Monday, November 24, 2008

Faceless Citizens

The people who pay the price for changes in the economy are those in the informal sector like street vendors, yet their stories never make it to the front pages.

Whenever I happen to go to a mall to accompany someone, I end up buying something. But, while buying a lot of thoughts come into my mind - I do not like this mall culture.

I came across a thoughtful article published in THE HINDU, Sunday Magazine on November 16, 2008.

Some excerpts:

Our friendly neighbourhood vegetable vendor has disappeared. Without a trace. No one is able to tell me what happened to him. I ask the man who sells bananas. He also comes every day by taxi with a basket load of bananas. In a few hours, his basket is empty. But he doesn’t know what happened to the vegetable vendor.

Another reason could be economic. A new retail store has opened in the area selling fresh vegetables at marginally lower prices than what the vegetable vendor charged. So, even though his vegetables were decidedly fresher than those sold in the store, and people had an old relationship with him, the majority graduated to the novelty of going to the store and buying vegetables wrapped in plastic.

I narrate this story, which will have echoes in most other cities across India, because it tells us of the largest number of people who are losing jobs and livelihood. The media runs front page stories when airlines staff are laid off. We hear about redundancies in the private sector.

Yet, these people remain invisible. Economic problems always mean stock exchange news, or news of some big factories closing down or stopping production for a few days. But what will happen to people who did not have security in their employment, could never dream of a salaried job, but survived nonetheless on their wits and by providing a much needed service? Who is counting these losses? Is anyone even bothered?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Rahul's Appraisal Time

Hey Rahul! I have just reviewed your tasks. I have also taken inputs from your old PL, new PL, consultant reports and analyzed your performance measures. Your performance does not meet the expectations for fourth consecutive cycle. What has happened to you these days? Your skills appear to be diminishing, the defect injection rate is continuously rising and you are not productive enough. You have only one ‘A’ and 3 ‘B+’ in the last 3 cycles. We have already given a pink slip to the other underperforming Sourav; he will be leaving after the completion of current release.

You were the lead developer for a long time, was a successful module leader too. When there was an ego conflict between the then PL and TA, we made you the PL. You had a limited success and you relinquished it saying, you wanted to concentrate on coding and that you can happily work under a PL junior to you. But, your skills have been on a declining trend, instead of adding new ones.

SE: Kris, you know, I am out of form. You know, class is permanent and you know, how good I am. My analytical skills are still good and I am coding well in phases. Constant pressure from consultants’ reports on the senior’s performances in the project is affecting our output. I am still contributing to the tasks.

Your time is running out quickly. The young and successful PL, Mahendra had already got you replaced with freshers in the other two fast track sub-projects. You have been given chances till now in this project because your previous achievements speak for you and Anil, the PL, was your mate. But with this project also going into Mahendra’s hands, we cannot do much if he asks to replace you. As it is his responsibility to deliver, we do not have much option, but give me the resources he wants.
If you do not exceed the expectations in the last stage of this release and the next release, I and the consultant group cannot do much. You should score an ‘A’ this cycle to get Grade 3 and that can keep you continue for the next cycle. You have to perform way beyond everyone’s expectations, meet your previous high standards. You know that there are many freshers waiting to move from sub-projects to this main project. I would not want the new PL to throw you away from the project in a demeaning manner. I know you have contributed a lot to this project, but the customers are asking for fresh blood in the project for a change. So, keep performing. All the Best!

p.s: I am not good at writing humor. I hope you have understood what I meant to say.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Sleeping Rough

I read ‘Coolie’, authored by one of the early Indian English writer who made it big, Sri Mulk Raj Anand. It is the journey of an orphan boy, staged in the British Raj, who comes from a remote hill village to work as a servant, works at various places before moving to Mumbai to join in a cotton mill and finally dies of some disease.

Though it is a master-piece, I felt that it is a bit exaggerated and dramatized for the English (read the British) audience.

I just remember that I have not started this writing for a literary review, neither I am equipped to review book of such standard. I read an article today, which immediately reminded this book.

Though I did not like the book completely, I was completely moved by the life of Munno (the boy) in Bombay (now Mumbai) – sleeping on pavements, then in a medical shop, sharing a hut with another big family and so on. While it was just fiction, the article I read on THE HINDU (English newspaper) Sunday magazine, it shook me for quite some time.

The harsh reality is that there are some things that have not changed since British Raj, after 61 years of independence, though I should admit that the Governments and NGOs are trying to do their part (read article). Yes, India is shining, if we read that the to-be world’s expensive home is being built in the same Mumbai.

A point to note is that most of the people surveyed do not appear to be beggars, but laborers who cannot afford the rent of a hut.

Some excerpts from THE HINDU article –
(Full article:

The dominant feature of homelessness is “sleeping rough”, being forced to sleep without the protection of walls and a roof, battling the excesses of the seasons, insecurity and loneliness. Homeless respondents in all cities agreed that the most trying and disagreeable season for homeless people were the monsoons, closely followed by the winters.

In Delhi, for over a hundred thousand homeless people, the Delhi government runs over 14 night shelters, with a maximum capacity of 2,937 people. In other words, night shelters provide a roof for not more than three per cent of all homeless people in the city. There are none for women, or migrant families. The other cities lack even these, although NGOs extend night shelters to a small number of homeless people mainly in Patna. Of the government shelters, the largest in the nation’s capital is the one near the Old Delhi Railway Station. It was the first night shelter opened by the government in 1964, and in winter and the rains, its four large halls are crowded well beyond its official capacity of 514 persons. The facilities are elementary. For a fee of Rs. 6 a night, bare mats are spread out on the floors in each of the shelters on which men sleep, body pressed against body. Ragged blankets are provided for the winter, and there are common toilets and bathing places, erratically cleaned but always in demand. Outside in the walled city, private contractors called thijawalahs rent out quilts and plastic sheets for Rs. 5 a night to homeless sleepers. Iron cots are lined up in the corridors outside shops, for a rent of Rs. 15 per night.

The respondents to our survey said what disturbed their sleep most were the police (17 per cent), mosquitoes (16 per cent), the noise (12 per cent), the weather and health problems (9 per cent each). In Delhi, police brutality figured highest at 32 per cent for disturbing homeless people at night.