Walking the Tightrope
By Kamal Sunavala

I left Prague in November 2006 to embark upon yet another grand adventure called India. I decided to inspect, for myself, the madness I call 'life-changing decisions' and see if it is worth the energy. Having been in Bombay for over three months now, those who knew I'd been living in Prague predicted I'd beat a hasty retreat to the land of spires. Those who know me said I would battle it out for at least six months. My Czech friends moaned that they had lost me forever to the feminine wiles of an insatiable mistress called India. Among all these various predictions, the question asked unrelentingly, has been: So, how hard has the adjustment been? Mind you, I was born in Bombay and am no stranger to the city. But still, it's a fair question.

Europe to Asia is a big adjustment, never mind the time difference and the years in between. It's a provocative question because the interviewer is usually expecting to hear some meaty detail about how terrible things are and how wonderful the colours are and how pungent the food is and how beautiful and orderly Prague is.....and you get the gist. What they don't like hearing is: I don't know; I haven't made up my mind. The truth, ladies and gentlemen, is often less scintillating because it ends speculation. As journalists, we thrive on rumours and cross-fire. When the simple unvarnished truth is presented, it's a boring story that is 'wrapped up' to move on to the next scandal.

I have plenty of food for thought, though. Bombay and Prague, as they stand in 2007, are as different as two children from the same mother but different fathers. The first thing that comes to mind is the role of the younger population. While sheer numbers cannot be compared, the angst and the thrill of aspiration are common. The new wave of fighters who know more, study more, want more, build more and struggle more is a common factor binding the under-fifty population in both cities. Whether the end justifies the means, is a question best left for the more sanctimonious. Fighting the old order of corrupt politicians who resist change is a story that I have reported in both countries. The ever increasing influence of the media, sometimes telling the truth and sometimes contorting it, is a dangerous Golem in both countries. In fact, there is no greater advertiser of both countries, for better or for worse, than its upcoming young media barons.

Power or the quest for it, breeds corruption at the highest and most unimaginable levels. Having spent the better half of 2006 reporting stories of vile and avaricious power brokers- who step on weaker toes to get what they want, at the cost of anything and anyone- I am acquainted with the majority Czech attitude of what-can-we-do. Cross the time zone to their brown-skinned counterparts- politicians and constituents, alike- and you'll find the makings of a beautiful friendship.

The Czech Republic is waking up to two clear schools of thought, which India woke up to, a tad earlier, on account of chronology. One is that it has the potential to become a significant revenue generator in a hundred ways it never deemed possible in the nineties. Telecommunications and computers are the tip of the iceberg for both countries. And the second school of thought is that it is constantly bullied by its more powerful so-called allies, into becoming a yes-man for schemes it doesn't care about. Both countries have several political and economic examples to back up both schools of thought. In the middle, are caught the cautious people who are walking a tightrope between money and morality- aptly named, the middle class.

The shattering of myths or the upholding of them is a more colourful set of similarities. Czechs are perceived as stoic, unsmiling boors punctuated by the smiling, multi-lingual, yuppie corporates. Indians are perceived as slaves to religion and blind tradition punctuated by the liberal, norm-flouting, international celebrities. Czechs are also known to be artistic and scientific geniuses, Indians are also known to be artistic and scientific geniuses. The white man versus the brown man is eternal fodder for theorists.

How then, should I answer the question of adjustment? A balanced answer which would bore you to tears? Or a quotable quote which may sacrifice truth and fairness? As I said, earlier, I don't know; I haven't made up my mind. Ask me again in three months and I may take sides, then.