Friday, June 23, 2006

A Post on Delhi- for a change!

How I landed up in Delhi
In June 2004, I left PRADAN with a heavy heart. A part of my mind asking me to stay where I had spent some of the best days in my life, working with some most poor, yet the coolest people, and I lived a part of their life on a daily basis. I am going to discuss this separately, as many readers of my blog send me mails asking why I left PRADAN when I loved it so much.
Obviously, it was a painful episode for me, and I am sure, many others- my friends in PRADAN and more then them, some of the beneficiaries who had started treating me as their family member. I am waiting to write that part of my story; and so would you have to!

After leaving PRADAN on 30th June 2004, I went to my parents at Rewa, my home town, to spend some time with my family. It was also a necessary break for me to get a break to relax, rest and recuperate. I spent about 15 days in home, talking to my ailing grandfather, who, in many ways, is my ideal in life. I also discussed future with my parents, who were not very convinced with my leaving PRADAN without having another offer in my hands. May be they were feeling insecure, and to some extent even I was, but one thing was sure in my mind; I could have stayed in PRADAN looking for a job, biding my time, but that would have been a treachery, not just with PRADAN, but more importantly with the community, as healthwise I was no more in shape to do justice to my work in PRADAN. I told my parents that I have got enough savings to sail me through my days of unemployment, and besides, we still have our land of 11.5 acres in the outskirts of Rewa. I told them what I had told one of my colleagues in PRADAN- “Thanks to PRADAN, I know how to cultivate soyabean and wheat. I have some idea of cultivating vegetable as well. So, if I don’t get a job in 2-3 months, I would simply come back and become a farmer in my home.” I knew it was easier said than done, and was also confident about getting a job in Delhi.

With this background, I landed up in Delhi in the third week of July. Madhukar, who was with me in PRADAN and was in fact my room partner there, had reached Delhi a few days earlier after quitting PRADAN to pursue higher studies (read MBA). He had already taken a house in Khirkee Extension (Malviya Nagar) with help of Cchavvi and Haresh (ex-apprentices in PRADAN, Sironj).

A Party Going on?
I distinctly remember, it was a Saturday when I reached Delhi and unfortunately lost my way in Malviya Nagar. The autowallah dumped me on one of the intersections after taking his charges, and here I was, in a very bad shape, long hair, a day’s stubble, dirty clothes due to the travel and holding a bag and a suitcase- on a typical Saturday evening of Delhi. Having lived in villages for two years- I was looking at everybody passing through with wide eyes. Latest bikes, luxury cars, well dressed young people, an overpowering fragrance of a variety of deos, cologne and talcs in the atmosphere, car stereos blaring music all around- and I was looking on, as I had never seen this ever. ‘What is this’, I thought, ‘is there a party going on somewhere?’ I was soon to realize that this ‘party’ is a pattern of life in Delhi and probably in other metros of the country.
A Cultural Shock- but the poor remain poor

It is a cultural shock when a guy like me hailing from a small town and having lived in rural areas comes to Delhi. For days all I kept doing was to compare this life with that life. I and Madhukar used to discuss about our days in PRADAN and how things are here in that comparison. Our flat was in one of the dirty alleys in Khirkee and fortunately there was a balcony in which we would stand in the mornings. Here we came to know that by no means is the number of poor less in Delhi, no matter how insensitively we try to push this issue under the carpet.
Because of our orientation, we would see number of poor coming to sell something or the other. The first ones to come are the Koodawallah or the janitors who collect the garbage bags from each house and take them away for disposal. With them there are people selling the vegetables, along with the night watchmen who start their second shift by washing cars, making Rs 100-150 per month per car. They are joined by the drivers of school vans along with those of the call center cabs who ply 24X7 like their occupants. There would be a second wave of these street vendors- people selling incense sticks, house hold articles, utensil repairers, cobblers, The third wave is of delivery guys (some providing 20 liter cans of mineral water, some providing pizzas, burgers or other eatables), There are religious people- sadhus, shani maharaj and fakirs who are grateful to the religion for their livelihood. All these people would keep coming and going throughout the day. As both of us were out of the job, we would observe all this throughout the day and were quite amused in finding so many ways by which poor in Delhi earn their bread!
There are thousands of taxi drivers, porters, loaders and domestic servants that keep this city going. They are at the bottom of the pyramid that concentrates the surpluses at the top. Apart from the apparent availability of jobs, there is hardly any other factor that makes their life better in Delhi than what they use to live in their homes- small Indian towns, villages and hamlets.

A Dirty Secret of the National Capital
The other day I came across a gentleman in my neighborhood who maintains a Mercedes yet lives in a rented flat. I asked him why and he told me one of the little acknowledged secrets of Delhi- the prevalence of a covert money lending system.
He said- “Why should I block my money in the flat? I’d rather lend it to some small timer. It fetches a great interest.”

“How much?”

“About 10% a month”- the guy said coolly.

My jaws dropped. 10% a month is a whopping 120% annual rate of interest!!!

“How do you make sure that your money comes back?” -I asked.

“Ha ha ha! Do you think any of these poor rascals have guts to embezzle MY money?”- said the gentleman, menacingly.

Now you know how money earns more money in a materialistic system like ours!
(to be continued)