Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Old Man and A Child

An old man, actually a contractor, takes an afternoon nap near the Karkardooma drain in east Delhi in the summer of 2009.

As all fables go, so does this one. There is just one difference. It asks a question towards the end. Neither does anyone get a prize for guessing the right answer nor will I be surprised if you get the answer right.

Here goes the story...

Once upon a time, in not so ancient times, there was a man who was lying critically ill. Nobody could, it seems, revive him. He lay on a cot in that big, important village which was important because it fell on the crossroads to cities and other villages. People, traders, farmers, saints and mendicants had to pass through it and many stayed at the village overnight. Many of these good natured travellers tried to help The Old Man but without much success.

The traders brought gifts hoping that the man would cheer up and show signs of improvement. The saints looked into his future and predicted that he would bring glory to all around him. This gladdened the hearts of his immediate family, the neighbours and also the villagers. The mendicants would give his family antidotes, potions and other plants-based pills but nothing helped. The guests who would come to visit their friends and relatives in the village would come to seek his blessings and pray for his vigour but nothing helped.

The frail old man lay on his cot bedridden, pale and weak. His skin looked as if it had been stretched on his bones to give dignity to him. The scene was stark because the man's fraility was in sharp contrast to the crowd of healthy people that forever surrounded him - relatives, neighbours, visitors, passers-by and saints. Close to his feet lay riches - gifts and donations by his followers - whose sincere hearts wanted him to get well and get going. The gifts were precious and many - money, gold, food, fruits, medicines, potions. In fact so many that a whole village could survive on those donations. This was that could be seen and valued. Then there were those gifts that could not be measured - blessings, prayers and wishes.

Nothing helped. Months turned into years, years into decades but the man's health remained as it was.

One day Three Wise Men from the West came to the village. They had heard of the family's distress and the old man's poor health and had come to help and take stalk. When the wise men entered the village they noticed that it was a village unlike others they had seen on their way.

This was a prosperous village. The people were fatter, wore good clothes, worked less, pursued leisurely interests and their houses showed signs of prosperity. When the wise men reached their desired spot - the brick and mud courtyard of the old man's house - where he lay almost lifeless, they realised that they were entering the portals of a mini-palace, not a rural dwelling. They could discern that the old man's family was wealthy and that the riches were new.

After listening to the family's story and how the old man had contributed to the society and to the village, the three men too reached the decision that he should be revived. It was in the interest of the family, the village and the society at large that the man should be kept alive. After putting their heads together, the three decided to help.

Wise Man One gave a lot of money to the family for the better upkeep of the old man. Wise Man One said: "You have been taking good care of the old man but your efforts have not borne fruit. Maybe you should improve his physical conditions, change his space, get a new bed, put tiles in the courtyard, put the bed up on a stone platform, construct toilets, bathrooms and put some flower pots around him - he may feel important and he just might revive."

The family accepted the money eagerly, which was a lot, with a lot of humility. It promised Wise Man One that it would indeed construct all that he had said and, "we will try to do more so that the visitors who come to meet the old man can stay in comfort," said The Eldest Daughter. Wise Man One was satisfied.

Wise Man Two gave much advice, ideas and invited the family to visit his village in the West to look at their solutions and how they had successfully tackled the health problems in their village. The family was excited because it had never stepped out of their village. The First Son said: "We are so engrossed in trying to bring good health to our old man that the thought of leaving the village never crossed our minds. But you live so far that it would be impossible for us to visit you."

Wise Man Two reassured the family and said: "Don't come together. Visit us in small groups and we will take care of your expenses." The family was very happy because keeping the old man alive was an expensive business and they had not gone out of their village in years.

Wise Man Three looked grave. He had been listening carefully to the conversations. Now he was thinking deeply. Finally he said: "I can see that the whole family has been working sincerely and with a lot of prayers in their hearts for the better health of the old man. Because you have not been successful, I think you should do what I tell you." Because Wise Man Three spoke with so much conviction and so much power, the family quickly gathered around him. For a little while they forgot all about their old man.

As Wise Man Three sat brooding, the family too looked at the mud and the brick floor. Then he said: "I cannot offer you a solution right now. I will go back and consult with my team of experts. If there is a need, I can even ask my experts, the best in the world, to come here and help the old man. I am sure that with their help, the old man can be restored back to health. I will send send my best men and women here - a doctor, a psychologist, a nutritional expert, a cardiologist, a endocrinologist, an orthopaedic surgeon, a skin specialist as well as a geriatric specialist."

The family gasped, for it had had visits by such experts over the years but never had so many of them come together at the same time. The daughters and the sons looked back at Wise Man Three in surprise and gratification.

Wise Man Three continued. "I am willing to help the family and the old man with my best expertise and chosen experts. But you have to bear the costs of such expensive and high-tech consultants."

The family was surprised. The Second Son said: "But we cannot afford to pay for your worthy consultants. We do not have that much money."

In a stern voice Wise Man Three reproached him. "You have the money. Money will not be a problem, I can assure you but you have to be willing first. Wise Man One gave you money in front of my eyes. I can also give you a loan. With that loan you can pay back the fee for my consultants."

In front of so may people and the old man, the family could not say NO to Wise Man Three's proposal. Very bravely, The Eldest Daughter stood up and announced to the gathering: "Please join me in thanking the Three Wise Men from the West for their concern and promises of help. Together, all of us will ensure that the old man is nursed back to health despite whatever. Come what may, our tireless efforts will prevail. We will work ceaselessly till the day he is back on his feet and is walking amongst us." The son started clapping, the Three Wise Men joined in and even the crowd did so.

It was time for the First Son to make a speech. "We will have to use all our resources to restore the old man's health. We will put all our money, all our resources and everything that we have to get him back on his feet. I will need the support of the villagers and I am sure they will not deny that. We will use the money that Wise Man One gives us. We will levy a fee on visitors who come to see the old man. We will also start taking donations from the village. We can ask the people to contibute in other ways - afterall it is to restore the health of the old man."

The Three Wise Men were happy. The people merely nodded their heads. The old man simply stared into the air.

Suddenly a child stood up and shouted: "The old man is fine. Just give him enough water to drink and food to eat and he will be okay. Immediately, the Two Sons and the Elder Daughter pounced upon the boy. The Three Wise Men too jumped up and clasped his mouth shut tight.


Can you identify the people in the story?
1-The Old Man
2-The Daughter
3-The Elder Son
4-The Younger Son
5-Wise Man One
6-Wise Man Two
7-Wise Man Three

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Growth Story: No, Never Heard This One

(Photo of the Week: Sept 22): Two young men prepare for a night's rest at a shelter provided by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, under orders from the High Court, in a South Delhi colony.

These youngsters along with many other families were earlier living under flyovers near the Inter State Bus Terminus. For them, the India growth story might just be an apocryphal one for people of the streets like these boys. This night shelter had almost 50 people, including a large number of children and even babies.

Unfortunately for these people, the residents living nearby were not too happy that a government building in their midst had been handed over to these people. The residents were on the verge of moving court and various government authorities for shifting these people to another space.

Some of the complaints, many were indeed true, included drunken brawls between the relocated people, their unhygienic and filthy ways of living as well the smells that would emanate from their cooking. On the day this photo was taken, some of the families had already fought between themselves and threatened each other with dire consequences. The reason: a very young wife had objected to her husband's frequent bouts of drinking as well as indulging in gambling. And that family dispute soon spread to the other inhabitats of this shelter.

Many of these people work as labourers, most are migrants and they were all rather surprised that they could actually find a pucca roof over their head in a city like Delhi. Before they had moved under this roof, shelters meant working on construction sites - bridges, flyovers, underpasses and houses - and sleeping under the open sky or under one of those constructions.

These people, who are drivers of the India growth story and witnesses to its fast-paced Shanghaisation are themselves ring-side audiences to the country's growth marathon. For them, and these two boys above, the "growth story" remains one to be seen and not to be participated in.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Don't Worry, Be Happy

(Photo of the Week - Sept 17)
People of the streets prepare to go off the sleep near the Ring Road, close to the Inter State Bus Terminus (ISBT) in north Delhi.

Delhi has tens of thousands of homeless people and chances are once the Commonwealth Games are over, there would be many more. The thousands of labourers who are working at the dozens of games sites and who live in tents or makeshift shelters may never actually go back to their states or villages. Most will stay back in the hope of finding work.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Odds and Ends

Time to clean up the act.

A traditional ear cleaner, with his trademark red cap rolled up at the ends, cleans out a young man's ear at Chandni Chowk in old Delhi. The young person most likely works as a loader - a labourer who works in markets loading and unloading goods from trucks.

Both of them are a part of the informal economy and are mostly likely to be people of the streets - living, eating and sleeping on the streets. The old Delhi area, which has a lot of wholesale markets attracks a large number of people from across north India for employment as loaders, labourers and those who provide services to this section of the migrants.

A loader takes a strong puff before starting on his daily chores on a winter morning in 2009.

It is hard work and one with risks. Accidents happen, the goods fall off occasionally and then there is always the risk of not being paid the proper wages. These men live alone, tie their megre savings to their clothes and send money back home as and when the opportunity arises.

Monkeying around. A madari (community that ekes out a living by making monkeys perform) showcases the acting skills of his animals on a pavement.

The madaris are a community that resides in a settlement in a state adjacent to Delhi. The people languish in poverty and illiteracy, and are seen as poachers because of restrictions on the trapping of animals. Efforts are on by the Government of India and also by NGOs to persuade them to take up different vocations and give up their traditional means of livelihood, which end up depleting our forests of their wildlife.