Places and people: Journal in Transit

If you haven’t heard about the unfolding of India’s shining tale yet, you are probably not listening enough. It is probably the singlemost fictional story which many are selling. Not that India is not shining with this newly liberalized state of policies but its bathing only perhaps 5% of its population with its glory.

My recent trip to New Delhi just enforced my belief that India is anything but shining for the rest of the 95% of its population which lives right under a shadow cast by this light.

I got out of the new Indira Gandhi International Airport (designed by Woodhead) and was received by a driver who was pre-scheduled for me. A young boy who didn’t look more than 18/19 years of age, slender and undernourished. Walking along towards the car, he reached out for my bag without looking up. I declined, saying ‘It’s not heavy, don’t worry’. His subservient demeanor was something he has perhaps accepted and internalized as part of what comes with living on the fringes. He didn’t speak much and only answered in monosyllables to my queries on distance and travel time while navigating through Delhi roads and landscapes that appeared less chaotic and more green.

Image courtesy: Woodhead

Next, I embarked on to a glitzy Taj Palace at Sardar Patel Marg. The hotel is a little old and looks a worn-out now but still carries the grandeur that Taj has made their reputation in the luxury section worldwide. Later, inside the restroom, after washing my hands I was accosted by a short, thin young girl, staff of Taj, with a ceramic tray carrying a neatly folded napkin with a purple flower on the side. But it occured to me while taking the napkin that I might as well had just picked it up from the stack myself, did I really need her assistance?

The question that surfaced for her was if this was what she really enjoyed doing, offering guests hand towels on a tray with a flower and slipping in a ‘thank you’ and remaining inside that enclosed space of a restroom during all her working hours. Maybe that luxury of preferences hasn’t crossed her mind.

While heading back to Mumbai, I was a bit rushed and nervous to miss my flight that all thoughts and obeservations had vanished.

But entering Mumbai, I had one last  enduring meeting of the day with my cab driver, who to my surprise was a woman. Something unusual on Indian soil. Being tired, I kept quiet and just wanted to observe her mannerism driving her cab on Mumbai’s ruthless traffic and road conditions. But it was not to be.  With that she launched into her saga.

She was a mother of two young kids and looked quite young and her voice carried a trace of frustration. She takes care of a family of four. Her husband died abruptly about 4 years ago in a road accident. Until then she was a housewife but that event triggered her to look for work which will give her income to survive. She went on to lament that she makes about 300 to 400 INR on a decent day and about 600 to 700 INR on rare better days. But there are days, like Mumbai Bandhs and festivals when people don’t go out much resulting in drying up her daily wages completely. And those days get difficult to manage. Being a woman driver has its own perils, she mentioned. But she went on to say, she is sending both her kids to school that will ensure better days in future. Amen to that.

These are perhaps India Shining’s step-children who can see the light from a distance but not glow in it. These are India’s misfits who haven’t been able to transition successfully into the wealth camps of rapid urban development. They have either failed or at best remain displaced far away from opportunities that could have trickled down to them as well with an inclusive system.

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