Some Thoughts On Change (and India)

One of the biggest challenges one faces living in India is getting change. You go to any ATM, out pop only either pink or yellow colored currency notes. You won't get change for them unless you spend it in a bar, no matter how much Gandhiji smiles. In fact, lack of easy change is the reason for so many beer bellies in India. Breaking up these huge denominations into smaller ones is a regular daily ritual for many or most Indians, because all establishments are ardent followers of conductor Sasi, whose famous words have been immortalized by countless Whatsapp forwards: "Be Bring the change you want to be get". In fact, I think that banks cramming their ATMs full of 500s and 1000s is a government conspiracy to make people spend more and hence keep more money in circulation instead of inside mattresses, and...

Oh wait.

This wasn't the change I wanted to write about, sorry, this always comes to my mind because I am absolutely fed up this entire "getting change" business.

indian currency - coins of different denominations

Aren't You?

Right. What I was talking about is the other "change", you know that thing where something right now is different from what it was sometime in the past. The thing that is the only constant in life (you can forget all the constants you so painstakingly learned in all those Physics classes). Yeah, that. And it has been noticed that Indians are on a whole, absolutely abhorrent to change, especially when it comes to new technology and ways of life. Even if they do, we seem to insist that change should be initiated an executed by a central authority like the government in a linear, one-after-the-other method by the means of plans and processes. Any "changes" that happen "on their own", that is by the influence of "market forces" or by free will, instead of above said "externally forced" processes. This attitude is not just unproductive but also damaging.

The Indian Resistance to Change

We Indians value a lot on tradition because of our ethos on the community and all that, origins of which can be traced to all the centuries of invasions and associated misery. This close-knit togetherness was our strength against invaders, which of course made it mandatory that that structure be preserved without change, any deviation from which would result in annihilation. It is this civilizational hangover that prevents us from accepting change easily. This is in reality a much more complicated subject, which is matter for another post.

Nothing more displays Indian resistance to change than things like this.

Nothing more displays Indian resistance to change than things like this.

The resistance to "change" in India has been mainly the result of two of our country's most defining traits: socialism and conservatism. Think about it: anything that is a change from the old has always been met with fierce resistance from the people with the ways of the old: computers, jeans, mobile phones, highways, flyovers, pubs, mobile phones, Starbucks and other international chains, Walmart, anything women do, unmarried young people mingling, youngsters deciding for themselves and yes, high speed rail too... Anything "new" introduced to India have always faced powerful opposition from mostly a specific demographic: ancient conservative+socialist (the most dangerous combination) specimens coming out of the woodwork with draconian measures to uphold "tradition" and "culture" and such. While they claim to want to save the poor, uninformed masses from the onslaught of evil culture and technology, in reality their motives are much more selfishly straightforward: They want to preserve their power and comfort zones (and in many cases, wealth flow), like how government officials try to subvert e-governance efforts because they are scared that their power, prestige and social status as arbitrators of power in the lives of common citizens (and flow of income) might get usurped thanks to change. The public is scared into submission by these types yielding the proverbial stick of "Indian Culture".

However, there are some instances where Indians do want change to happen, but mostly in high-tech and infrastructural fields. But the problem is that they want a "big brother" to introduce and execute it in a pre-planned, bureaucratic manner, because we are a nanny state who cannot think of deciding for ourselves, which would be how it were if we were really a free-market economy And this mentality is also why we are in the pits today. Again, socialism. This lead us to the reality of the two types of change.

There Are Two Types of Change: Forced and Automatic

The first is "externally forced" change brought about by an entity /body or one person dictating how change / transformation / development should come about according to anything ranging from their whims and fancies to real research, but not dependent on any existing systems or without considering what end-users of the system really want. This is seen in most centrally planned economies like USSR, China (earlier), India, Venezuela, Cuba and so on.

Second is "automatic" change that is brought about by "free will" as a response to an existing system driven by aspirations of what end-users require, delivered in a much better way, aimed at bettering some of the existing system's shortcomings or to increment the system with more features or to match up to existing systems elsewhere. This is also called market-driven change or incentivized change, as it is driven by the incentive of generating a better system in a continuous, ongoing process.

Only when the change process is automatic and market-driven will it result in success as desired because the seeds of success are embedded in the process itself as it is driven by a desire to see things get better, to overcome the existing system, or incentives for best results to be achieved such as monetary benefits or prestige. Change should never be forced or prodded to happen in a particular way. When someone tries to "force" or "create" change through plans, procedures and decisions made exclusive of the environment the system operates in, the entire process will fail because it will not contain any "incentive" for the change to happen but rather the entire process would be just for the sake of it. Even if it does, since the change is delivered without considering external environmental variables of the system, that change will be a mismatch to what end-users want and they will reject it and it will fail.  The best example for this is our country itself.

Why Forced Change Won't Work: The Indian Example

At independence we were a very poor and miserable country. We had to change this, and fast. So did we allow this change to happen by itself through enterprise, innovation and competition? Of course we did not. For the first 45 years after independence we tried "develop" our country and "prosperify" our masses by means of an economy centrally planned and tightly controlled by the government, complemented by humongous social - welfare systems, PSU behemoths and such, using a framework of Five-Year Plans to dictate how change (development) would be bought about in a manner of how a group of people thought it would be best. Derived from the more overtly ridiculous Soviet one, this "Indian Socialism" shunned private capital, market forces, innovation and such heresies. And as a result of all this great planned development, after 45 years, we were still a very poor and miserable country.


In 1991 this unsustainable system finally collapsed and India was forced to open up to innovation, private investment and to growth through automatic, market-driven change. The results are for everyone to see. India developed infinitely faster and millions more were lifted out of poverty in these 20 years compared to those 45. This shows how the "this first and then that later" system of trying to bring about change by forcing things to turn out a particular way instead of letting them turn out the way they want on their own, does not work. Our country should be a case study on this. Exhibits: how bans on alcohol and porn (both #againstIndianculture) only increase consumption and how uninterested kids forced to 'study' B.Tech will only result in frustrated alcoholics rather than engineers.

Indians, conditioned by this process of years of centrally planned, traditionalist planning processes believe that change should always happen in a linear manner: "Solve this first and then develop that later", which can be boiled to solve our existing problems first before we head for an increment in development. This method is totally destined to fail. This is also the argument raised by objectionists to India's High Speed Rail projects who believe we should first solve the poverty problem and then build bullet trains. Read more about this here.

We cannot "solve" or prevent change, it is the natural order of things. Like life, change will always find a way, any attempt to thwart or resist it will only end in disaster. Do not resist change. Sit back and remove those constraints, let change take you, embrace change. Allow your children to choose their own mates, let the latest technology and its associated problems take over the society. It might seem like anarchy at first, but let it be, you will see everything work out as time goes on.

Do you have change for a 500?

%d bloggers like this: