Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Winter of discontent

Mum has been worried about multiple things. The laptop and its battery is giving trouble, the guy who was paid to deliver milk is absconding and the egg which the pigeon was sitting on with its feathers all fluffed up, has appeared on the balcony railing, resulting in a distraught mother pigeon.

It is extremely reassuring sometimes to listen to mundane moanings of near and dear ones. Had my mum not been in optimum health, conversation with her would revolve around medication, its side effects and test results. But strangely when things on that front improve I get to hear about the little but important struggles in her life including the helplessness and grief over the pigeon's lost egg.

I am too far away to be able to solve any of her problems, big or small. But being far away is far more unsettling when listening to the big problems. Listening to the story of the pigeon's lost egg,  is in relative terms quite blissful. May God and the pigeon forgive me for saying that.

Meanwhile it has been a winter of discontent for many, along with the snow and ice.  There have been public protests in Greece, Spain, France and Ireland over cuts in Government spending and its impact on jobs, pensions, currency etc. Students of the UK have been taking to the streets over removal of the cap on University Tuition fees.

Yet, the Indian leaders are plush with cash and have received the distinction of being amongst the most corrupt in the world, threatening to derail the success story of the fast growing economy being visited in recent past by the likes of Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron.

A distressed and disillusioned Ratan Tata said on National Television that while it is not so long ago, since President Obama referred to India as an emerged rather than emerging nation, events in the past few weeks are threatening to denigrate the country into a BANANA REPUBLIC. He explained further by saying- a country where people are prosecuted and jailed without proper trial or worse still are found dead in suspicious circumstances.I don't think it is far from the truth. One used to associate the Hindi heartland with gunda raaj but the goings on in the capital and other big cities makes one wonder whether democracy has any advantages. Nitish Kumar's turnaround for the once backward state of Bihar, speaks of the contrary.

Ratan Tata is a towering figure, (not just physically) who is not just a top industrialist in India, but Tatas is now the biggest  private employer in Britain after the takeover of Corus and Jaguar Land Rover (this was reiterated by Cameron on his India visit).

Ratan Tata spoke out for the first time about how his incorruptible stance had disadvantaged him and about how his fellow industrialists find it impossible to understand why he wont pay up, if it means losing projects like airlines and telecom spectrums. He spoke of swaying public policy determined by vested interests.

Listening to this interview made one feel sad. Honest men and women of integrity are constantly having to explain their seemingly foolish actions or inactions to everybody else, who considers bribing officials as a part of life.

Years ago Jaspal Bhatti made a point in one of his satirical television programs about how fathers of daughters who needed to be married off, should orchestrate income tax raids in their homes, to attract parents of suitable boys, who would then be assured of a hefty dowry.

I have had the controversial privilege of having worked with the Government of Chhattisgarh as an outside expert for Reproductive and Child Health Program and my experience left me with two very contrasting emotions.

On the one hand I worked with some truly inspiring, thinking out of the box, dedicated and effective bureaucrats and NGO heads, but on the other hand had to come to terms with working in a decrepit and dirty building with paan spit marks and plastic bags floating in stagnant puddles of rain water (if you were lucky or it could be broken sewage pipe water). The attitude of the people working in such an environment with years of experience of not being listened to, not being able to change anything was equally narrow minded, frustrated, inert and usually corrupt.

My father worked for a Government enforcement agency, Mines Safety and as a child, I had heard my mum complain about the bags of coal which was delivered free to our neighbours, while my dad grunted and concentrated on the newspaper. We knew we were not supposed to accept anything which was not accounted for. But usually Diwali sweets were considered OK, until one day in Delhi, Papa discovered that the sweet box was lined with wads of money. He then had to pick up his car and drive up the hills near Dehradun to return the box of sweets. Therefore, I was brought up to have very strong views on corruption, but working in Chhattisgarh made me so frustrated by the lack of action that my stance settled to- Make the money you want (usually 10% of each cheque from the World Bank via the Central Govt) but at least let the program go ahead, let the people who want to do something- do it....but even that was too much to ask...

Privatizing everything is not the answer, the person who suffers is the common man while the big wigs fill their pockets both Ambanis and Rajas. The black money leads to inflation of real estate and grass root problems of housing, food, electricity, water, health and education remain...Mera bharat mahaan. na roti na makaan.


debs own said...

incisive as usual, but its not as bleak as you portray.

brightspark said...

I hope you r right Debs

RGS said...

Its always inspiring to read your blog and i sometimes share it with my family. You are a great thinker and I wonder if you are biased to some extent. Can you try to get into your hubby shoes and write something good about India(again biased) with reasoning and passion. I am really keen to see what come out of it.

brightspark said...

Guru, thank you for the feedback- there is plenty about India and Indians which I am passionate about- will try to express it in my future blogs. This one was affected by the winter my nephew said!

Kumars at No 6 said...

Excelllent Nillanjana!

Enjoyed reading your Bak Bak
I agree with your observations and feelings.
Speaking to few in India and a few who have visited India recentely I am getting mixed messages - but overall it sounds a bit depressing!
Hope I am wrong!