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The truth is out there

My feeling is that the HRD Ministry doles out 50 per cent fact and 50 per cent fiction. Except nobody, Minister Arjun Singh included, knows which one is which, writes Indrajit Hazra.
Hindustan Times | By Red Herring | Indrajit Hazra
UPDATED ON APR 02, 2008 04:30 PM IST

A staggering 83 per cent of Gujarati housewives do not know how to make passable dhoklas. Only 12 per cent of pet clinics in India have proper sanitation facilities for animal owners. Fourteen out of 18 restaurants in Delhi don’t serve any free mint or sauf after meals. (Mumbai is only marginally better with a 12 out of 18 figure.) A worrying 8 per cent of tampon-users in Tamil Nadu are not women. Ninety-one per cent of mosquito net sales in the country are billed to provide loopholes for the purpose of income tax evasion.

And I am a hundred per cent sure that these worrying figures were available to the Human Resources Development Ministry but were strenuously withheld from the public at large as it would have upset us — not to mention HRD Minister of State D. Purandeshwari’s thesis that Indians are the brightest, finest, chummiest, bestest people in the universe. Or as they say in America, the brightest, finest, chummiest, bestest people in America.

As everyone titters about Purandeshwari doing the parliamentary equivalent of pooping in her pants, I can’t help but feel bad for the well-meaning lady. There she was on Monday telling the Elders in their House in a Bilbo Baggins fashion how 38 per cent of doctors and 12 per cent of scientists in the US are of Indian origin. She even went down to the details, reeling off company-specific figures: 36 per cent of Microsoft employees, 28 per cent of IBM employees, 17 per cent and 13 per cent of Intel and Xerox employees respectively are Indians. It turns out that the venerable HRD Ministry cherrypicked all this data from a spam mail that has been doing the rounds for some years now. Yes, that means we Indians may not be the brightest, chummiest, bestest people even in America after all.

I would have expected a wise Arun Shourie-type Elder of the Rajya Sabha to have figured out that Purandeshwari was sprinting through very dodgy terrain. And I definitely would have expected a wise Sri Sri Shankar Shankar-type Elder at The Times of India to have caught the boo-boo before running the story with a chest-inflating zeal that made me want to cry out with patriotic joy. (The next day, TOI did the nifty thing of blaming Purandeshwari for duping the nation — and not for duping the paper — by exposing the truth, the 100 per cent truth and nothing but the truth.)

The truth is that even I, Spongebob Smartypants, fell for the stats myself. Although the figures made me seriously wonder why none of the to-be-presidential candidates in the coming US elections was of Indian origin (not even Ralph Nader), I didn’t question the figures because I probably was very happy to believe them. After all, if you get an e-mail that says, “Congratulations, your son, Gaurav, is the brightest boy in his school” or “You have no requirement at all for any of our products — Pfizer”, you don’t usually start off by doubting things. As for any info on our NRI cousins, we believe every piece of glorious news coming from the lands of the Mittals and the Shyamalans and the Nooyis. The rotten business about Indian ‘pigs in a cage’ workers in Mississippi or about Mallus in the Gulf are, well, um... they must be exaggerated. Never mind the very normal, un-Meghnad Desai existence of my uncle in Sweden.

So why did we so readily fall for Purandeshwari’s ‘36 per cent of Nasa workers are desis’ line? Well, partly because only the super-duper success stories of NRIs mirror our very own ‘could-have-been’ success stories were we given the same opportunities that they get in the West. And partly because when I did drop into Nasa, that bar on Church Street in Bangalore with world-beating prices (Beer — Tap: Rs 35; Pint: Rs 70; Pitcher: Rs 175), the place was filled with Indian waiters. (The odd Sri Lankan, Pakistani and Bangladeshi probably making up for the rest of the 64 per cent.)

But let’s sincerely believe the HRD Ministry when it tells us the necessity of reserving 15 per cent, 7.5 per cent and 27 per cent of seats in educational institutions for SCs, STs and OBCs respectively. My feeling is that the Ministry doles out 50 per cent fact and 50 per cent fiction. Except nobody, Minister Arjun Singh included, knows which one is which.

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