Sunday, November 06, 2011

Adjusting to India

When i moved back to India from the US 3 years back, i did it because i wanted to. It is one of those decisions you can't really fully explain. Why do people leave comfy jobs to join rockbands or go on world tours or climb mountains or have kids for that matter.

Changing a country is bound to be eventful. And with difference as drastic as between India and US, you are guaranteed some jolts. But a lot of people seem to be trying it out now-a-days. Consider this account.

Why I Left India (Again)
The idea that you can fix India’s problems by adding more people to it — even smart people — is highly suspect. No, I wasn’t going back to fix things; I was leaving the U.S. to go back to Shri Thomas Friedman’s India: an India that offered global companies, continental food, international schools and domestic help; an India that offered freedom from outsourcing and George W. Bush.
India is a poor country. There are millions of poor and hungry people around. As sad and ugly as it may be, that is the truth. And so is the fact that you are not one of them. I guess this guy didn't quiet expect that, hence he had to head back. His was a problem of being rich in a poor society. Being one of the very few fortunate ones among millions born in poverty and misfortune.

You don't think it's a problem? I can assure you it is. At least for people who can and will, think. There are ways of solving it though. You can ignore their plight, you can rationalize their situation saying life is not fair or that its not your concern anyways. Believe me, i have tried them all.

Sadly, none of them work. The only way to be among the haves, be empathetic towards the have-nots and still keep your conscience intact, is to act. It does not matter how small or insignificant your contribution, as long as its genuine. And there are plenty of opportunities to act. That is what excites me about India. Most efforts will fail, some will succeed. In the end all that will matter is that did you sit on the fence looking pretty, or did you act.

Hawkers Plaza

There are some places in Pune that people from outside Pune love to hate. Like the पेठ areas. सोमवार, मंगळवार, बुधवार, ..., रविवार, गंज, नारायण, सदाशिव (Yes, the last name is in bold. This will suffice.). Why? The roads are too small, the people are too many, its all just too chaotic. The अस्सल पुणेकर on the other hand, not only loves these areas, but does not consider anything else as the real Pune (खरं पुणं लकडी पुलापाशी सुरु होऊन तळ्यातल्या गणपतीपाशी संपते ! कसे?).

The critique of these non-resident Punekars (:P) is not entirely incorrect. Yes the roads are too narrow (Not much we can do about them. Unless you want to tear down Vishrambaug Wada to widen Bajirao Road. Not a good idea.). Yes the traffic is utterly chaotic (this, we can certainly improve). Hence i was elated when i read that they are planning to implement a 'No Vehicle' zone and one-ways on few of the roads, in this central business district (seems more stylish now, don't it?) of Pune.

I was at the breakfast table reading this news and my Dad walks in. He has been working in this area all his life so i quickly splurt out the good news. His exact response being "Pedestrian Plaza कसला, Hawkers Plaza करून ठेवतील लेकाचे ! Scheme बंद पडेल थोड्या दिवसात आणि hawkers तसेच राहातील. मं आत्ता आहे ते काय वाईट आहे?" I was a bit stunned and very much dismayed by his cynicism. Why can't he be a little more optimistic? After all this is the corruption-fighting, formula 1-racing, 8% growth-maintaining young new India that we are talking about here.

But he is most probably right. Look at what happened to MG Road back then (when i was in school perhaps). Look at what is happening to FC Road right now, as we speak.

The road was turned into a one-way street. Good thing. The footpaths were widened. Excellent thing. One enterprising young fella thought of selling pani-puri on this nice big footpath. He did brisk business. When the police, anti-encroachment guys came along, he didn't mind sharing his profit. A hundred more book-sellers, chocolate toast vendors and juice sellers joined him. Now, good thing or bad thing?

If you ask me, i enjoy the tasty (and unhygienic) food and the cheap books they sell. As long as they sell, most people will buy. Plus i am young enough to dodge cars and jump over pot holes when the footpaths are occupied by these stalls. But what about my आजोबा and आजी? Well, who cares :(

It also seems a bit unfair to evict the street vendors once they are entrenched (not that its possible anyways). So the solution is not to allow any encroachment of footpaths in the first place. But are the authorities serious enough about this? Ofcourse not!

Update: Not sure if this is good news or bad news, but the thing is cancelled for now.