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Smart Cities : More Questions Than Answers

Published May 17, 2015 by vishalvkale

SMART CITY
A ‘smart city’ is an urban region that is highly advanced in terms of overall infrastructure, sustainable real estate, communications and market viability. It is a city where information technology is the principal infrastructure and the basis for providing essential services to residents. A Smart City, should have Power, Water, Cleanliness, Seamless Information, 24/7 Utility Services, WiFi zones, Recreational Spaces, Waste Management, Connectivity in transport as well as communication, Speedy Service, Transparency and Accountability etc.

While there are good points & it is also a good and needed step, but…. firstly, it doesnt take into account the realities of the Indian Demography, Polity, Bureaucracy, Governance and Systems. it doesnt take into account the Indian Economy, and its doesnt take into account the status of the real estate sector, as also any number of other realities that beset the Indian Economy.


ECONOMIC STRUCTURE

Economic output by the entire corporate contributes just 18% or thereabouts to the Indian Economy. The rest is Agriculture, and unorganised sector. A smart city implies high doses of technological capability, which scores upon scores of our companies do not possess, and the gap is too large for them to plug, given the history and the monetary requirements. Other nations enjoy economies of scale and can produce whatever we can at cheaper rates. If we keep a purchase local condition, we are finished before we start, like the FDI in retail brouhaha.


If we cant compete in a commodity like Stainless Steel, it is foolish to believe we can compete in high-tech sectors. We have skills aplenty; they have the economies of scale, which is what is needed. For that, we have to dismantle a large part of our taxation structure, which is inverted in more than a few categories.



Next, how do you fit in the small variables like the thelaa-gaadis, small eateries, roadside stores etc – all the things that define a lovely Indian City in a Smart City concept? Is it clear? What happens to these small support services? They are a cultural reality; I wouldnt be caught dead in a 5-star; too stuffy and showy for my taste, Give me the fantastic Idli-Vada at Sion Station; given a choice, I would eat Idli Vada over those showy dishes in a Marriott any day! The point is that these minor details need to be idenitified and clarified before we start, or we run the risk of overzealous officials banning or relegating such activities to the backburner, leading to loss of livelihood to thousands, and an erosion of uniqueness and attractiveness as well.



Next, Sustainable Real Estate. End of Story. Take a gander at the real estate market in India. It is controlled and cartelised, beset by crime and corruption. TIll last year, prices were holding in Urban India depsite their being a 50% vacancy rate of unsold inventory. What happens when the Smart City Ball gets rolling? Sustainable? That it isnt. Valuations will go through the roof, and that is a fact. 


It completely ignores the structure of the Economy, which is characterised by small entrepreneurs. I would like to understand how the small entrepreneur with 50000 seed capital can make a mark in your smart cities. These ventures are capital intensive, and import oriented, which is the real reason why everyone from China to USA is agog; they see $$$$Kaching$$$$! Study the incomparable report on the Indian Economy by Prof Vaidyanathan – India, Uninc; it gives figures from Government sources and introduces you to the real India.


There are two data points available : 5th Economic Survey, 2005 and NSSO 2011, Both tell the same story: Smart Cities are nothing but a fantasy. They are premature, they are the future, but very premature. The Idea is right, but a decade or two too early. As per the first, there are 41.83 Million establishments in India; 76% of these worked without any power; employing 100.9 Million; 46% were own account establishments. As per NSSO 2011, 66% were OAE; retail trade slipped from 42% to 30% and ,manufacturing grew from 23% to 31%. Own Account Establishments were 60% of retail, 72% of Manufacturing, and 63% of service. Contribution to the GDP : between 46-58%.


Given the Smart City definition, a good number of them don’t fit – and largely for no fault of theirs. These organizations do not have the money to upgrade – they will upgrade eventually : a process that is currently underway. That is the time these concepts can work. And this will happen in tandem with improvements in education etc basic facilities in India, not before.

PRIORITIES & REQUIREMENTS

What does the nation require? Research shows that nearly 93Million of our farmers are losing 800-odd per crop; data shows the level of poverty in our nation; consumption trends corroborate, with the top 10% growing at a rate of 3% as opposed to 1% consumption growth for the bottom 40%. Farmer suicides are going up; the economic fundamentals are shaky; the global economy is in unprecedented turmoil, and all we can think of is Smart Cities? Our Armed Forces are in dire need of funds; and all we can think of is Smart Cities? We spend the lowest in GDP terms on Education, Defence and Health, and all we can think of are Smart Cities?



We dont need Smart Cities, We need Schools, Colleges, Primary Health Centers, Rockets, Mortars, Fighter Aircraft, Missiles, Satellites, Seed Research, Irrigation, Water Purity for Agriculture, Extension Workers to teach our Small and Marginal Farmers, Redoing our Duty and Taxation Structures, Fair prices for farmers at farm-gate, cement or pukka roads, etc etc. A smart city can come after that.



Besides, a Smart City requires – data connection. We in India have average & unreliable speeds of around 1,5mbps; the developed nations have a speed of upwards of 22mbps. They have high penetration of credit and debit cards and acceptability of online commerce; we dont. India has precisely 73Million broadband connections – this is including individuals with a double connection; I have three. Less than 69Million Indians consume more than 512mbps of data on a monthly basis; and cashless transactions are unknown outside the protected environs of top places.


The logic is sound, I clearly stated that concept is needed – but a decade or two too early. This will work in a relatively corruption-free atmosphere, where the Land issues are under control. That we dont have. Next, this works in economic reality which enable the above, which again we dont have, as I have been at pains to point out.


The shift to the small cities will not happen in the industrial sector; the vast majority – upto 90% – of the actual producers are concentrated in only a select few agglomerations, namely Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, followed by Kolkata, Bangalore, Pune, Ahmedabad. Other second-level sites are Nashik, Meerut, Hyderabad, Coimbatore, Ludhiana, Kanpur, Rajkot,Surat. No one else comes even close to these cities, although Jaipur, Chandigarh, Hissar, Nagpur and a couple others do try hard. These are further populated by small enterprises.



The shift will not happen from these established centers; there is in existence an ecosystem that now is impossible to replace,. with manufacturing facilities being deeply interlinked with their vendors and suppliers who have now set up in the same or nearby areas. In B2B industries, a symbiotic relationship has started with the consumers and the manufacturers sometimes co-located, or located within 8-10Kms of each other.



The proof is in the manifest failure of industrial areas in other wannabe metros, like Indore and Bhopal, which have simple failed to take off. They remain consumption and trading centers, not producers, despite an incredible level of support given to them by successive Governments. The failure of Bhilai to rise as a comparable center to even Nagpur, let alone Surat & Rajkot, is a case in point.


MY FEAR
We are only exacerbating the rural-urban divide. As on date, few Urban Indians show the same level of passion for rural development, which is the only thing we need. Rest will take care of itself! We are asking people to focus their valuable- sorry, waste their valuable time on cities, where the conditions are utopic in comparison to villages and that is a fact! Large numbers of villagers would willingly settle for facilities comparable to our current “stupid cities” and that is also undeniable.


No amount of planning will overcome the serious objections there are, some of which are enlisted below. I dont buy visions; they are a dime a dozen. I buy execution – call it my sales instinct, but I am not impressed by Grand Visions without a proper execution document, which contains detailed studies & steps.  And this is not made after finalising the plan; that is stupid, blunt and straight. Typically, that is to be visualised before finalising the plan and the execution.



Where is that plan? If it exists, why isnt it in the public domain? Where is the detail on what exactly a “Smart City” means in practical terms – real world terms, not meaningless jargon, which even I can write, given I am a part-techie and a part-telecom / business person to boot?????? Give a person time and opportunity, and out comes a logical sounding plan! That is dead easy; doesnt require any great skill whatsoever. What will be the mode of transport in a Smart City? Residence and Commercial Areas? Connectivity in Roads? Size of internal roads? Drainage?



What will be the connectivity in terms of data and communication? What technology will be adopted? How will the technologies communicate with the other “stupid’ cities? What will it cost the residents?What happens to the slums? Or doesnt the concept apply to the slums? If they are in a smart city, they should be smart slums too! Each city has bylanes with crowded marketplaces; these are the epicenter of business in India, commanding a lion’s share of the business volume pan-India. What does this mean for them? What is in it for them?



How will rural India benefit? Please give specifics : not general statements like find jobs, or employment generation. Jobs in which industry, at what level paying what? Where will they stay? Where will the land come from? What will it do to land prices? How will you ensure proper settlement for dues – and if you think this is not important, I can produce 40 years worth of terrifying tales of neglect? How will you ensure Land Mafia is controlled – without real and serious administrative reform which no government – AAP apart- has shown any appetite for?



A Smart City means Power, Water round the clock, Where will that come from? We dont have enough power now, wont have for another 2 decades. Who will sacrifice their power for these Smart Cities? And why should any stupid city sacrifice even one kilowatt for a smart city, pray tell? Where will water come from? Any number of cities are seriously water deficient. Where is the plan for all this?????????



A Smart City implies a certain level of data connection backbone; which we dont have, and wont for a minimum 5-10 years more. It also means seamless information availability. How will you ensure that, given the various data collection points, formats, protocols? When your land records are not computerised? When any number of public facilities are not online fully, and there are no plans for them either? When you still have no common information system in the Government? When there is a redundancy in several documents?  I could go on and on… Where is the real plan?


Why does this generate this level of interest? Why doesnt the question of farmer suicides, famers earnings, rural facilities, etc generate the same level of attention, interest, passion in Urban Indians? Arent they Indians? What is being done for them, pray tell? We are still focussing on cities, not on the villages where the situation is decidedly bad. Why hasnt the same level of euphoria, the same level of passion, the same vision, the same money been generated for setting things right in Rural India? The government is hard selling this concept abroad, showcasing our development, whereas we require basic steps like Education, Health, Governance and Defence!



What it should have done is launched rural programmes with the same fervor, passion, vision and attention – which is not the case. We have finite resources both in terms of money as well as other aspects. How we spend those resources is the key.

In point of fact, Smart Cities is the last thing we need; we dont have the ground realities even in urban India for it, and that is a fact. Not one person anywhere in India has even tried to meet the serious and potent objections being raised by any number of people; and are focussing on the vision. 




Remember : Great plans fail on execution as, among other reasons, it turns out that the ground realities did not support the plan in the first place.



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Modi Sarkar and The Farmer : The Achilles Heel

Published May 2, 2015 by vishalvkale

MODI SARKAR : THE ACHILLES HEEL

It has taken a long time to manifest itself, but at long last, we see a developing Achilles Heel in our famed Modi Sarkar; a sad development indeed, given that this is the best government we have had in the past several decades. The only good thing is that the Achilles Heel has manifested itself from a totally unexpected direction; not only that, it also holds serious potential of rekindling a genuine opposition on a national scale, which is a needed and vital component of a functioning democracy.

It has taken twin developments in two connected areas for the weakness to manifest itself : Farmers’ Suicides, and The Land Bill. Taken together, this has created a situation in which, if properly strategized, the opposition can rebuild itself, while simultaneously undermining the central government.

THE CONGRESS : AWAKENING
The sad part is that once again,  it is the Congress that has the opportunity to rise from the ashes. This is sad because it has yet again failed to democratize, and has placed its faith on Dynasty. I have nothing against Rahul Gandhi; he may be an excellent potential leader for all I know; then again, he might not. That is not relevant; what is relevant is the fact that The Congress does not have any leader it feels can connect with the people, despite having some good people on its roster.

Be that as it may, the  Congress has taken what seems to be the right step; change track from the all-too-familiar “communal politics” track to a far more sensible and development oriented focus : that of the farmer and their issues. This bodes well for our democracy, for our economy and for our society, as now there is a chance the real issues might get a much needed attention and focus.

The best way to tackle communalism is not to fan it; all the while building solid relationships within communities. A politically charged message has a polarizing impact, and if the community specific plank is being abandoned by all parties, this is a development worth celebrating. If all parties can abandon a community specific focus, the only way India can go is up and forward. Aag ko jitnaa tool doge, jitni hawaa doge, utni failegi.

And harping on the communal message, which was not making a connect with any definable voter base was always a suspect strategy. Besides, there has to be a provable base for such a strategy that can be directly traced back to your opposition; and this is clearly absent in the BJP.


THE BJP : SLEEPING!
The BJP, meanwhile, is basking in the glory of its rise to power, and ignoring these undercurrents, which might yet turn into a deluge. While it is doing excellent work in any number of areas, its approach and presentation to the people on these two issues is strange and more than a little disturbing, given the party’s admirable understanding of the pulse of India and the Indian people.

Please note my choice of words : in this article, I am taking no position on the Central Government’s Agricultural and Land Policies – that is the subject of another, research based and supported article/s that I shall take up a little later on the Agricultural challenges being faced by India. I am only analyzing the potential impact of the presentation in front of the people, and the angst among them.

It adheres to a top-down development ideology, counting on investment in infrastructure, amenities to drive rural upliftment and employment, while attempting to ensure good governance at all levels of Government. It has also taken a few good steps in the Agriculture sector {Analysed on my blog here : Union Budget Analysis}; these will require time to properly strategise and implement.

What is more pertinent that it has done little to meet head-on the anti-farmer label that is being leveled against it by some, beyond messages to the farming community by the PM. More and more parties and  groups are now coming into the open, calling its policies as pro-Urban India and anti-farmer. The most important aspect that the BJP seems to have forgotten is the population of India – the top 200 Urban Agglomerations account for only around 15.46% of population as per Census 2011

Thus, any message targeted at the rural community that is focused not on ideology, religion, regionalism but rather on their bread and butter is certain to get the attention of the people. That is a foregone conclusion; the needs of the stomach will take primacy; that is a primordial fear. The BJP is giving a message of development : how is this message being received by the population? Is it making a connect with the people?

THE HISTORY
For Urban India, it means investments, growth and jobs. What does it mean for Rural India? What have the prior experiences of Rural India been in this regard? It should mean the same for them : but is this the way it is being perceived in Rural India? Farmers stand to lose their lands; what will they get in return? Each piece of land further supports landless labourers, input vendors etc – we are talking of snatching an entire ecosystem.

What is the history, the prior experiences of the farming community in India? As This Article : Why Farmers Have Every Right to Feel Gypped explores in painful detail – there is a sad, almost terrifying history of governmental failure of monumental  proportions behind this rising tide of protests against the BJP Government with regard to the Agricultural Sector;  what is sad is that this Government has actually started a series of steps that drive some hope into the refurbishment of this sector in the budget, which makes this image of anti-farmer a real tragedy in itself.

And look at the third and recent case reported this month in The Times of India which makes you want to cry and laugh – both at the same time!
The gist of the case is: in 1998, the Railways acquired land from Mela Ram and Madan Lal to lay the Una-Amb track in Himachal Pradesh. As usual, the Railways adopted delaying tactics when it came to paying up. The farmers filed a case for enhanced compensation. After a fair amount of legal to-ing and fro-ing,  in 2013, the HP High Court directed the railways to pay the money within six weeks. “But the railways hasn’t deposited the amount until now”, the farmers’ advocate AK Saini said a few weeks ago. Typical.
So, on April 9, 2015, Mukesh Bansal, the additional district and sessions judge of Una ordered the attachment of the train if the railways failed to pay compensation to the two farmers!! The court said if Mela Ram and Madan Lal did not get Rs. 8.91 lakh and Rs. 26.53 lakh respectively, the train would be stopped at Una station at 5 am on April 16 and attached by it. The farmers were asked to select one out of four trains – and they selected The Delhi-Una Janshatabdi Express!


SUMMARY
My point is simple : the steps taken by the BJP Government have exposed a chink in their armoury, one that is now being exploited by the opposition. This is the Achilles Heel; their weakness. And there is nothing they can do about it; not over the short term. I have purposely taken an isolated case history above : the point is that there is a feeling of inadequacy and helplessness that is rooted in genuine truth and a terrifying history of crass incompetence on the part of successive central governments over the years.

And this atmosphere is giving rise to an opposition movement that is, for the first time in my memory {correct me if I am wrong}, focused on real issues that make a powerful connect with the target audience in Rural India as on solid whole. For the first time, we now have an issue-based discussion in Indian Politics, which is bringing this issue mainstream.

All it really requires to bring the BJP juggernaut to a grinding halt is a solid loss in a few upcoming state elections; were that to happen, coming on top of the shock in Delhi, things will get interesting, as the BJP will be forced to recalibrate and reassess its approach and its communication. Unless the BJP can get its house in order and connect with Rural India and its real issues in light of the historical experience and the on-ground realities and challenges in Rural India, they stand to lose ground…

Make In India – A Critique

Published March 17, 2015 by vishalvkale

Make in India is the flavour of the season, almost – with Media going overboard on its prospects, and waxing eloquent on the benefits it holds for India. Lost in all this panjandrum are the voices – some small, like mine, and others highly influential, who have been raising questions {not objections} on this entire affair. Let us look at some hard facts, conclusive facts that can drill a hole through this initiative, or at least raise some serious questions. 
1) India is a primarily agricultural economy with employment in agriculture being at around 57% 
2) The total number of dependants on agriculture can easily be around 500-700 Million people, perhaps more 
3) Data supports the above : let us look at just one data point – number of land holding in agriculture. There are 121 Million individual land holdings in India. If you assume one family per holding, you are straightaway staring at a figure of around 500 Million. Add landless labour and support services, and you have a humongous number. 
4) Another proof can be had by taking a look at Census Data; more than 75% of the population stays in Rural India. The population of the top 200 Urban agglomerations do not exceed 20%. It was 15.4% as pre census 2011, and 14.4% if you take out the agglomerations and list only the cities. That is the reality. 
5) The Indian Economic structure is not a large-company structure; Corporate India – towards whom this plan is pointed – contributes less than 20% {I think it is less than 19% even} of national income. Ditto on any other parameter you may care to check up on. 
6) Another proof is the data on employment, which also shows a skewness towards unincorporated and unregistered employments, as also data on Rural-Urban split of employment 
7) Consumption data is another interesting data point, with the consumption of the bottom layers of economy having grown by around 1% since 1978, and by 3% in the top layers of the economy, thereby proving that increased economic activity does not lead to riches for all. We do not have consumption trends of consumables, unfortunately – so we have no way of knowing the relative speads of this increased consumption 
India isnt just about Corporate India, which is a rather insignificant contributor to any economic number you may care to anaylse; and there is a strong possibility that Make In India might not directly benefit the people who need change the most – the rural population, whose needs and challenges are not the same as those of Urban India; the same can be said of the economically deprived segments of our society.
In order that the potential of the bottom 80% of the population is unlocked, and the impact of growth is felt across all sectors and income-levels in a more equitable distribution, some basic steps are vital. In fact, it may even be possible that the absence of these steps might actually stall the entire MII initiative, and ground it fully and finally. I havent seen any indication from the GoI that it intends to do these; if it is in the works, excellent. If not, we are still hurtling form one crisis to the next. 
1) Agriculture ; Data again clearly show that nearly 93 Million of the 121 Million holdings are losing money on every crop {NSS – 2005; am not aware of any survey conducted after this}. This indicates that earning for the farming community have to improve; which means that the entire ecosystem needs looking at : viz subsidy structure and outlay, inputs, market access, price controls, APMC, price realisation at farm level, education of farmers in latest techniques, spread of knowledge from ICAR and other research places to farmers, etc. Not one point from these is being talked about. 
2) Unless the farmers and those dependent on agriculture earn real money, there is zero chance that they will educate their children beyond the basics – and even that is doubtful. Literacy does not mean education – and economic growth requires education, not literacy 
3) Rampant Health Problems in rural India; economic growth means health is a prerequisite. And we as an economy spend among lowest on health worldwide. Fact. 
4) Education{1} – IITs and IIMs are not required, where the focus currently lies – and quite a few of these people run away from India, and that leaves out scores of colleges that require upgradation. Why should we focus on building capabilities that enable those who dont want to call India their home encash and leave, forgetting their mother? Not all leave, I admit – but then again, we do not require more IITs and IIMs for internal candidates – it is far better to upgrade existing infrastructure that will benefit not the select few but the large majority! That is the need of the hour!
5) Education{2} – For the mid and lower level colleges to perform better – another input is the quality of incoming students; improving their education levels requires investment in primary and secondary education. This isnt happening – GoI is not spending on these 
6) Education{3} – Participative growth requires education that enables people to take advantage of the opportunities. This will not happen under the current MII plan, that is a foregone conclusion 
7) Education{4} – Education is a state subject, or a subject in the concurrent list, What initiatives are being taken by the states? What pressure is there on them to improve, to ensure proper education and implementation? 
Ditto Agriculture – with focus being on freebies and irrelevant matters like GM Crops which will have no impact whatsoever. Ditto health. It is one thing to give them money – which is excellent; quite another to ensure its proper utilisation. RBI report on states budgetary health 2013-14 categorically lists the improvements as well as shortcomings of the states of India, as I stated in an earlier article. Please google and read.
It is indeed a laudable objective that GoI has undertaken – MII; but the question remains, is the timing right? Can it be postponed will we have the right infrastructure and mechanisms in place? Of course it can; these years can be far better utilised in building strength and capabilities across the board rather than undertake a high-risk venture like MII. 
An initiative like MII requires a few basics to be in place for it to be successful and implemented smoothly without which, delays are inevitable, as also massive cost overruns as businesses find a lack of requisite resources playing spoilsport. Some, like a digital backbone, can be implemented side-by-side {see data at the end}; others cannot. These others are matters related to people parameters like health and education. 
1) Factories require workers, Where will you get them? If you get them only from Urban or Semi Urban India, the time taken for the percolation to reach rural India will ignite resistance as the perceived gap between Rural and Urban India increases. The objective is to make all India a wealthy nation – not just Urban India. Does rural India have the ability as of now? I do not think so. As I stated above, there is a massive difference between literacy and education. We need education, not literacy.
2) They require Land. Where will you get land? Create draconian laws that ignore the interests of farmers? You do that – and you are guaranteed failure. We are a democracy, and have an excellent judicial system. The only result of ignoring the land-owners interests will be court proceedings, resulting in stalling of the entire MII initiative fully and finally. Irrefutable historical evidence exists of this. There is no option but what the UPA did- approval of 70% {pecentage negotiable as per me; point is community interests need taking care of} of the community who stand to lose. 
Urban India has no conceptualisation of Rural India; MII only stands to benefit the Urban population, not the interiors. And the result of a skewed growth will be another crisis as Urban India will not find the resources to fuel their growth as they go into hinterland, leading to a massive crisis of gargantuan proportions, given Corporate India’s idiotic penchant of investing without proper analysis and on half-hearted reports created by people living in secluded AC environs of Metros, from excel sheets and data inputs which are highly suspect for their content and accuracy. 
That leads me to the most vital set of reforms – proper data collection, and statistical analyses; and digitisation of everything – which includes digitisation of land records, economic activity, data collection authentication and analysis, everything. Please remember that Millions of our enterprises are unregistered, and Millions more do not reveal the full story. For a proper reasoned analysis – data is vital; and unless captured properly and completely, surprises will arise that will cause hiccups, delays and wrong turns.
There will be tax and legal repercussions that will need to be thought through – which is relatively simple; It will also require taking various vested interests on board, which is exceptionally hard, and the only real challenge; vested interests who will see no benefit in lieu of losses in various ways – not without the concurrent reforms in the comments above. The result? More delays. 
On the dream of digital India etc, please take a look at the reality in a national perspective. Coverage alone will suffice, we need not go into the aspect of quality of coverage, which is a subject unto itself. Data Points in the coverage do not support the contention of most people that India is a digital nation. And data is sufficiently important a factor for it to merit an independent analysis, given that we are in the information age. The reality is starkly exposed by data :
Average Data Usage Per Customer Per Month on GSM : 62.16 MB; CDMA : 192.99; Avg Tot : 70.10
Broadband : 68 Million; Narrowband : 190 Million subscribers approximately

Data Arpu, while it is growing, is still in the doldrums; the average Indian consumer consumes less than 500MB as per this news article – a figure that is corroborated by the TRAI report.
The figures above are again borne out in this report : http://www.trai.gov.in/WriteReadData/WhatsNew/Documents/PR-TSD-80-05122014.pdf, which clearly states on page 12 that the number of user in India on 31st October accessing speeds of greater than 512kbps is 75.73 Million, including 60.61 Million from mobile devices.
We are a nation of 1.27 Billion! Penetration is abysmal; can we afford to wait till penetration rises? Will it rise in the absence of other reforms – or will it hit a glass ceiling? The data clearly states that only a small insignificant segment of our population stands to benefit from the data revolution as of now; things are changing fast – but this is where it stands today. This goes hand-in-hand with income – for the people in the bottom income levels to gain, they should be educated, and earning enough to have access to the services. 
We do not, as per me, have the proper ecosystem to sustain such an initiative; at least not one that can ensure fast devolution of benefits to the lower income segments. We run the risk of increasing the income differential. Furthermore, MII requires an ecosystem conducive to it, not rhetoric.Is it rhetoric? Or is it real? We dont have enough data to make a definitive conclusion of that as yet. But the indicators are worrisome. Let us see.

Casteism – A Fresh and Objective Analysis

Published March 9, 2015 by vishalvkale

This is an analysis of casteism that seeks to challenge both narratives in vogue – one, that it is centuries old, and the other that it is recent. The reality, in my opinion, has to be different; what follows is my opinion based on my extensive reading on a variety of topics. Further, at no point is it my contention that the current system of casteism is defensible – it isn’t; it is an insult to humanity. And at no point is it my intention that people did not suffer; they did…

 THE BEGINNING

The ancient system was the Varnic system, which is completely different from casteism; varnas where the result of deeds, not vice-versa. Then came the commercial and political structures stated below, which existed for 1500 years minimum, leading to internal marriages, and the evolution of distinct identities due to a common gene pool caused by intermarriage. 

At this point and for some time afterwards, there was no hint of casteism. The slow degeneration started in only the 2nd millennium, with the rapid socio-political changes that shook India. This was added to by inbreeding, hereditary vocations, and increasing difficulty in moving outside your vocation. The literary record bears proof that earlier, it was possible for a shift; the same record also faithfully records increasing hardline tendencies over time, over a period of millennia. 

The caste system is, in some ways, also misunderstood and mixed up with the commercial and vocational guilds that were common across ancient India. This was a linked network of commercial interests based on cultural contacts, wherein it made sense to be culturally tied due to economic sense. A study of everything from commerce to financing of wars by merchants brings that out in detail, irrefutably. 

The landless labour did not exist before the British; that is a known fact. Commercial, busines guilds, work environment of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries have been extensively documented that bear mute testimony to the truth. The caste system hardened into its current shape in the 19th century. EIC school records of the Indian system of education clearly show a caste-neutral participation among students, with all castes being equally represented.


AN ECONOMIC CRITIQUE

A rudimentary mental math is enough to take raise some serious questions on the casteism myth, and that large populations were oppressed, at least in economic terms :  

Fact 1 : 121 Million Agricultural Land Holdings, NSS 2005 survey. 

Fact 2 : Between 65-75% of India is Backward + OBC + SC etc castes as per various current surveys. 

Fact 3 : Creation of Landless Labour – Dadabhai Naoroji, RC Dutt 1906, Durant 1930, Habib 2012 and others, tracing fall in productivity {earlier among the highest on the planet} indigo, non-payment of dues; rise in taxes to 50-80% of produce; destruction of primary secondary and tertiary markets; Institutionalisation and hardening of Ryotwari and Zamindary from its old form to the British form 

Fact 4 : Creation of jobless class, through closure of industrial units {we had every known manufacture in India, Fact}, leading to vast swathes of jobless skilled labourers 1800 – 1840 Habib et al 

Fact 5 : existence of commercial guilds and hereditary vocations spanning thousands of years, Romila Thapar 2005 {approx} et al; {Habib 2012}


Fact 6 : Destruction of sea trade routes through piracy by the English; loss of land trade routes due to political forces 1600-1700, leading to Merchant shipping, trade and commernce losses, losses to weavers and rural traders {Tope 2012 and others} 

121 Million, family size assumed 4 = nearly 500 Million agriculture-focussed population. Add the transient landless labour. {you can access MNREGA records for this} {Reality check current employment in agriculture @ 55-60% basis various economic data.} Now compare with data of backward castes in India; that makes around 45%. Backward : 41%, SC : approx 20%, others : 8% in one survey, which I regard as conservative. 


Put the two together. Reality stares at you. Most of the backward classes have to be in Agriculture currently {If 70% of the population is SC-ST-OBC, and 60% of population is in agriculture, the inference is straightforward}, although they are now spread across the land of India. The historical data clearly shows vitality of artisans, traders and agricultural classes, and their earnings. While it is true that by the turn of 14th-18thcenturies, they would not have found it easy to move away from agriculture; they were earning and were better off than the current situation. 

The data, when you look at it from an economic critique, doesnt add up and support the hypotheses of centuries of oppression of the vast  majority of the population. It shows a people who were well-off, and not oppressed. Extensive economic and industrial data is available. The people were well off, both relatively speaking as well as on an absolute scale. True – it was exceptionally hard to break into an occupation from outside, and it worked both ways, but that does not mean they were hand-to-mouth. Further, it was increasingly also exceptionally hard to change vocations as socio-political changes rocked India in its long history – which was the biggest problem.

You cant have a fire without there being combustible material; same applies here. The Raj exploited existing faultlines and resulted in their becoming deeply entrenched. Genetic evidence states that inbreeding among castes is not a recent phenomenon, and has a founder event going back centuries – which is the most oft-quoted argument against my presentation above. 

The earlier casteism was softer, and did not acquire its present shape then. It was entrenched in a system of hereditary vocations, with relevant skills for each vocation being passed from generation to generation. This built deep intra-caste relationships and inter-caste dependencies, based not on oppression but on a workable and eminently but brutally efficient methodology, that rivals and beats any and every modern system with a modicum of ease. 

Sadly, over time, it meant that the system became unfair to the lowermost sections of society, who would have found it hard to grow beyond their vocations. It also meant that you had to toe the lines set by societal norms. Did this stifle innovation and entrench roodhivaad or rote? That is a tantalizing thought – it tallies perfectly with our fall in scientific knowledge from the second half of the second millennium. It also gives us a more precise timeline for the problem…

This is what ensured India’s dominance for close on 9000 years – it built a system that was extraordinarily hard for anyone to break into. The proof of this is the presence of guilds that existed for centuries {Thapar, 2004/05 – will need to check precise year of her book}. Another proof comes in the writings of Sujan Rai from 1689 or 1696, who has described a flawless system of cash transfers that puts our modern IT hot-shots and western / eastern management geniuses to shame. {Habib, 2012} \


Blunt, Frank and Straight : The West or The Modern East has yet to design any system or theory or strategy that can rival this in terms of cost efficiency, effectiveness & perfection. It was exceptional, and impossible for an outsider to crack into. Evidence of this can still be seen in Modern India – with each vocation being dominated by a specific set of people.

It was this system that created the conditions for disaster, but that is not fully relevant here. What is relevant is that there was differentiation that was systemically entrenched, while not strictly oppressive. Adding slow fuel to the fire was the increasing gap between the wealthy and the others. The financing of 1857 was bankrolled by Merchants across India {Tope 2012}. This gives us a hint to both the power structure, as well as the gap in earnings. While this was between 1845-1854 {yes, the war was planned for years}, the existence of such a set of dependencies tell us that this was not a recent phenomenon. 

While people were well off {extrapolated from Habib 2012}, it is a foregone conclusion that this earnings gap would have led to a rising feeling of discontent with the existing order. The proof of this is the simple fact that what was looted from India was massive… it would not be an exaggeration to state today that every single brick in the USA and the UK has been funded by India, especially if you calculate NPV of the proceeds of the loot. I did in a rudimentary fashion… at 8% it calculates to 473 Trillion Dollars just from available numbers of a few years. {Numbers sourced from Mukherjee-2011, RC Dutt-1906, Durant-1930} 

{This calculation cannot be definitive, of course – available inflationary trends fluctuate wildly from 2-17% for the period; and it is in addition hard to calculate over such a long period – but we cannot forget that the looted money was used to build the same facilities and amenities that people now enjoy in The West, esp USA – UK.} 


What is relevant is that this tells us the difference between the everyday person and the leaders. That is one. Two, the increasingly entrenched specialisation was good for every layer of society- but the menial labour at the bottom, while not oppressed, would have found it hard to get into specialised vocations, agriculture apart. {In percentage terms, it stands to reason that they cant have been 70% of population; but again – that is no defence. 1 or 1million, differential treatment is differential treatment} 


Agriculture also slowly, over time, developed into a super-specialised vocation, creating its own ecosystem of interdependencies. This created a system that was exceptionally resilient, and hard – with each layer hopelessly intertwined with the others, creating a system of interdependencies that was virtually unassailable – while also having the potential to collapse with the right crack. 

The collapse of the prevalent socio-economic structure {Habib, Dutt, Naoroji, Tope, Mukherjee, Verma, Misra, Mishra} caused the entire system to come apart…  That is why I presented the modern scenario in agriculture to drive home the point that the current hyper-one-sided narrative of centuries of oppression that is so prevalent in The West is nonsense. Add to this the Raj tactics, which led to people trying to curry favour for benefits, leading to a stampede into social disaster – as, for the first time, it was a political intervention that was strengthening the already present fault-lines, and deepening them.  

The proof is again provided by Tope-2012, in endnotes and annotations – school enrollment was caste neutral, meaning there was no rigidity in attending school or inequality in the sense of the late 19th century. These numbers were from the 18th century, and provide an irrefutable rebuttal to the centuries of oppression theory.

To summarise, there were internal issues and faultlines in our societal structure, which did not change fast enough. In the altered political atmosphere of The Raj, these were brought to the fore very quickly, and became entrenched. 

I have tried to present a rational and objective critique based on solid evidence spanning economic, social as well as psychological factors; hope this makes sense. I may of course be wrong; that I readily admit. But this is the point at which my study is as of now. References provided in brackets, but not limited to these; there are other books as well, like Maria Misra’s work, or Pavan Verma or others which also gave me clues…  This is a continuing study for me, for frankly, no modern theory makes sense or explains all questions. Not to my mind. 

India – Bridging The Gap, and Facing Our Mistakes

Published March 6, 2015 by vishalvkale

It has taken a long time coming, but at long last some central government is at least talking about the right things – Defence, Education and Health. It is a separate matter that they aren’t doing anything about it, hemmed in as they are with issues, expectations and pressures from all sides, and with the attendant demands and needs of a myriad set of sub-groups and institutions that are present in a diverse and multicultural democracy such as India, especially given its income distribution and economic structure.
One of the reasons for this inactivity, or rather inadequate acrivity, is admittedly the lack of funds and the difficulty in generating excess funds, or allocating enough funds, or generating resources internally for the same. There are other issues – I shall deal with these in another article, as they are equally vexatious, dealing with implementation problems and tackling vested interests.
What amazes me is that people in India seriously believe that several hundred highly qualified and intelligent people {As are present in the Government} cant get together, rise above their vested interests and create some fiscal space for Defence, Health and Education expenses, the current demands and pressures notwithstanding. All it requires is a will, a determination, a clear directive, hard decision, and some sacrifice somewhere; in other words, setting the priorities and the direction
The directions of the Government, while speaking rightly, and passionately, in favour of these basics, are clearly towards an urban tilt, with infrastructure thrown in. Is it the contention of the Media, the people as well as the Government that the lot of the balance 80% – the people in the bottom 80% income profile – especially the bottom 40%, will improve by smart cities, IITs, IIMs, Infrastructure investments {which wont get implemented as too many structural hurdles are present. I can myself name 2 or 3 with detailed proof} and Corporate India – focus? 
Fine, Job generation may happen. How will people who are malnourished, and lack a decent education, partake in that job growth? That is a manifest impossibility. How will MNREGA and other social sector expenditure {which is essential, but how much is the question} ensure that the disenfranchised will be able to partake in that growth? That just ensures survival! Don’t these people – Indians like us – have the to grow and have a decent life? Or are we to condemn them to a slow and painful growth? How can they grow, if they do not possess the tools, the education for it, or are not healthy enough?  The result will be richer cities, richer Middle and Above classes – meaning you and me – and next to nothing for the rest of India,  as India continues to give low focus on Defence, Health and Education, and Agriculture
These classes – those who stand to benefit, people like you and me – make up less than 10% of India, and even that is a huge exaggeration. And as regards Corporate India, anyone here who thinks Corporate India drives the Indian Economy is advised to study the Indian Economy in detail. The contribution of the unorganized sector far outweighs the corporate sector. The contribution of Corporate India to any economic number is nothing to write home about., be it NDP, Savings, Employment – anything. Corporate India is not in the biggest contributors. 
What we are in effect saying is, the Poor can survive on doles from the Rich, and they have no right to self-development at the same rate as the rest of India. In order that people get greater income, they require better education, easier access to health, and solution to the main problems impacting their lives, not one of which is benefited too much by your IITs and Smart Cities, keeping in mind that a large majority of the people live in rural India, and are employed in agriculture. We are effectively throwing money after the Rich, who dont need it and can afford higher expenses
Next, Defence. What happens {God Forbid}, if we are pushed into a face-off? No less than 2 army chiefs have openly criticized the delays. Please read the works of General VP Malik, who stands as one of the most respected Army Chiefs in Indian History. Look up the leaked letter of yet another highly regarded chief, General VK Singh. A General has even openly stated that “we will fight with what we have”. 
Respect, Sir! To the entire Indian Armed Forces. None to the people of India, who are by and large too self-centred to even think of this matter. Respect even to the Government, who are trying to do a near-impossible task, given the scale of challenges, pressures and demands – most genuine and some ingenuine,  they face in other fields – and are yet spending 246000 Crores on the Armed forces, although it requires more. 
Why should the Government do more – when the people themselves dont care to tell them, we can take some more hardship, please focus on the Armed Forces first? The Government takes a hard call; it is not an easy decision to put off these expenses, Pressure distorts perspective, and the pressure is on them from all sides for economic growth jobs etc; and none for the upliftment of the Armed Forces, We are after all a democracy; the government is a mere reflection of the desires of the society.
Question is, can anything be done to find a way out? No easy answers – but yes, a lot can be done. Even a relative layman like myself can find ways, although none are easy. You have given 8% more to the states – you can take it out of that. How the states fund their budgets – perhaps they can look to being more fiscally responsible – like some states in South and East India have already done? Or reduce expenses. Or do any number of other tactics. Alternative, dont do anything. 
And then go on an emergency purchasing binge when a problem occurs, which means you lose your negotiating power, and close deals in a rush at the other party’s choice. 
A small example : you are giving crores in support to the Railways or PSUs as a budgetary support. Why? Why not increase rates? You can allocate that expense to the Defense, or to Education {hopefully defense}. Even 67 years after independence, PSUs, Railways {at times even banks} are dependent on the Central Government for support. Far better to tell them no, fund yourselves! Improve internal efficiencies, cut flab, get competitive strength. Tell them generate your own expenses through your own operations; Cut The Umbilical Chord! It is far better to throw them aside, and force them to compete and improve themselves, teaching them to fend for themselves.
Done properly, in a phased manner, with proper planning and thought, this is doable. These are unpopluar measures, but doable. Or reduce the size of your bloated Government- that is pure revenue wastage, given the levels of productivity. I could go on and on for a fairly long period of time.  All such measures are doable, but hard. And this is a majority government. They can pull it off. Let us see if they do… there can be only one reason for their reticence – the lack of numbers in the Rajya Sabha… I know I am clutching at straws, but at least this Government is saying the right words!
The problems related to agriculture are varied, serious and huge, and cannot be taken up as a sub-point; I shall look at these subsequently, as I shall have to look at Agricultural Inputs, Market Access and Legal points etc. Even in that, our current Government does have the right ideas, only the speed of execution is a matter of concern.

The Axis Of Evil In Contemporary Indian Society

Published January 4, 2015 by vishalvkale

The Axis Of Evil is a term of World War 2 vintage, used to denote the Axis Powers led by Germany. At the outset of this post, let me proffer my apologies for using this term for the present article; if any feelings are hurt, please accept my apologies. This article has no reference to the World War 2 or its ugly memories, or even Colonialism. This is a article on Modern India, and social issues within Modern India. 

The word Evil, going by the dictionary term, means wicked; more pertinently, if we look at the secondary meanings of the word, we get the terms bad, infamous, bad or blameworthy, unpleasant, causing ruin or pain, indicating future misfortune… and my article is concerned with the secondary meaning of the word Evil, not the primary meaning. 

A discerning observer can easily spot three or four behaviours of the people in contemporary India that are coming together to form what I call The Axis Of Evil In Contemporary India, as I mention in the article. Let me get straight to the point : these behaviours are :

  • Corruption
  • Incompetence
  • Attitude
  • Lack Of Community Feeling

These above four are together conjoining into one unfortunate whole, and creating the scenes of disrepair that we see today all around us. They are the Axis Of Evil – and these have permeated most aspects of our society – be it our civil institutions, business, day-to-day life etc, with only a few notable exceptions – exceptions that prove that we, as a society, have it in us to come out of this problem. 

1. Corruption

Do we ever stop and think how the 10 Rs we give to the local policeman or the 1000 Rs we hand over to the local civil authority is harming the nation? How it is hitting India, and hitting it hard? In the article Corruption Can Kill we saw in graphic detail how corruption can also kill, either directly or indirectly – and kill by the scores. Example : “Customs Inspector Talawadekar and Phanse came into the room… Singh and Talawadekar, law enforcement officers, were Phanse’s co-conspirators…” Tiger received a call from a customs inspector…” Tiger refers to Tiger Memon, and this was the prelude to the Mumbai Bomb Attack. 

We saw in the Cobrapost expose how corruption has begun to eat into the core of our business institutions as well, with no one even caring to think that the money they are handling may have illicit sources. Can anyone of us normal citizens give a guarantee that the money we pay as bribes does not land up in the hands of the terrorists or criminals? That the money we are helping move around may be a conduit for serious illicit causes? That the silence we display may actually end up harming thousands of people, as has happened in the various scams in the stock market? In every case, the silent acquiescence of tens or perhaps hundreds of normal people has led to serious loss or worse to countless people!

This reprehensible and cowardly silence, and active or passive involvement in corrupt acts has a tremendous cost to innocent people, the organisations, our society, and the nation. Only the people involved are unaffected, they take home their salaries, their promotions, their house and their cars; without a care for the impact of their actions on the nation and the innocent people… 


2. Incompetence

This brings me to the second factor in this Axis : Incompetence. These people – who are termed “worldly-wise” by some sections of our so-called educated population, are themselves not aware of the serious impact of their behaviour. This is classic incompetence; despite being educated – some of them highly educated, these people are shockingly unaware of the damage they are causing to everyone, as we shall see later on in graphic detail

The factor of incompetence goes much, much deeper than this, and connects effortlessly with the third factor – Attitude. Take a careful look at any activity, and you can spot shocking lapses of performance and of incompetence in virtually any activity you care to observe. Let us take the example of a security guard at any mall. I have routinely been seeing every entrant to malls being searched, bags being searched; but the so-called search is a mere bagatelle, a formality. 

The shocking laxity in security searches in malls, that too in a nation hit hard by terrorism, points to deep-seated incompetence at all levels – from the security guards to the top people, who just don’t care enough about security, and are just not aware of the risks – which is crass incompetence. The same can be seen at Railway Stations, I have seen people just walking around the metal detectors, and authorities just looking on, or metal detectors kept to one side!

I could understand if this permeated only Governmental institutions, but a look at the corporate scenario only reconfirms my hypothesis of gross incompetence. How many corporate managers in telecom or finance wonder about the fake documentation with regard to KYC documents, for example? Did anyone stop to think of the risks to the nation and the organisation? How many sales professionals stop to think of the damage they are doing their company, the channel, the network by offloading needless stocks just to save their jobs, and of how many people’s careers are destroyed, and of the irreversible damage to the brand? Again, this is classic incompetence of the highest order! 


3. Attitude


Incompetence blends into attitude; not everyone is incompetent. There are any number of highly competent people who just compromise like cowards, with the manifest disorder all around, in some pretext or other. Call it the chalta hai attitude, or call it selfishness – call it what you will. These people are aware of the damage their actions are causing their organisation, the brand, the society, the nation – but make no overt or covert effort to make their surroundings a better place.

Attitude manifests itself anywhere you see it : people throwing dirt on the road, paying a bribe, taking a short-cut, walking around a metal detector and considering yourself smart for doing so as you have avoided the rush, allowing people to avoid metal detectors despite being aware of the risks involved. As we shall see in the next article, this is manifest in virtually every activity! 


4. Lack  Of A Community Feeling


This brings us to the fourth and by-now obvious pillar of this sorry state of affairs : the Lack Of A Community Feeling. Every action seen above places the self and the family above the nation, the people, the society, the neighbourhood, and the surroundings. We as a people love to go gaga on nice-sounding mantras by change agents – but lack the courage or the competence {or both} to be the change. 

And that is why we have a shameful sight of The Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi himself having to call for Swatch Bhaarat! And an Aamir Khan to do advertisements for cleanliness in India. Honestly, this is shameful in the extreme that we require such august personalities to learn behaviours that we ought to learn our mother’s laps! And the most shocking and shameful aspect of this is the pride we feel in having The Prime Minister Narendra Modi call for cleanliness! 

Tell me, are we so dirty a people that we cant keep ourselves clean? And if we can keep ourselves clean why cant we keep our nation clean? We require Narendra Modi for this? Shame on us! Cant we hold onto our urine for 15 minutes while we find a loo? Cant you take a day’s leave from your company to take out a driving licence the right way? I could go on and on! As I said, shame on us! 



In Conclusion


These four factors – Corruption, Incompetence, Attitude and Lack Of A Community Feeling are what I call The Axis Of Evil. It is painfully clear that these 4 habits are indeed Evil in the secondary meaning of the term. These are what have the potential to lead India to misfortune, give India an unpleasant name, are bad, are blameworthy, and make us infamous as a nation. Truly and verily, The Axis Of Evil. 

And, in at least one case, it is also Evil in the primary sense of the term : corruption, which can and does cause serious damage to the nation as a whole and to its people. Taking a bribe from a criminal is pure evil; ignoring money laundering is also evil; turning a blind eye to harmful deeds which lead to losses to millions of people is also pure Evil. Verily, The Axis Of Evil In Contemporary Indian Society – and these are the habits we need to change; and without the help of Mr Narendra Modi, who is frankly not there to help us tend to our bad habits! He is here to run the country, let him do that… let us focus on smashing this Axis Of Evil from all walks of our lives…

The Experience Of Life…

Published November 12, 2014 by vishalvkale

Life… Volumes have been written on this topic, and by far more qualified and knowledgeable writers than myself. I dont profess to understand or explain life; this post is more a mirror of my mind, and an attempt to come to terms with the range of conflicting emotions that rage through my mind every so often; an attempt to understand myself… with the fervent hope that others who are going through the same thoughts can draw some inspiration and learnings

This chain of thoughts was triggered on my Father’s funeral pyre, on the 29th of September 2007. As Dad was consigned to the flames, in between the tears and the memories, the one thought that crashed through my mind that all we had left were his memories; in that moment, his plot of land, his money and his worldly possessions meant nothing to me. His achievements, considerable though they were; were of no importance. This realisation, this experience {I cant call it anything else} hit me hard; it flashed through my mind like a lightening bolt…

It has been 7 years since then; I still haven’t gotten over Dad’s death. An year later, I lost my Mom; much the  same realisation hit me with double force and impact. That, and one additional thought : in the end, both went as they came; alone, and with empty hands. On that last journey, Dad and Mom went alone. All alone. As the pyre burnt, my mind wanted to be in that burning wood, with my Dad. As the waters closed around my Dad’s ashes at Rajendra Prasad Ghat at Varanasi, I wanted to be there with him… but he  went alone. All alone… as did Mom. 



MOVING ON…

As time passed, these feelings were suppressed; my life restarted . The daily grind of my life took over… the job, the KRAs, the performance… the salary and the daily needs of myself, and my family. For, as Sai Baba has rightly said, as long as we are in this body, the needs of the body and the world are a real and present fact, and it is our duty to do our duty to our family and ourselves. Further, beyond salary – the needs of pride, and of growth are also real, and vital – they fuel confidence, and ability – in ourselves as well as in our families.  Not only that, as you grow in abilities and position, the dependence, trust and confidence of your staff and their families also rests in you, as their team leader. You become far more than an individual, and more of a leader who drives the hopes and lives of your teams, howsoever small or large may these teams be. Thus, these real-world issues cannot be forgotten; one cannot and should not run away. 

Time continues to pass; but the memory, that startling lightening bolt, was never far from my mind; I would always recall that pyre where Dad went up in flames; those waters where I last saw my Dad vanish form sight.They would come back to me every so often; perhaps once every few months. And I would recall that they left everything behind. It lies till this day, by and large, the entire inheritance.

And, slowly but surely, I began to notice the real world around me : as I noted in my earlier series The Curse Of Poverty {The Curse Of PovertyThe Curse Of Poverty 2The Curse Of Poverty 3The Curse Of Poverty 4}. I began to notice both the good – {our achievements as a nation, my achievements, those of the people around me, the good in my family, the people at large} – as well as the bad – {corruption, the two-faced nature of people, crime, rampant lawlessness, excessive materialism, self-centered attitudes}. This last bit – both in myself as well as in others, to be honest. And I began  to ask questions. 

Questions to which I had no answers. Still dont. 

From one of the above posts : {And my heart screams – why, God, why? Why has it got to be so? What have we done that is so wrong, so brutally amoral that generations of Indians have to suffer this terrifying curse of abject poverty? What have we done to deserve this? My mind deserts me, and my heart goes vacant… for a moment – just for a moment – I can think of nothing else. At that point, I feel no rage, just a queer emptiness and a total helplessness in the face of such insurmountable odds

The evidence of poverty is to be found everywhere: on the roads in the form of the roadside hutments, the labourers in the sun, the carefree and scantily clad children playing around doing nothing, the poor and bare hutments in villages, the kuchha roads in the villages, the series of villages with landless peasants, villagers lounging about the chai shop with nothing to do, women with a old faded sari, the malnourished and famished children and adults both, the beggars in cities and towns alike… and my mind wonders… when will we be free of this terrible scourge? 

Raasta bahut lamba hai… manzil milon door hai, aur jaanaa kis taraf hai abhi toh yeh bhi maalum nahi hai. Magar tabhi- doosre kshan, mujhe kuchh aur dikhai detaa hai…

Har chehre par muskan; a smile on every face; the joy on the children’s faces; the sheer delight as the mother gives them what she has to eat; the laughs of the men on the chai shop, the animated discussions of the labourers, the happy faces of the women as they talk while going about their chores, the carefree delight on the children… and I wonder in admiration at these people’s spirit… }. 

From another post : “An old lady had spread her “padar” in front of me, looking for alms. I was about to brush her off, but something stopped me. I dont know what it was, but I was halted in my tracks. I looked at her, and recalled that I routinely spend far more on personal effects… I can spend 100+ for my pleasure, but cant spare even a single rupee for the needy. Just that thought came to me, and I automatically opened up and gave her some money. I wasnt much, but it was a rupee. It was several rupees – enough for her to get a vada paav

I wont claim lofty idealistic claims like “My heart felt nice on giving” or such sentimental drivel. Truth be told, my heart was heavy even after giving, as I realised I cannot do anything of any real value, neither can I give to everyone who approaches me. Truth be told, there was even a fleeting thought in my mind : “I did something nice today” – which takes away any credit that I might deserve : true giving means you do it out of your feeling for the destitute- not for any good-feel for yourself



THE POINT OF THE ARTICLE

With the passage of time, with age and experience, with team leading and level-up experiences and the attendant ups and downs, I learnt to come to terms with these barrage of thoughts that cascaded in my mind every so often. Life moved on. And the moment I came to terms with these strong overpowering emotions rising like a tide within me – a new and far more enriching view of life came in front of me. I still haven’t fully come to terms with this; so I cannot be very specific; but I shall try to put my point across. 

When I learnt to put it all together, the ups and downs of my life, my positive and happy attitude throughout both the ups and downs, the inconsistencies of life, the inequalities, the achievements and the challenges, the crippling problems around us – and the smiles and cheer  in the midst of these problems : one glaring inconsistency, or paradox occurred to me slowly and surely. A realisation that both is a path  forward as well as a challenge, a key to peace and stability of mind and mental satisfaction. 

In the end, there is nothing, Nothing, except your memories, your words, and your nature that people recall. What then, is the purpose of life? Earning far more than what we need – not stating vairagya here – referring to more than we need for a comfortable existence? What is the point of growing in your career, if you cannot benefit your team, and the society at large? Especially, since on your death, nothing will remain yours, except your deeds?
What is the point of challenging and breaking laws just to earn money? Is it not far better to grow while benefiting people? To do deeds that add value to society, and to the community? Is it not possible to both grow in comforts, stature and position, while also being a benefit to society? To do something that will give something back to  society? To do something that put some meaning into the mundane experience of life? To do something that will make life, your job and your time on earth meaningful?

I am not a communist; or a socialist. Capitalists help the economy grow, help feed the stomachs, growths and ambitions of millions of people in India and the entire capitalist world. Neither am I trying to change the world; these are questions that I still havent answered. My point is : if when we die, we leave behind nothing that is ours – except our words, our nature and our deeds, then why not concentrate on doing deeds that ensure that we are remembered when we are no more?

The house will be transferred to your children’s name. The money will go to their accounts, and get spent. The trophies will adorn the mantlepiece or the showcase for a period of time, then get packed or junked. The records you make will be erased with time. The world will move on; but your good deeds and your contributions to people will be remembered long after you are dead and gone. 

Isnt it a far better deal to do something that will make you immortal? Isnt it far better that you utilise your talents, as well as the benefits you have enjoyed and earned in positive ways, giving meaning to your life, and your time on earth? The needs of the body and the family- all the way from food to prestige – will still need fulfillment; but cant there be a middle path, a way to do something that will help alleviate the unfortunate? Or help to benefit people {not necessarily just the poor – students, or science – as per the individual talent and capability}


Does my life have a meaning? A real meaning? If so, what is that meaning? This is as far as I have got in my thinking… till life, salary needs, KRAs, family intervenes, bringing me back to reality… this is a post written from my heart; so please ignore if it sounds a bit disjointed… this post is a mirror, a window into my heart, and my soul…