[The following is a long and fairly naïve rant about India and its contradiction, without pretence at anything else than writing down some impressions from my last trip. JATP: Just another tourist post!]
Incredible India (or Incredible !ndia) is the slogan chosen by the Indian Ministry of Tourism to promote India. And it is indeed an incredible country, from its incredibly diverse landscapes [and not only the Himalayas!] and eco-systems, to its incredibly huge range of languages [although I found out during this trip that the differences between Urdu and Hindi are more communitarian and religious than linguistic, as they both derive from Hindustani, although the alphabets completely differ] and religions [a mixed blessing], to its incredibly rich history and culture, to its incredibly wide offer of local cuisines [as shown by the Bengali sample below, where the mustard seed fish cooked in banana leaves and the fried banana flowers are not visible!] and even wines [like Sula Vineyards, which offers a pretty nice Viognier]. Not to mention incredibly savoury teas from Darjeeling and Assam.
But India is also in-credible in that it is fairly hard to believe it can function at all and still function it does! Despite or due to a massive bureaucracy, the federal and local states do not seem to operate with much or any efficiency [or such is the impression I gathered from my few trips there]. At least at the level of doing little against extreme poverty and extreme inequalities, or against massive air and water pollution [which puts India signing the Paris COP21 agreement under a bleak light, like this sun in the haze of a Kolkata highway], or towards urban planning, from garbage collection to traffic regulations, or women’s and children’s conditions. And the current BJP government seems more intent towards encouraging Hindu nationalism and religion [despite India secular constitution] than operating a rationalisation of Indian bureaucracy and politics. Although a side effect of the sudden demonetisation of 500 and 1000 rupee notes [which means one can only withdraw 2000 rupees at once, a slight nuisance when visiting India for a few days] may induce a massive jump into a cash-free economy. In Kolkata I noticed the smallest street food stalls posting about pay-by-phone abilities. Since about everyone has a mobile phone, if phones can be used as virtual wallets, this may represent a incredible move towards that cash-free market. (But also a risk of massive fraud targeting those with no other means of payment.)
The country is thus incredible in its numerous ways of bypassing the State inaction, not all to be commended of course and with extreme consequences for the poorest fraction of the population. But far from being a dystopia, it may open a window on the future metropolis all around the World, when environmental and migration pressures will see the collapse of our welfare states.