Good China, better India? The tumultuous India that we berate is on a secure footing, but stable China faces a blackout When I was growing up in the Northeast in the early 80s, China was considered the slit-eyed paradise, Bruce Leeâ€™s home, and, hence, everyone there was a black-belt angel. If you had a headache, you put â€œChinabumâ€ (thatâ€™s what locals called Tiger Balm, a red, fiery jelly) on your forehead. If your joints hurt, you put Chinabum again. If you had flu, you put Chinabum. In short, Chinabum was good for everything. Then you had those black canvas Kung-Fu shoes: tremendously comfy, shamefully flat and decently durable. When I wore my first pair, I broke my little toe after a kicking fit. Thatâ€™s what watching The 36th Chamber of Shaolin can do to a teen. I canâ€™t forget the Wing Chun pens. They were the cornerstones of the penmanship culture of the NE in the pre-keypad era. Then you had Shield ping-pong balls and Butterfly ping-pong racquets. Great ball, great rubber. Add pencil torches, half-black-half-feather pillows, jackets and toys to that, and you could see that the Sino-Indian smuggling industry was thriving. On trains to the NE, it wasnâ€™t hard to meet raucous salesmen who sold cheap, synthetic underwear (I felt the fabric and could tell heat boils would come free with it.) and â€œsexy chewing gumâ€. I remember my friend Jayanta trying out some aphrodisiac gum and shaking his head an hour later and saying aloud, â€œHardly anythingâ€. Since Arunachal Pradesh received Chinese radio stations, it took on an even more fantastic sheen because we got to hear weird songs you heard only in the much-loved trashy martial arts films. All of us agreed India was a dump filled with Bata stores. Two decades later, when I honeymooned in China, I realised the Chinese canâ€™t crib about their country as vocally as we can. We are free to love and hate here, but in China, youâ€™re free to only love China and Mao. China is calm on the outside, boiling on the inside. India is chaotic on the outside, but the democratic foundation is rock solid, despite our one-dimensional hardliners. An urban Indian will feel at home in Beijingâ€™s smog and the buzzing markets of Shanghai. S/heâ€™ll be floored by the charm of Xiâ€™an. However, the overall Chinese vibe is opaque. One thing I understood was how the Chinese are as literal as they are symbolists. While noodles stand for longevity, Xiâ€™anâ€™s red-light area is actually lit with red lamps. Probably, it is the wholesome Communist thing to do. If you stop to listen to pro-democracy musicians in Chinaâ€™s subway stations, your tour guide will drag you away, saying thatâ€™s not the real deal. They think we donâ€™t know that the true measure of a countryâ€™s system lies in its underbelly. I was surprised when my guide said nothing much had happened at the Tiananmen Square. â€œLittle boys angry â€˜bout sumthig. No TV then, so nobody know,â€ she explained. The day we landed, she started off our tour with a little red history lesson â€” that Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh are federal Chinese territories. Next time you complain what a dump India is, you must keep in mind that weâ€™re allowed to call our country a dump and agree with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. We would have gloated had anybody like Liu Xiaobo got the Nobel Peace Prize, even if he had believed only Communism could salvage India. Our state-sponsored internal violence does not stay a secret for too long because we have a relentless media. A good example would be the media disclosure that the top Maoist leader Azad was shot at point-blank by the Andhra Pradesh police. Liu, an advocate of democracy, was thrown in jail last December. He got 11 years for drafting a manifesto called Charter â€™08, calling for political reform, guarantee of human rights and an independent judicial system. It was signed electronically by thousands of intellectuals, students and even former Communists. However, once the government saw the reach of the last bastion of free speech, the internet, it was duly blocked. So, many ordinary Chinese have no idea about the charter. This happened around the same time Google was trying to eke out a deal for a â€œfreerâ€ search engine. The Nobel win was not only blanked out by the media, but the commie bosses put liberalists, academics and bloggers, who were with Liu, in â€˜soft detentionâ€™. This basically means a total communication blackout. Chinaâ€™s most famous human rights lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, is still under watch after a three-day detention. What the Chinese bosses have missed is that you cannot blank out the aspirations of millions of young people who agree with Liuâ€™s non-violent protest. We Indians are privileged because we can speak for the Maoists and not get arrested, slam the CWG and still enjoy the Games.As an economist friend of mine put it, â€œChina has goods, India has better.â€ Disregard the grammar, and youâ€™ll see what he means.