Friday, November 03, 2006

Swadeshi and Matrix

The swadeshi movement started by Gandhiji was one of the most potent manifestations of the Indian freedom struggle, and I single it out not just because it stands as a monument of defiance of the British authority in India, but it also was a necessary step for the survival of the struggling Indian industry. Simply put, the british were taking raw materials like cotton, jute, iron-ore, etc, fromIndia (did I mention at throw-away prices?), mass manufacturing them into finished goods and selling them back to us as finished products. One can imagine the conditions of the local industry! In this light, the swadeshi movement is one movement that was not just a maneuver to defy the British rule like the Salt Satyagraha or to throw the British off balance like the Quit-India movement, but something that must have hit the British in a very sensitive place! Imagine the worry of the British manufacturers! So... they literally forced the Indians to buy their goods. Well, it might have worked only moderately, with the entire nation of India rallying behind Gandhiji.

Cut to the present--
A Joke: A Yadagiri (in India) asks his friend, lets say a Srinivas, in US to get him a shirt, may be not a costly one, but something from The USA. The Srinivas diligently goes to wal-mart, and picks up a very decent one of about $35. On his visit to India, he proudly gives his friend Yadagiri, a glimpse of the American product. The Yadagiri looks at it in awe, but something near the collar catches his eye, and he throws the shirt back at the Srinivas! On the tag was written: 'Made in Pakistan'. Damn the American honesty!

But no, I dont want to talk about either American honesty or the quality of shirts in Wal-mart. I want to highlight that the same thing that was happening then, is happening now. All the these foreign manufacturers (Van-Heusens, Peter-Englands, Oxemburgs ??) buy raw material at dead-cheap rates from third world countries, mass manufacture them, and then sell them to the same countries! The bad thing is, we are lapping it all up without any sense of awareness or compassion to that good old tailor who used to sew our clothes about a decade ago. Why?

Cut to Matrix Reloaded, the second part of the trilogy-- The Architect tells Neo:
"The first Matrix I designed was quite naturally perfect, it was a work of art - flawless, sublime. A triumph equalled only by its monumental failure..."

As you would remember, Agent Smith tells Morpheus in the first part that "the first matrix... was a disaster.No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. "

(please note the word 'crops'. It warrants another discussion... not now though!)

The Architect continues "the answer [to the problem of designing a self sustaning matrix] was stumbled upon by another - an intuitive program, initially created to investigate certain aspects of the human psyche..."

"...she stumbled upon a solution whereby nearly 99% of all test subjects accepted the program, as long as they were given a choice, even if they were only aware of the choice at a near unconscious level."

Aah! So there you are! More than a grain of truth in there! Force doesnt always work (in fact, it doesnt work most often!), but given a choice, even if at a sub-conscious level, the human always chooses what s/he is expected to. No one is actually stopping us from getting our clothes stitched by the tailor. Yet we feel compelled to go to a mall and buy clothes.Hmm!

But wait! Thats not all. The local tailor, well, he certainly is out of business. But thats not the worst! People will always find alternate routes to support themselves. So, the tailor might get a job somewhere in the factory of some Levi's. Thats ok. But there is a bigger problem. Now, the ex-tailor is a part of the Levi's process chain... condemned to do a specific repetitive job over and over again... a part of the highly optimised and mechanised design. So, his skill is lost. And the generation of those who call themselves tailors might no longer possess that kind of skill.

All said and done, though the end seems inevitable sooner or later, one saving point in India is that its really difficult to reach the last leaf of the last branch of the tree. It takes a long long time for any sort of change to come into India. So lets wait and watch!

In the meanwhile, spare a moment for the local tailor who used to sew your clothes in your childhood (applies to middle class only!).

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