This is where I come from

This year is my fifth living abroad, which means I’ve spent a fifth of my life not in India. Although I may never forget my Indian roots, not living there means I am not constantly faced with the life I once had. Economically my life in India and here in Britain is pretty much the same. Not so socially.

Walking the streets of Nashik or Mumbai, there was no escaping the plight of the poor. Most have to learn to turn a blind eye to it, because there is only so much you can do to help. Even then just that constant reminder is a humbling experience.

There is nothing nice about watching people defecate or having a beggar at every corner, but it is a good reminder of the privileges that we happen to have. And it is this nostalgia which takes me to Mumbai Paused ever so often. It is a blog run by a photographer who calls himself Slogan Murugan. Without telling you more, I’ll let his pictures do their job.

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Id
Christmas
Christmas
Diwali
Diwali

While I am using words to help me, Murugan simply posts pictures. And the juxtaposition of images or subjects within an image make a powerful story, leaving you to judge what to make of it.

Shave
Shave
Ticket counter
Ticket counter
The ride
The ride

And it’s not all just about poverty. He brings to life some of the most mundane views of the city.

Ruins
Ruins
Eastern freeway
Eastern freeway
Every shop
Every shop

All images belong to Slogan Murugan.

Ground Reality

Last month I attended the Oxford Indian Society’s annual lecture which was delivered by Lord Chris Patten, the chancellor of the University of Oxford. It was titled, “India and the changing world order”. It was indeed an honour listening to Lord Patten and more so because he had praises to bestow upon India. Like Shashi Tharoor, he spoke of the soft power, that India is wielding over the world currently and how it will affect the twenty-first century. He spoke of the role of the Indian diaspora and the effect that it is having on the western world. In their respective talks, they spent 90% of their time on talking about the great things in India and the rest about the difficulties. Listening to all this progress, the speakers painted a very rosy picture of my own country giving me tremendous hope.

And then after 15 months in England, I came to India for my vacation. May be for a short while, but I have become the common man that I was 15 months ago. The fog created by that rosy picture cleared up as soon as I landed and got a taste of the ground reality. The evils of living in India showed their face one by one: filth, poverty, lack of infrastructure and general chaotic existence. And they showed up in times when you would least want to see them. I will elaborate.

After an amazing new year’s eve, we decided we should watch the sunrise on the first day of 2010. We reached this beautiful scenic place in Nasik  which had a road in the middle of a small lake and we could watch the sun rise out of the mountains. We stood there in the dark waiting for the first rays of light. The sunrise was indeed beautiful but the first few rays of light exposed the piles of filth we were standing on. We left within a few minutes of the sunrise. So much for cleanliness!

The next thing to hit me was the inflation. Mostly in food prices, the changed rate-cards of restaurants in Mumbai and Nasik made that evident. I wondered how the poor must’ve kept up with the rising prices of everyday things. Specially because this time the difference was very significant. The slums I knew still exist and have even increased in size. So much to curb poverty!

Then of course, there was this “world bank project” that was going on in Nasik. They were laying HUGE drainage pipes. Reasons? The city has outgrown the size of the drainage pipes that exist and if it floods then the city could be in trouble. Fair enough. Now, for this purpose they have dug up half of every good road in Nasik and sources say that the money from th grant was only for laying the pipes not rebuilding the roads. So much for the infrastructure!

To top it all, we spent an evening discussing crime and corruption in my hometown. A relative of mine was a victim and his story was was painful one to listen to. So hard to imagine how difficult it might have been to face it. We spoke of how easily people can get away after serious offenses, of people who take bribes openly and then open an educational institute, of able people being replaced by ones who can pay a higher price for the position. We discussed the inefficiency of the public sector corporations like BSNL. Not just that, a few days before I spent 4 hours to change my broadband scheme but to no avail.

In all this time away from home I don’t think the agony of the common man has decreased much. The ground reality of things is very different from the rosy picture painted by the media.