Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Haveli ki Umra saath saal! (Big mansion can last only sixty years)

News 1

The country is close to bankruptcy….government is likely to default on its own commitments…teachers, public servants may not get paid…unemployment is at record high level….


News 2

Looting on streets…rich shops being targeted…mobs are burning down shops, burning buses…police are either missing or not doing anything…


Frankly, I could not believe my eyes when I read this news in last couple of weeks. Not that the news was unheard of. In fact such news was staple diet for my news hungry childhood. 1980s were my formative years in India, I grew reading about frustrated youth, unemployment, mobs causing riots and empty government coffers. The news wasn’t a surprise but the country definitely was. It is happening in the “United Kingdom” and “United States of America”. I was also amazed by the coincidence about two unrelated but disturbing events happening at the same week. Why am I so surprised…this was on cards for years, right?


UK and USA both were world powers who dominated the world politically and economically for many decades and are struggling today with problems which are pretty basic in nature. That’s the surprise!


UK was the first acknowledged world power. They ruled the world directly or indirectly in 19th century. Unchallenged at sea and powered with industrial revolution, they adopted the role of global policeman and were called workshop of the world. At one point in time they controlled USA, India, Australia and parts of Africa. “The Sun never set on British Empire” they said. They did contribute a lot to the world during their domination. Parliamentary democracy, post offices, railways were the inventions popularized by UK. In 18th century they lead industrial revolution, many breakthru’ theories such as laws of gravity (Newton), Theory of evolution (Darwin) originated in UK. By turn of twentieth century, UK had started losing its influence on the world. Two world wars weakened the economy. USA was the rising power and UK resorted to gracious exit by endorsing the next global power United States of America.


United States of America, assumed global central stage by their decisive participation in World War I which tilted balance in favor of UK and allies. Since then the baton of global policing from UK got passed on to them. USA assumed the role of global policeman and the military. UK had ruled with their domination on sea, USA ruled with their domination in Air. They became the “market of the world”. Times had changed and consumption had become more important than production. Services had become more important than manufacturing. USA redefined the ruling the world without invasion. They discovered economic domination by making their dollar the world currency. Their contribution to the world includes atomic energy, internet, cellphone and google.



I can’t help but remember a saying that goes in Indian business community (generally marawadis) “Haveli ki umra 60 saal” which roughly translates to “Big mansion can last only sixty years.”  The story goes like this that there was a struggling entrepreneur who worked very hard to build his business and that was symbolized by a big mansion (haveli). Money was his top priority and he earned it. When his son took over he did not really care about money, he wanted to power. So he ran after power and by the time his career ended they had both money and power. However, when the grandson took over he cared neither about money nor about power, he wanted “self expression”, he wanted to leave his mark. So he floundered all the wealth and power that was accumulated for couple of generations. The big mansion was thus, sold off after 60 years. And the great grandson probably started all over again to build another mansion.


There must have been a generation in UK who braved the sea and unknown territories and fought wars to earn money. The next generations would have used the money to establish itself as the power center of the world. The generation today however is different. Some self confessed looters in London riots mentioned that it was their best day ever in their lives. Some others who looted things that they did not need, just show that they could do it. Many looters are not needy people we thought initially but those were youth from well to do family who wanted to express themselves.


UK and USA now need to accept the fact that their “60 years in the mansion” are over. Comfortable and cushy life in haveli is a thing of past, now it’s time to put on the running shoes again.


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