what a day. i got the call saying we were working today around 8:00 in the morning; i was up, but was hoping for a lazy, lazy day. alas, non. i got dressed, crammed some cereal down my throat, and split. the bus pulled up two seconds after i got to the stop; it took around 50 minutes to get to the train station. 12 rupees later, i was on the panvel express to khargar, where the YUVA office is located. I got there around 11:30 or so. The traffic this morning wasn’t bad; as usual, the trains get super crowded at kurla, where two lines intersect and where the dash to get on the train embodies insanity. it is truly beyond description.
we hung around the office for around two hours, taking care of minor business; i looked over old YUVA annual reports. the reports are well put together; the organization does a lot in a ton of sectors. they are an amazing group of people.
around 1:30, we left the office – I presumed we were heading to k-wada… but I was way off base. We went to visit four of Rajen’s activist friends, all of whom are living in a small apartment in Navi Mumbai, working on homeless rights – specifically migrant workers rights. The fellow in charge is bold, inspired, and inspiring. he advocates that the government of mumbai and maharashtra should provide some sort of transient home for the over 250,000 migrant workers officially thought to be homeless in mumbai. the number’s most likely a lowball estimate. he’s assembled a team of folks who have a variety of backgrounds – education, hunger advocacy, economic theory, social work. they bring a bunch of diverse backgrounds to the table – and have managed to get coverage on major indian news networks. they’ve caught the ears of politicians and large advocacy groups. change, though, is slow.
we sat around for hours and had a wonderful lunch, enhanced by really engaging conversation about development, about the way development has occurred in india, and about what motivates them in the context of an seemingly endless struggle. for abhishak, the public face of the group, it was simple – he said he was unable to close his eyes to the situation around him, and couldn’t understand how others could ignore the obvious plight of so many in india. again, its hard to describe, but it is literally impossible to escape the crushing poverty here – even in the richest parts of bombay, you’re never more than a few minutes from oppressive destitution.
development’s damn tricky. we talked about the ways india is rapidly modernizing and developing. we discussed why development has been so different in the newly developing countries vs the ‘older’ developed countries. i always come back to simple arguments – the west forces a mode of development on third world countries that possess significantly different social, political, and religious institutions. develoment plans inherently undermine, undercut, and devalue those institutions in an effort to rapidly industrialize. the individual loses autonomy, loses self in the face of homogenization to improve efficiency, to make the country look developed. the process took hundreds of years to evolve in the west – and it evolved as the society created it, as the society grew into it. in LDCs, the society’s not creating anything, change is seemingly being forced from the outside – a panacea embraced by self-aggrandizing politicians and economists. but there’s no stopping development, the march of progress, or SAPs where the seeds have already been sown – the trick will be finding ways to maintain or retool successful indigenous institutions with the capabilities to find a footing in a rapidly globalized, developed world. it would be amazing if large business in india – be it state run or private industries, like TATA – could step up to the plate and make significant changes or commitments [be it to the environment, workers’ rights, or health] that fostered societal change. amazing, but unlikely. imagine if a large state run energy company took a strong stand for alternative fuels in a country of 1+ billion. or if india’s largest auto manufacturer committed to producing electric or hydrogen ice vehicles. it would be a monumental slap in the face to the rest of the world, and would warrant the attention both over-populated nations so crave.
ranting, raving. meeting those four was a true treat. they are so inspiring, work so hard, and manage to keep their wits about them and remain hopeful. i pray i’m lucky enough to continue to meet people like them, wherever i may end up.
after that, rajen and I hopped on a motorbike and took off into the hills of navi mumbai. riding beeyach on the bike with 40 lbs of gear strapped to your back… made me cherish life a bit. slightly scary stuff. navi mumbai is already far less crowded than mumbai; heading into the hills was bizarre. population density vanished. trash vanished. it was beautiful – rolling hills all around; a couple of streams flowing swiftly, meandering through the small mountains; kids playing in the water; some wildlife. we hung around for an hour or so, and then returned to the hustle bustle madness. i hopped on the train back to worli, by way of vadala. it was packed.
at some point, a blind beggar came through the car. he sang as he walked up and down the aisles, using his cane to keep a simple beat. his voice and song were beautiful, a lilting dirge that made it seem as though all he had lost in vision was made up 100 fold in voice. and, for once, i wasn’t the only one to notice – much of the car fell silent as he sang. some respect, at least, for another one of india’s surprising miracles.
the day ended like so many others… i took the wrong bus home. 🙂