Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Not "just another brick in the wall"

Jaideep Sahni has this very interesting piece of Op-Ed in June 24th TOI. Some excerpts:

    I was fifteen years old when I was asked to decide what I was going to do for the rest of my life. I’ve often wondered at the stupidity of this — how can a 15-year-old possibly make such a decision? The second thing I’ve never understood is the way I was asked. I was asked to choose the direction of the rest of my life from science, commerce and arts. Can all the millions of wonderful options in life be classified into three things? Just 15 and they have already shrunk your life....

....So what am I doing writing movies and lyrics in Mumbai? Well, before I started writing screenplays and songs, I used to make ad films, before which I used to be an IT consultant for big corporations. That’s the point: I might want to make movies, write computer software, design embedded systems for public utilities, write songs, learn how to fly planes, turn FM radio on its head, and a zillion other things. But does my education give me wings to fly, explore, change course?... why is it so detached from our dreams? Why didn’t I have the option to dabble in a wide variety of subjects while in college, so I didn’t have to spend a large part of my working life searching for what I really loved?

I’ve always had this funny suspicion that we are a nation of engineers who wanted to be singers, doctors who wanted to be actors, and so on. This is partly because we are a poor country and everybody makes life decisions based on how much he will be able to earn. And partly because nobody ever advised us any better. And that has made us a weird society. A nation which at all times is running on half-steam because a huge percentage of productive citizens are just passing time — because they’re not doing jobs they’d really like to do.

....Our schools lock children up in private little hells where they learn the fear of failure and the fine art of travelling through airless cells called careers where we spend the rest of our lives racing each other to places we never wanted to go in the first place. "

Saturday, June 16, 2007

...where ambitions exceed power supply

Umred, a small colliery town near Nagpur in central India was in news a few months back.... and perhaps provides an insight into the dynamics of mass-scale social exclusion - and its implications - mentioned in the previous post. here are Notes from Umred:

    "India does not have enough electricity for all of its 1.1 billion people, and so daily outages as long as 18 hours are imposed on smaller settlements so that megacities like Mumbai can enjoy a 24-hour supply.... The burden is carried by villages and small towns.

    ...last February, in this small, dusty town of 50,000 in central India, where goats and children scamper through the byways, the blackouts triggered a violent revolt. Thousands marched on the local government offices, some pelting stones, others setting police jeeps ablaze. When the police fired their guns to scatter the mob, at least two people were struck and killed.... a recent visit to Umred suggested that the uprising might also reflect new anxieties stewing in a nation where ambitions are trickling down much faster than the means to achieve them.

    ...Satellite television is beaming urban India's new cravings and anxieties into Umred's living rooms. Relatives who migrated to cities are returning home with tales of lucrative jobs and trendy nightclubs. The Internet has emboldened the young to hunt beyond the town for jobs, life partners and ideas....

    "Electricity is essential to ambition," said Ravindra Misal, the 26-year-old owner of an English-language academy here, "because I need it to do my homework, I need it to listen to music if I am a dancer, I need it to listen to tapes of great speakers, I need it to surf the Internet... But I cannot, so people get angry. They have bigger expectations, but electricity is becoming a hurdle on their path."

    ....(the) heightened expectations are distilled in a new craving for schooling. Across India, there is a new insistence among the uneducated that their children receive educations and break poverty's hereditary chain.

    But the blackouts were distracting their children from their evening studying. When the parents marched in February, a principal demand was that blackouts be suspended during the annual examinations that can make or break a child's career in India.

    Sushrut Lanjewar, an 8-year-old with a Spider-Man T-shirt, is still learning his letters, but he has already reached a grown-up conclusion. He knows he must study his way out of Umred, and he intends to do so. He wants to be a botanist and discover a plant to thwart global warming.

    But a mysterious force is obstructing him, he said.

    Several nights a week, he said, electricity vanishes from Umred. The houses darken. The televisions sputter off. Lanjewar, a nephew of the sporting-goods seller, lights a candle to finish his homework.

    But he loses his focus, he said, because of the flickering light and the motionless ceiling fan that fails to blow mosquitoes away.

    "Are these people crazy who keep turning off the light?" he asked, not just angry but inquisitive. Why do grown-ups keep telling him to do his homework and then shut off the light?

    He was told that 8-year-olds in Mumbai have 24-hour electricity.

    His eyes bulged. He looked like a child stripped of Santa Claus fantasies. "If they can get the light," he asked, "how come we can't get it?"

    Entering the hottest season, however, the crisis is so acute in Maharashtra that even Mumbai may face blackouts. They would be the first in decades, and Mumbai's Scotch-sipping elite is furious at the prospect of no air conditioning for 90 minutes a day.

    In Umred, a 90-minute disruption would be a luxury. Its blackouts are typically eight to 12 hours a day.

    "Why?" barked Abhay Lanjewar, the proprietor of a sporting-goods store in Umred. "They're humans in Bombay, but we're only animals here?"

Deeper down, his is not a rhetoric question...

Cross posted at: How the Other Half Lives

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Inequality has many faces...

Though P Sainath's article is about CEOs and the Wealth of Notions, but what struck me was this portion.

    "This week's big news is that Mumbai has topped Maharashtra's HSC results with a pass percentage of 76.67. That should not surprise us. The metro's schools and facilities outclass those of other regions. True, even this time, the State toppers are not from Mumbai. They are from Wardha (in Nagpur division) and Amravati. Both in Vidharbha. But at 47.5 and 51.08 per cent, the overall pass percentages of those divisions are dismal. They are way below the State average of 64.25 per cent. And both have fared worse than they did last year.

    Here's one reason why. Vidharbha, always electricity starved, saw 12- to 17-hour power cuts at the time the children were studying for their examinations. (It's a region where schools re-open weeks late to avoid exposing children to excessive heat.) The great metro of Mumbai was spared this "power crisis." (Some of the well meaning did write articles on how to be a good citizen and use your air conditioners more efficiently.) In one estimate, a 15-minute power cut in Mumbai could give Vidharbha two hours of electricity. Half that would have helped the students with their examinations. Further, malls and multiplexes lead Mumbai's biggest power guzzlers. But this is the city of 25,000 of India's 83,000 dollar millionaires. Not only home "to the largest number of affluent individuals," as an American Express study puts it. But also having "the fastest growing affluent population in the world." So the darkness is banished to zones such as Vidharbha — which produces more power than the other regions of Maharashtra.

    ....That rubs in an old truth. Merit = accident of birth + electricity. (And maybe a dash of geography.)
It is an appropriate example of the skewed distribution of opportunities, of how inequalities - and "merit" - get created.... of the suicidal "siphoning-up" economy we live in...

Cross-posted at: How The Other Half Lives