(3 of 3)
In the living room of the Malhotras' modest, single-story home hangs a religious picture along with a painting by Yukti, now 22, depicting a white dove. An air-conditioning unit hums in the window and a red carpet covers the floor in the middle of the room underneath a wooden coffee table. A cabinet at one end of the room holds a stereo system, some vases and porcelain knickknacks. In a tiny parking area outside sits the family's first car, a boxy Maruti 800, which Jetendar bought in 1995. In the car's rear window a large L in sun-bleached red warns other motorists that Neeti, 19, is learning to drive.
Yukti was born just as a new revolution was getting underway this time not political but economic. Annual growth rates had risen to about 5% during the 1980s. But by 1991 the economy was a mess. The Indian government was broke and about to default on its international loans. Forced to act, New Delhi began a far-reaching economic-liberalization program that opened up trade and foreign investment, began to dismantle the infamous "license Raj" and set India on a path to the growth rate of more than 8% that it enjoys today.
Yukti, who is shy and screws her face up in a frown when she's thinking hard, might not have experienced the old India firsthand, but she has little doubt that the changes are for the better. Her life has been much easier than that of her parents, she admits. She grew up knowing she would go to college. "My mother used to do household work as well as study," she says. "We hardly step into the kitchen." Halfway through an M.B.A. at Indraprastha University in New Delhi, Yukti says she wants to work for a big multinational or one of India's successful software or outsourcing firms. "With a government job you don't have opportunity for growth," she says, adding that she expects to be earning as much as her father within two or three years of starting her career. "The new generation understands that before, people looked for security. But now security is not the only criteria. Now people are more focused on growth."
Like most young urban Indians, Yukti moves easily between the traditional and the modern. She wears jeans and T shirts around the house, business attire during her recent stint as an intern at Tata Consultancy Services, India's biggest software company, and saris to weddings and other family celebrations. Likewise, her views on marriage are a blend of the new and of traditionally conservative Indian beliefs. Unlike her grandmother, Yukti cannot imagine marrying someone she has never met. If her marriage is arranged, she says she will approve the man first, and she is free to find a mate on her own. But either way, she says she would never marry without her parents' blessing. "I obviously want them to be happy," she says. Her father Jetendar nods his agreement: "We want to be sure that the boy is educated, that he's stable in his life and his job."
But Yukti isn't thinking about marriage just yet. She spends much of her time studying. In the final year of her undergraduate degree she took private classes designed to help her win a spot in an M.B.A. course. Her sister Neeti is doing the same. When they aren't studying they spend time with friends or family or on the Web. "Television I used to like more, but now it's surfing the Net," says Yukti, who regularly chats with friends online. "We scrap [message] each other about all sorts of stuff: movies, study, whatever." Madhu, Yukti's mother, who is as outgoing and talkative as her husband is reserved and quiet, says she has given her "full freedom but I always keep watch whether she's online or wherever."
Whatever happens in the future, India will be Yukti's home. "I would like to travel for a holiday but never to live," she says. "Somehow I feel we have a pretty good home country. Why do we want to give all the other countries the benefit of what we can do here? There are so many opportunities." India's fractious politicians, though, need to start delivering. "The political scene here is very bad," she says. "No one has the responsibility to complete things. They promise and then just leave [projects]. We need to finish what we start."
The coming decade or so may determine whether India is able to finish what it has started. For the country to prosper, India's government and its people need to figure out a way to spread the current boom to the two-thirds of the population in rural areas who are still poor. Succeed, and India could become a global power alongside China and the U.S. Fail, and there is a real chance that insurgencies festering around the country could explode.
Expectations are higher than ever. India is seeing not only a revolution of the economy, but also one of the national mind-set. Fading from consciousness is Gandhi's spinning wheel and the dignity of poverty. Today improving your situation is desirable. Striving is O.K. "The big thing now is the whole world is around money and everything is so expensive," says Yukti. "In my parents' time you just needed the basic necessities. Now you need an a/c car, you need a TV, you need more luxurious things. Knowingly or unknowingly you compare yourself to others and decide that you, too, must have this."
Madhu remembers when her father bought their first television. Everyone in the neighborhood would drop by to watch. "It was suffocating with everyone in there," she remembers. "But my father wanted to invite people so no one would think we were rich. Now everybody is rich in their own sense." Perhaps not rich not yet. But three generations after India's independence, wealth is no longer something to be hidden from the neighbors. Better still, India's youth have something that is more valuable than TVs and cars and designer handbags: they have the hope that goes with a future full of possibilities.