There was a time when going to "America" was the holy grail that many In India sought, as in other so-called third-world countries. The US was the land of opportunities. It had a long history of taking in immigrants, landed at the foot of the Statue of Liberty with nothing in their persons or pockets, and making a life, a good life, for them. Of giving their families an equal opportunity environment to find their way in the world – where they could try to write the story of their own destinies. And above all, inculcating a belief and a hope in everyone that they had it in them to make it big – and the country would encourage them in their efforts and help them grow into what they wanted to be.
That American dream is floundering a bit right now – but I hope the underlying spirit never dies. The US really showed the way to the rest of the world in believing in the true nature of human potential and giving the freedom and the social construct for people to break out of glass ceilings imposed by society and class restrictions. You can be rich, you can be educated, you can build your own business empire, or you can choose to follow your own path – whatever works for you – and still hope to get respect and sustenance from a society that values individual enterprise above all else. How many societies in the world have managed to provide that kind of hope and message?
What about India? What is the Great Indian Dream that drives us now?
There has been a huge change in the last twenty years or so. Coinciding with Manmohan Singh's first wave of liberalization in the early nineties has also been a quiet revolution in change in mindsets. When I was growing up, in the seventies, it was pretty much accepted that resources were limited, opportunities were limited, there was nothing much one could do to break through the ceilings which were imposed on you by birth, and hence dreams by necessity had to be restricted.
Those restrictions no longer apply. I feel more free to dream for myself, and for the future of my children. There is more hope that I can feel in the air, more hope that I feel for myself. There is a new boldness that I can sense in myself and those around me, a willingness to explore new horizons, with a much greater expectation of success. I am glad my children are growing up and coming of age in such an environment.
Is this then the Great Indian Dream? Just like the US for the last few decades, has India emerged into an era where it is more possible than ever to hope, to dream, and believe in a better future?
As in everything to do with India, the reality is more layered, more complex. Not every section of society can share in this dream since opportunities are still denied to many; not every section of society is working towards a better India – there are the rich and the powerful who are actively seeking to deny access to privileges to the rest of us; not everywhere in India are the same opportunities available.
But I still feel a fundamental change from the way things were three decades back, and now, and it's a huge change for the better.