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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 August 2007, 21:42 GMT 22:42 UK
The changing values of modern India
By Mihir Bose
BBC Sport Editor

Indian shopping mall
Shopping mall development is a growth industry in India
The India I had left in the 1960s was a land of scarcity.

The country's leaders used to boast that while India was materially poor it was a spiritually rich.

A uniquely spiritual country which one Indian leader called the wholesaler of spiritual goodness, where the rest of the world came to buy its goodness.

After all the Beatles had gone to India to seek guidance from the Maharishi.

The country suffered from such severe foreign exchange shortage that to go abroad you had to get a Form P approved by the government and you were allowed only 3 (4.4 euros; $6) in foreign exchange.

To help pay for my first year's university education in Britain my father had to buy sterling on the Mumbai black market and I smuggled 900 hidden in specially stitched underwear.

Emerging class

It was only as the Air India plane carrying me cleared Indian air space and I went to the loo to take my money out that I could breathe a huge sigh of relief and begun to believe that I would get to England.

Ambassador car
The Ambassador car was once one of two makes of car allowed in India
Such was the scarcity in the country that there was a Guest Control Order which meant you could not invite more than fifty people for a meal - at weddings all you got was a thin slice of ice cream.

Government newsreels exhorted people not to over eat or waste food.

The India I have just been to could not be more different.

Poverty is still there, 80% of the population live on 20 rupees (25p) a day, according to a survey, but a large well off group has also emerged. Some 250 million are reckoned to be very well off, many of them very rich.

They have no reluctance to display wealth. Mammon is openly worshipped. As my old school friend Munir put it on our days, partly inspired by the socialist ideology than prevalent, wealth was considered a bad word.

Now if you have money you spend it and let the world know you have. I received the most vivid evidence of this when I went to a Rolls Royce car show room.

Old traditions

It was located in a new shopping mall - the great growth industry in urban India.

Sharad Kachalia, the man in charge, told me he had sold 24 Rolls Royce Phantoms in the last two years, all to local Indian businessmen.

The cars were bespoke, imported from Goodwood in Sussex. Both of us recalled how different things were in the India of our youth.

Mumbai skyline
Poverty can still be seen along Mumbai sea front

Then the government allowed only two car makes, a Morris Oxford which was called an Ambassador and a Fiat. The wait for the Morris Oxford was four years, 14 for a Fiat.

Lack of new cars meant that the cost of second-hand cars kept increasing and not depreciating as is the norm.

Yet even in this display of wealth, explained Kachalia, came wrapped in the old cultural, family, traditions of India.

The decision to buy the car was not the choice of a rich businessman, but his whole family.

One man said he wanted to make sure that the back of the Rolls had enough space for his grandchildren.

As Kachalia drove me along the sea face at Worli in Mumbai (Bombay) we went past hand carts and all the other assortments of vehicles you can still see in India, past poor shanties and road side stalls.

But while all gathered to watch this fabulous car, there was no hostility just curiosity. This was even more emphatically underlined, when I went to what used to be called Back Bay, along the south Mumbai sea front.

Dingy shack

Forty years ago I had played beach cricket and it was a lovely secluded beach. Since then land has been reclaimed, huge high rise buildings have gone up, some of the most expensive property in the world.

However in a corner of the former beach the fishermen who have always fished here live.

One of took me to his dingy shack, which was terribly overcrowded. Six of them were living in a small room.

But he felt no anger for the high rise properties dwarfing him - it seemed to be part of the price of change.

Indians at an Iron Maiden concert
American goods and services are popular in modern India

After all in his little room he had a fridge and television. He could vote and always voted, in contrast to his richer neighbours who often felt they could bypass democracy by bribing the right officials.

In many ways my old school friends best illustrate the changes that have come over India in the last few decades.

Munir Visram, my oldest friend, has lived in the same Bombay flat since independence. It was on his balcony that I first heard an Elvis record.

Unlike me he never wanted to leave India. Today, thanks to a booming economy and no problems of foreign exchange, he has travelled to more parts of the world than I have and proudly displays his Indian passport.

British legacy

My generation was brought up on stories of the Indian freedom movement also saw Britain as setting the standards.

We worshipped Mahatma Gandhi as the father of the nation but lined up to see the Queen when she visited India.

The modern generation does not feel that special relationship with Britain. It is America with its culture, its goods, its services and its values that attract.

The British legacy like cricket and clubs are cherished but the Raj is a distant memory.

This was brought home when Joy Bhaumick, my cousin by marriage and secretary of the Bengal club took me on a tour of this great symbol of the raj.

No building in Calcutta was allowed to be higher than the Bengal club and no Indian allowed as member. The first Indian did not become a member until eleven years after independence.

In another country this symbol of colonial oppression might have been demolished. In India it has been cherished.

All the British traditions from the dress code down to the Christmas lunch with turkey is maintained. India accepts what happened during the Raj and moves on. It is a very Indian way of coming to terms with its convoluted, often tortured past.


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