Quora: What are some things that you can do in India but not in the US?

Some of the other answers are pretty good as well, but this one is probably the most feel good.

Answer by Balaji Viswanathan:

1. I can go to a doctor with no insurance, no paperwork, get treated, buy  medicines and come back in an hour with a total expenditure of just  $1-$2. (This is a private practitioner who was educated almost for free by the government. Typically, a GP sees 50-100 patients everyday and makes $200/day.) And some of these doctors are the best in the business. This is  one of the things where India knocks most countries hands down[1]. It is not just cheap, it is also also as uncomplicated as going to a grocery store. In fact, our doctors become good family friends and act as everything from a notary to a life consultant 😉

2. I can go and buy healthy stuff cheaper than unhealthy stuff. A kilo of  fresh mango costs about Rs. 20 ($0.35) during season while a 1 liter bottle of Coke  costs Rs. 40 ($0.70). Same with idli vs. pizza or roti vs. Big Mac. In India, you  have to pay big bucks to eat unhealthy. In the US, it is the other way  around.

3. Weddings, festivals and family events. India again wins hands down. Try spending Holi in Delhi, Ganpathy Pooja in Bombay, Durga pooja in Calcutta and Pongal near Madurai and you will see what is incredible about India. In US, except for July 4 and to some extent Christmas, most festivals are low key. I’m surprised that most people don’t even come out to the streets to celebrate Christmas or New Year in most US cities.

4. Drop in randomly to relatives/friends homes. Although in some Indian metros, people are acting “Western” and requiring appointments to go to their home, in most normal Indian homes you can drop in without an appointment. My wife and I always go to our inlaws place without notice to surprise them. This element of chance & surprise adds to further excitement. In the US, I find things too formal.

5. Get stuff repaired instead of throwing to landfill. Indians are very efficient in repairing/reusing stuff. In the US, people throw out their gadgets and appliances as soon as they reach the first failure. In India, you can go to a mechanic/electrician and get stuff repaired. The amount of waste generated per person is extremely low.

6. Low cost education. We can spend weeks on finding what is at fault with our education system, but the fact of the matter is that we are very efficient at what we are doing. Most of us went to private schools where it costs less than $500/year (although, this is changing as more parents want trophy schools now). Our colleges are only a little more expensive than that. This is despite the government spending almost nothing on our education. Most students in the US are overburdened with debt just after their college. It is not just cheap, it is also safe. Whether it is rapes, murders or shootings, our colleges do far better in managing crimes than do US campuses. Even during major riots, you will never see a major campus of IIT/IIM/NIT affected in any way.

7. Public Transportation. In almost all Indian cities there is viable public transportation. If there is no bus or train, there will always be a ubiquitous autorickshaw costing about $0.2/km. In the US, I had terrible problems going from one city to an another before I bought my car.

8. Affordable entertainment and communication. In India, almost anybody (even a slumdweller) can afford cable TV. A full service cost about $2-$8/month. Same for mobile phones where incoming calls are mostly free and one can have an usuable phone plan for about $5/month. However, in the US even many upper middle class families have to think twice before going for full cable service.

9. Walkable cities and towns. India has not yet moved to a US style suburbian sprawl. That means in most towns & cities we can walk/bike to most essential amenities – grocery shops (h/t Niranjan Uma Shankar), medical clinics, restaurants.

10. Political system. We sure have got plenty of troubles in our democratic setup, but ours is the only democratic setup where a minority can rise up to the top with no background. When Abdul Kalam became the third Muslim President in 32 years, India’s right wingers didn’t howl. This is in sharp contrast to how US right wingers reacted to Obama’s little bit of black lineage. The President was born to a white mother, raised in white neighborhoods, went to Ivy leagues, but still was trashed by the right wing. President Kalam had no political background, no strong network and no money, just lots of brains to get him up there. Although our population is 85% Hindu, we have had Sikh Prime Ministers and Presidents, Muslim Presidents, Zorastrian business leaders… Can a Hindu/Muslim immigrant realistically become a premier in Italy or Germany or Australia? We are not perfectly secular, but this is one aspect where we beat every other nation in the world.

11. Finally, good food. I live in a nation where a Samosa costs Rs 4 ($ 0.08). In Mumbai, we used to have a great dinner at roadside shops for $1 (for 2 of us). Whether it is Idly, Papdi chat or Samosa, it is a luxury in the US. I miss the chats of Delhi & Mumbai, Saravana Bhavan of Chennai and Rosgollas of Calcutta.


[1] Our medical system is so direct & simple, if you are not dirt poor. One of my close friends had a mild bout of fever as soon as he came to the  US. In India, this is a pretty simple thing. Here, the doctors made him take so many stupid tests that the bill finally ran to $800. Good that his insurance coverage started the previous day. Still, he had to run around filling up papers for a whole week.

Endnote: I  can also name 11 or more things where you can do in the US but not in  India. So, it is not about jingoism or one nation better than the other.  It is just a discussion about relative merits of one nation vs. the  other. Every nation is great in its own way, and there are some stuff that one nation beats the other, while in other stuff gets beaten.