more positive conversation. This subject too has largely been a dead end.
I get the sense that no one, not the rich and certainly not the poor, can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Corruption, inefficiency, and systemic decay have taken their toll. And today a nation once drunk with success is trying to find its spark again.
This isn’t the mood or the morale I hoped to return to but I’m confident that India will not only learn, but also evolve, through these tough times. It won’t be easy but this country’s risen from worse before.