In the not-so-distant past, India had the dubious distinction of being noted for just its beggars, the Taj Mahal, and Mother Teresa. A land of snake charmers and rickshaw pullers, they said, largely impoverished and illiterate to boot. The west's perception of India left much to be desired.
The fact that this land of a billion was - for centuries mind you - until a few decades ago under the mis-rule of the west is easily and conveniently forgotten. India, for her part, has not done much better herself. Post-liberation from its colonial wrongdoers, corruption, religious strife, and war marred the first few decades. A slow but steady progress ensued thereafter till the early nineties.
During this era India's perception of the west was equally warped and jaundiced as well. The fear of the colonizers still haunted it. It was both an excuse as well as a means for political mileage. Bash the west. The change of heart that the erstwhile colonizers claimed to have were treated with skepticism and mistrust. Claims of India's ethnic culture and traditions being more respectable than the hippie west were many. "Who needs the west?" went their rhetoric. It still sounds like sour grapes. For a while, it seemed like India was happy to be known for its beggars, the Taj, and Mother Teresa only. Nothing more.
Right around the time of the noble nun's death in the late nineties, the west's notions about India and India's notions about the west changed dramatically. A notable essay on the change is Thomas L.Friedman's upbeat take in The World is Flat. It is a compelling read. His description of the ten world-flatteners, ranging from Columbus's quest to the fall of the Berlin wall to the Internet to open-sourcing to out-sourcing, is a telling tale on how we got here. It is a veiled take on where the world is with regard to free-market and capitalism. Some hail it as an eye-opener while others accuse it of over-sensationalizing the obvious, with Friedman not being able to extricate his emotional self from the narrative. Now that the din of its debates has abated, it looks like a good time to revisit and assess what it means in the current global context, more so in how the warped notions have changed vis-à-vis India and the west.
With the stock markets pushing western businesses into an iterative growth spurt each quarter, companies were forced to seek lower cost alternatives. While staying away from the politics and merits of outsourcing, at a cultural perception level there was a paradigm shift — a shift that states that the once defamed land of snake charmers was indeed capable of much more. With a large majority of its younger generation adept at English and technically trained, it was a gold mine waiting to be discovered. India, on the other hand, had the infrastructure to produce technical talent with very little of it being used. English was abundant. So was the notion that it was just a vestige of the erstwhile British raj. Given the new order, it seemed like a match made in heaven. The perfect storm lined up in the form of the Y2K millennium bug. The west needed help and the land of the snake charmers was more than eager to help and dispel its tag.