Monday, January 7, 2008

Of poverty and corruption

I have been silent for a long time - not for dearth of material or ideas to write on but from sheer laziness and at times hectic traveling. Here are some quick thoughts on some "things" that have been "bothering" me. Towards the end of the year, I was home early one evening when wife and son happened to be out. The only person home was our live-in help who has been with us for over five years. She had been trying to get in touch with her brother-in-law in a village in West Bengal (not very far from Kharagpur - for those who may not know, Kharagpur, or KGP as it is referred to by many, is home to the oldest and the biggest IIT in the country) to get some news of her parents. The b-i-l had a cell phone and was thus, accessible. But that evening she had been frustrated in her attempts to contact him and I told her to ring him up on my cell phone, which she did.

As I reclined, surfing channels for the lack of anything better to do, I heard snatches of her conversation with her b-i-l. B-i-l was asking her to send some money to her parents. She almost blew her top since five/ six months back when she had gone home, she had given her mother Rs5,000. She asked her b-i-l how could her mother have spent Rs5,000 in only five months! I felt miserable at the thought. Rarely has the feeling of bliss on reaching home early so rudely been shattered. Rs5,000 - we probably spend out on one evening's meal in most upmarket restaurants in Mumbai. In this village where her parents stay (a few hours from KGP), there is still no power. In the district headquarters, an uncle of hers lost his life recently because while he was in emergency ward, the 12-16 hour power cuts made sure that modern medicine did not stand a chance. Life is unfair; but that in today's world lives are lost, in a country that is aspiring to be among the world's best, because of lack of bare minimum basic necessities somehow makes a mockery of many of our tall claims.

This is also the same country where an industrialist recently gifted his wife an Airbus 319 on her 44th birthday. While India indeed is shining for a lot of people (including yours truly) and there is a lot to celebrate about, somehow there is a large cross-section of the population which cannot even start to aspire to get out of the grinding vicious cycle of poverty, corruption and darkness that envelope their lives. That brings me to my second story. My driver had saved up Rs100,000 to buy a second room where he stays (his is a family of four people - self, wife, one son and one daughter). The other day he told me that he will not be able to buy the dream second room for quite some time. The story goes something like this - his sister's son is an ITI trained carpenter. Recently he secured a state government job in Mumbai; but before giving him his appointment letter the state government official in-charge demanded Rs150,000 as bribe. The family had no choice but to pool in all their savings to ensure that the young boy received his appointment letter and had a shot at breaking out of the vicious cycle.

My driver told me that the young boy will be drawing his second salary of Rs8,000 in a few days time. The bribe he had to pay was over one and half year's of salary of the boy. I do not know how but somewhere the "system" or society has to become more sensitive and sensitized. Otherwise what is the use of India prospering? Some of us may be able to gift diamonds to our better halves, some will gift aircrafts, some of us may be just satisfied with old fashioned gifts like flowers, books and cards, but how does a greater part of India prosper, how do the have-not's not feel like not-wanted in their own country?


Bombay Addict said...

Otherwise what is the use of India prospering? Amen to that and here's hoping for more of your musings. You might be lazy but your anxious readers always look forward to more such real life moving stories. Thanks sir.

AnIdealCalledIndia said...

I too agree that the system has to start changing. Noam Chomsky's words ring in my head at this time. Things start happening when voices come together. Some day, the voice of awakening will reach a critical mass. I am filled with hope.