Oh darling yeh hai India!

I have recently sent a link to a series of incredible pictures about incredible India! I posted them on my Facebook page, but if you have not seen them please do take a few minutes and treat yourself to something unique. These pictures exemplify all that is great about our wonderful country: its ability to beat all odds, no matter how challenging they may be. Who would have ever thought of perching an iron on two books and boiling your milk. This happens only in India. You may smirk or snigger and say that it was all done for the camera. Maybe so. But I would like to differ as I have been privy over the past 14 years of how the other India, the one forgotten by politicians and crony capitalists, the one mentioned in speeches and made promises to, promises that are never kept but that make good fodder for lining pockets, the one that has learnt to survive in spite of everything and survive with a smile. That is the real India shining, the one that we have all conveniently forgotten.

I am no economist, politician, administrator, decision maker and anything of this kind. I marvel at having been able to create and sustain project why in spite of my total lack of skills. Come on I cannot even manage my house budget. I guess in the case of pwhy someone up there holds the strings and makes me move in the right direction. But even I can see that all the empty speeches and models that one has been/is hearing will never solve all the problems of India.

Over the years I have despaired at the slow death of all the street vendors and hawkers. Once upon a time their cries were part of your day-to-day life. You did not have to step out of your home to mend a shoe, get your silver chain repaired, give your clothes for ironing, buy your bread and eggs, your vegetables and fruits and so on not to forget ice creams, chaat, and more. And then slowly they became rarer, their cries slowly disappearing just like the call of the birds. The rich suddenly decided that letting all these hawkers in their colonies posed a 'danger' to their safety. And gates were erected, and certain hawkers given access while others were rejected. Don't ask me why. I have no answer. I thought we lived in a free country where every citizen could roam wherever he wished. I watch with sadness and anger the rising of swanky gated communities where even lifts are segregated. I wonder which lift a maid takes when she is with the child she cares for. I guess the one for the haves! I must stop as all this makes me mad.

We all know that one of the big problem the country is facing is undoubtedly that of employment. And in my humble opinion unless small enterprises is not given its rightful place, we will never be able to solve the employment issue of over a billion people. I wonder what our young Prime Ministerial aspirant means when he states over and over again: The poor need a launch pad to progress. A poor man cannot eat roads and We want more people involved in the process of nation-building.

One agrees in principle but then a few kilos of grain doled out or a few days a work under some maladministered schemes are not the answer. On the other hand new industries, new malls, big retail outlets etc will only give jobs to those with the right skills. Remember how irritated we get when we have a poor girl or boy answering our call to some call centre or the other and not understanding our English. Next time be a little indulgent. But even with these new promised avenues, there will be still millions who will fall between the cracks: the ones who are not educated, who are to old, who do not have the skills required. But what they have is priceless: a will to survive, sound common sense and an ability to create employment for themselves. No I am not joking. I have seen these kind of people day in and day out and have marvelled at their ingenuity. They are spot on and respond to the market forces far better than you and I, without the need of market studies and the likes of them. I will give you a few examples: when a recruitment examination is on you will have one or two bright larks spreading a sheet outside the venue and selling guide books! If the number of people from a particular community or region settle in sufficient numbers in a place you have people who set up road eateries catering to their local preferences and when their festivals come you have hawkers selling all that is needed. That is what I call enterprise!

But these entrepreneurs are hounded by the police and the administration and have to pay hefty bribes  simply to earn their living. I do not know what I would do were my road side tailor - the successor of the erstwhile veranda tailors of our grandmothers - or my ironing lady who has been ironing our clothes since before I got married and whose hair has greys along with mine, removed. I would feel orphaned!

Everyone wants to empower people but they want to do it their way. Please do build your roads and industries but leave space for people to find their solutions and facilitate these enterprises by giving them space and recognition. They create jobs and care for their families. This is true empowerment and true inventiveness.