Friday, June 29, 2007

Mumbai dreams

My car insurance is due for renewal next month. For the last two weeks I have received calls from various general insurance companies seeking appointments and promising me the best rates in town. What a change from the days when one public sector company's products were thrust upon us and one had to run from pillar to post if a claim was due. But today's story is not about the service levels of insurance companies.

Today's story is about a young lad in his late teens who called me up the other day and said he was representing a leading private sector general insurance company. The voice was a bit brash, spoke in casual Hindi and sounded aggressive. He almost demanded an appointment and promised the best rates in town. I called him over to my office and he arrived on time. That is when I saw that he was a young boy. Curiosity got the better of me and I started asking him a few questions:

Self (S): Do you work for XYZ Insurance company or do you represent a DSA?

Boy (B): I work for the company.Here is my visiting card. You can also call up my manager.

S: Are you from Mumbai? Have you done any IRDA course?

B: I am from Ahmedabad. No, I have not done any course. I am class XII pass.

S: Don't you want to study further? How did you land up in Mumbai? Where do you stay?

B: Sir, to study more you need money (to quote him verbatim, Sir ji padne ke liye peesha lagta hai). My father sent me to Mumbai to find work as my income supports my parents and my sister. When I came here I was staying with a relative; but he started demanding money from my parents. Since he was asking for Rs40,000 and we could not afford that, he has turned me out today in the morning.

S: So what are you going to do?

B: I spoke to my manager and he has arranged a small room for me next to our office in Sion for Rs1,300 rent and a deposit of Rs5,000.

S: How did you find this job?

B: When I came here, I saw an ad of this insurance company outside Sion station. I called up the manager and next day presented myself.

S: How much do you earn in this job? Will you do any professional courses later?

B: My fixed salary is Rs6,000 and provident fund is deducted from that. I expect to earn my first commission of Rs10,000 this month. And I think in a year I should be able to earn commissions of Rs125,000 at least. I am confident about that. No, I will not do any courses. But I will definitely achieve something in Mumbai. (To verbatim report his last statement - main yahaan zaroor kuch bankar dikhaaonga)

The firmness in his voice caught me unguarded. Then and more so now I believe that he will prove himself and achieve something in this city. At least I do not have any doubt on that. His dream is the dream of Vijay in Deewar and Agneepath and Gurukant Desai in Guru. I was wondering whether I would have been able to solicit business when the roof over my head had been taken away the same morning. Would I have groveled for business especially before someone who is quite evidently way up on the social ladder? Without being insolent he was confident in what he was asking for.

And that brings me to why I wrote this incident. Reforms have given an opportunity to many people like this boy to have hope and search for a new career. Before setting foot in Mumbai he had worked in the textile market in Ahmedabad and earned a pittance. But now he is dreaming of big things in Mumbai. He still does not aspire to buy a car in the next one year, but wants to buy a house after two years.

I have long believed that the poor and the disenfranchised in this country need opportunities and a shot at doing better things, they do not need the patronage of the politicians and their employment guarantee schemes. The patronage is intended to keep the poor where they are and to be brought out when votes are required. But new opportunities - and like it or not most of them have come through over the last decade because of reforms and liberalization - will unshackle the abilities and the strength of all cross sections of this society. May this boy achieve his dreams. Oh, and I must tell you this - when he gets married, he wants a working spouse.