Independence Day, and newspapers and TV channels are full of people asking and answering the same question, “What does Independence mean to you?”
Putting aside the philosophical part of the question, what has Independence really meant to the average Indian? Sixty-two years is a really long time, and I really am not qualified to comment on how the nation has moved in that period, but I do know one area where the change has been apparent in just over a decade – essential services.
I remember a time, not too long ago, when being allotted a telephone connection was a big thing. You made an application for a land-line and forgot about it. You finally got your connection several months, or even years later, and even then, you could only use the telephone to make local calls. Even in upper middle class urban localities, there the average number of telephones per household was well below one.
And today? You can walk into a mobile showroom with the necessary documents and less than half and hour later walk out with a brand new SIM card. Almost everyone has a mobile phone, many more than one. Vegetable vendors use their mobile phones to take orders, bored housewives no longer block up the ‘family’ landline for hours on end, schools use them to pass on important messages to parents.
Not just telephony. The wait has reduced almost everywhere – it is easier to get a new cooking gas connection than to transfer an existing one, where you earlier had to book a car and wait months for it to be delivered, you can now walk into a car dealer showroom and drive out with your car.
Freedom means many things – to India, the greatest thing, perhaps, is freedom from waiting for things to happen.