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A new flowering of India and Indians

By T N Ninan
September 20, 2003 17:24 IST
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When a society begins to flower, blooms sprout all over the place. Whether it is literature, sport, entertainment or media, or business, winners emerge from nowhere.

In sport, for instance, Anju Bobby George becomes the first ever Indian medal winner in global track and field. In chess, did you know that there are now four women grandmasters from India, where there were none before? In hockey, the Indian men's team begins winning again.

And in golf, Vijay Singh (OK he is a Fijian, but we count him as an NRI!) has displaced Tiger Woods at the top of the table, while Jyoti Randhawa is a homegrown winner on the Japanese circuit. And one shouldn't forget cricket, where India did after all reach the finals of the World Cup after two decades.

Before long, we could even have an Indian racing in the Formula One -- and on a Hyderabad track to boot, if the untiring Chandrababu Naidu has his way.

There is no pattern to the sports involved or the nature of the triumphs, or the victors. It's tennis one day, badminton the next, and a team sport on the third day. The randomness makes it more exciting.

It's not just sport; the story is the same in films, for instance Mr & Mrs Iyer is going overseas to (hopefully) win the kind of laurels that Monsoon Wedding did, and to prove that Indian cinema can be sensibly entertaining, and relevant too. And Bombay Dreams has been running off London's West End for most of the year.

Then, Jhumpa Lahiri emerges from nowhere with a winner in literature, establishing her place in the pantheon of internationally recognised Indian writers.

In the media world, Indian TV companies like NDTV, TV Today and TV18 now run news channels that compare with the best anywhere.

In management, it is no longer news that Indians run really large companies in many countries, while N R Narayana Murthy has been chosen by his international peers as the Global Entrepreneur of the Year.

And in a demonstration of technological prowess, India now plans to send a spacecraft to the moon, while in pharmaceutical research Indian firms are out there in front, in the race to discover new molecules with healing power.

In some fields, Indians are still in the wannabe class. Fashion is clearly one such, and so perhaps is advertising. But don't be surprised if an authentic Indian voice emerges in these fields as well.

As for the beauty business, it's a relief that that particular phase is over. And in academics, there is no hope of anything until the government lets go.

To paraphrase Nehru, this could be the soul of a nation long suppressed, beginning to find utterance. There is a winning combination of ability, hunger for success, organisational or financial support, and the launch-pad of a national market that gets bigger and better.

Some of these are new in themselves; certainly, the combination has not come together before in quite the same way, linking the brand "India" with success where previously the mental association was more with failure.

What is interesting is that officialdom has little to do with it, except when it plays the role of facilitator.

Thus, Anju George and her husband find it in themselves to seek out the world's leading long jumper and get him to become coach. A R Rahman's music appeals to millions and draws the attention of Andrew Lloyd-Webber.

Narain Karthikeyan shops around and finds companies willing to support his racing ambitions, but unfortunately not enough to get him on to the Formula One track, though he is clearly good enough for that.

And the Indian golf circuit gets steadily richer -- spawning two golf magazines to boot -- so that talent gets drawn to the sport.

These are only the initial stirrings of success. China is already a global power in athletics, gymnastics, badminton and table-tennis (to take just the field of sport).

In many areas, Indians are barely into the final frame, they're not world-beaters yet.

And consistency is still rare, the reality is more like flashes in the pan. But there can be no denying that we are indeed seeing a new flowering of India and Indians.

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