I took myself up to the olympic park yesterday. It had been a while since I last went up there and I wanted to see how it was developing. But what I found myself being most struck by was the contrast between that part of London and where was a week or two ago. Compared to Delhi or Jaipur, say, it is quite staggering how clean and quiet London is. I would in fact go so far as to say that I even found it slightly disturbing. India has a huge, quickly developing economy; the wealth of it’s cities can’t be that different from those of the uk. Why, then, were Indian cities so underdeveloped? Why was the contrast so striking and stark that it is impossible to ignore? When I was in India, we saw vast swathes of crumbling buildings desperate for repair, either side terribly maintained potholed roads. Pavements were rare, steps frequent. Without someone like john there was no way I could have got around. Litter was everywhere. We could tell there was certainly money available because of the pockets of modern, stylish buildings of the kind you find in any modern european or american city; but these were amid seas of crumbling disrepair. I couldn’t work out why everywhere seemed so dirty, dusty and smelly – was it due to the climate? As I wrote here, that stark contrast, that juxtaposition, struck me as perverse. Moreover, even on a saturday afternoon with crowds heading for the West Ham football match, Stratford felt less busy than any indian street. There, tuktuks and mopeds surge down any and all alleyways no matter how narrow, so that you have to constantly look out. Compared to that, London feels startlingly tranquil and well maintained.
The question is, why? Why should there be such obvious disparities, both between european/american and Indian cities, and within Indian cities theirselves? There’s obviously plenty of money in the Indian system, it’s just not going to the places which need it. That’s what I find perverse. The money is going to places where the Indian government know visitors will go instead of being used to help their own communities. It’s as if they want to keep a facade of a modern, urban, economic superpower up while allowing everything behind it to fall apart. Of course, that part of east London only looks like it does due to being transformed for the 2012 olympics, but even so no part of London looks like the widespread disrepair I saw in India. London’s roads and infrastructure, as with the vast majority in the uk, is well-maintained and clean, whereas in Delhi and Jaipur there was dirt, dust and rubbish almost everywhere. I simply couldn’t work out why it was like that, and why there were such disparities. Coming home has really brought that contrast into focus.
I couldn’t help wondering yesterday whether being awarded something like an Olympic games, or a major international sports or cultural event, could somehow help India: maybe it would provide authorities there with an incentive to drop the facade and tidy up a bit. It certainly helped in Stratford, after all. There are so many wonderful things there, such as the ashram at Rishikesh, which are just being left to fall apart, while large, modern, glass and metal buildings are being put up elsewhere to give the appearance of a modern twenty-first century superpower. That is a disparity and an illusion which I found quite troubling, to be honest.