case of the small entrepreneur - an India story

An article entitled no sir slums are not eyesores (the article is at the end of the list) warmed the cockles of my heart! This article written by an eminent economist is an apologia for slums. The author writes: cities must not be elite in a sea of rural despond. They must provide income and social ladders for the poor and unskilled to climb up.... we must have more slums. These are entry points for the poor into urban havens of opportunity.... some see slums as hubs of sub human existence ...but you will find an astonishingly wide range of economic activities....if cities are to fulfill their critical function of social mobility we need more slums... Wow an article after my own heart!

And before you start talking of reverse migration by making rural areas prosperous listen to what the author has to say: India has 160 millions hectare of cultivable land for 1250 million people or 1/8 of a hectare per person and even if the urban share of population doubles from todays 30 % to 60 % it will just be 1/3 of a hectare per person! It is not without reason that rural folks migrate to cities. How wretched rural India must be if people see more hope in urban shanties!

Welcome to the world of what I have always called small entrepreneurs, the ones our satraps are so keen on destroying and obliterating and yet the only ones which can ensure that India prospers. Who are they you ask. Just look around and you will find them: it is you corner samosa seller, your food cart owner, your vegetable vendor, your fruit vendor. It is the young man who walks the streets to repair broken zips, the street corner cobbler or the street tailor always ready to mend your shoes and clothes. It is the enterprising lad who sets up an array of guides and help books in front of an exam centre, or the one who sells all you need for a particular festival. It is the family that makes soft toys in their hovel before selling them at fairs and melas. It is all your pavement vendors who sell the trinkets you need. It is also the plumber, painter, mason, carpenter who sit at road corners hoping to get work for the day. They are the real heart and soul of our land and we need to ensure that they thrive.

Each one feeds a family, educates children and enables them to dream of better morrows. Most of the pwhy children's parents are just that: small entrepreneurs and it is their blood and sweat that ensures that their children prosper. We have many such kids: the son of our three wheeler driver who today teaches secondary classes at pwhy's Okhla centre, the vegetable vendor's daughter who today works in a call centre, the gypsy brothers who after a stint as teachers at pwhy have now got better jobs one at the airport and the other in a bank - the list ins endless and each is an India story. There are so many of them, each endearing and moving.

Life in the city, even in a hovel opens new vistas often thanks to the ever present TV set. I have seen enfold in from of my eyes many times over the last decade. I have seen how a tiny business opportunity brings change into the darkest hovel. This is the social mobility the article highlights, a throbbing and pulsating exercise in hope and belief. There is no other way out, at least for the time being.