No matter what we did, we fell painfully short of potential. Time and again! It hurt because I wanted to belong to a big, strong nation that could kick some a** and not to some laggard.
But the story has changed, and how! Here I am in a brand new 2007, miles away from sweet home India, yet still closely following her story. Now they all say that it is not so much 'whether or not' as much as 'when' will India become a superpower, a world beater.
India is shining, India is poised and India is everywhere, so I hear. Now the embarrassment and the heartaches have been buried with the 1990s.
Instead now there is a swelling pride and a sweet anxiety as we roar back into being a nation in fashion. And I am very happy for India and for all of us Indians. I am 27 now and I pray that I can see India fly highest before I kick the bucket.
But here comes the twist in my tale. I no longer want India to be a superpower in the manner I wanted it to be when I was naive and without a broader perspective. I no longer want it to be another big and brawny US. I don't want it to be a superpower that is just made up of brain and brawn, that is GDP performance and military might.
Rather and more pressingly, I want India to have a heart. The heart of a superpower, a civilised country. Now what is the heart of a country? Let me try, humbly:
Having a heart, unlike GDP growth and a military beef-up, does not just relate to the macro-economic and political issues. Having a heart of a real superpower essentially has micro implications, for each of us. Each of us can soon belong to a mighty nation and all that but then what is the point of belonging to one if we indulge in or turn a blind eye to child labour?
Are we ready yet to ask for the age of our servants or avoid and report restaurants where the cleaners are boys who should be in school? I ask again, what is the big thing about belonging to a superpower if we continue to pelt stones at speechless stray dogs and cows? What is the big deal?
We can spit on the roads and throw the banana peel from a travelling car and still India can turn into what the world calls a superpower. The two are not corelated but then do we just want to be a mighty country and not care about our manners? We can buy a multitude of cars, bikes and look down on public transportation and still become a superpower. All our trees can make way for ultra modern townships. But then do we just want to belong to a superpower and pollute without caring about our environmental legacy for our children?
Are we ready yet to smile freely at random countrymen on the streets? Or if someone's car rams into ours are we ready to get out and ask, 'Are you ok?' instead of fisting the aggressor?
Are we poised to replace brutal ragging at our educational institutions with warmer welcoming gestures? Are we there yet, when we care to build local infrastructure that can also be used by handicapped people? Will we ever care enough for our country that we pick up our dog's poop when we walk it on the streets?
And will we dance on the streets again if India successfully tests another nuclear weapon? Are we ready yet to have a heart?
The time has come for us to become an economic powerhouse of the world. There is no stopping us now. But the time is certainly not here as yet for us to claim that we have a collective heart, the heart that makes a real superpower beat soundly. That's going to take a while.
Till then let us not kid ourselves at the prospect of becoming a superpower.
The task at hand is a lot bigger than the mere achievement of becoming an economic powerhouse and having destructive weapons. Let us be aware, lest we stop and rejoice as soon as we become the world's largest economy and stagnate.
Let's keep moving onto bigger things. Let's become a real superpower. A superpower that beats to a super heart.
Ravi Bhaskar is a software consultant based in Calgary, Canada.