rarefied air


Monday, August 10, 2009


He came this morning.Out of the blue.And made me sign a note to the Gate Keeper allowing him to come into the complex. He calls himself a 'Maali' or Gardener, but in modern parlance, he is nothing more than a middle man. He gets plants from the 'Laari' or push cart that is parked outside the gates of the complex. My guess is that he charges us more than what he pays the owner of the push cart. He is from a town near Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh. I do not know his name, but I do not that he was away for around six months undertaking his marriage in his town. That is why our plants died, due to lack of fertilisers. That is why he came today, out of the blue. He came to replace the dead plants with fresh ones. He replaced one for free. The other plant had gotten infested with ants and so my mother threw away the pot. So the made us buy another pot and charged us for everything. He is a smart man. He says there is money in Gwalior but not enough work to get by on. That is why he has left his newly wed bride at his home and returned to the city. My father says he saw him on Ghodasar Road, selling plants. But he denies it. He has to show me (his customer) a clean one tracked business profile. There are many like him who come to the cities from the villages in search of work and visit their towns or villages with lots of cash once in six months. Most of the people in transportation business are migrant workers. Almost all rickshaw drivers and taxi drivers in any city of India do not belong to the city they work in. They hate this life. "My life is like that of a dog" said Shabbir bhai, driver of rental cars who took me to Sabarkantha district. He has driven all types of cars ranging from luxury buses to Indica to Taveras but he says his life is terrible. He has to be at the beck and call of his rental service owner, there is no fixed working hour. He works non-stop for 48 hours, sleeps for 4 hours and then again works for 24 hours straight. Such is the life of all of these migrant labour that runs in the transportation industry in cities they don't belong to.
Ahmedabad attracts labour from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. People from prosperous cities in these states come and work as menial labour in the city. Gorakhpur is the biggest town in its district in Uttar Pradesh. It feeds hundreds of families from the surrounding towns and villages. People will always migrate from villages to towns, towns to cities, from cities to metro cities and from metro cities to other countries. But the order is not rigid. People may also travel from a village to another country directly. It all depends on the level of risk one is capable of taking. In such a reality, the cities cannot not take responsibility of its migrant labour force. A big city is big because by definition it is supposed to be able to support a bigger population and primarily a population from outside. Bombay cannot say no to UPites, Delhi cannot ban Haryanvis, US cannot say no to Chinese, Australians cannot ban Indians. Restriction cannot be permissible, as it goes against the basic nature of human beings, that of migration, travel, in search of better opportunities.
Cities should constantly revamp their infrastructure in order to provide facilities to people from outside. Government hospitals, for instance, are the second biggest draw of this population from outside, after transport services. There are no hospitals in the rural areas and so villagers from Khalilabad will always go to Gorakhpur for treating their illnesses, people from Murshidabad will go to Kolkata or people from Dignagar might go to Krishnanagar. Government hospitals complain of not being able to bear the load. Government hospitals in India are built on vast expanses of land. How difficult is it to add more beds? For years now, every government hospital knows that it is going to be over burdened and under staffed, beds are going to be insufficient. Why not add those many beds that you already by now, know will be needed? Why not build those facilities that you are lacking? You keep complaining that we need 1000 beds but we have only 200 beds so the patients lie on the floors. So why not go ahead and build those buildings that can house those beds? Ambumnai Ramadoss' who come and go, who divert their energies and resources in targeting celebrtities are the ones that should be banned. The Ghulam Nabi Azads should know that Swine Flus will also come and go, why not build permanent infrastructure?
This does not mean that infrastructure should only be increased in cities. Infrastructure and opportunities should be made available in villages and towns as well but with the knowledge that more and more people are bound to go to the more developed areas every time and settle for less dignified work, but nonetheless. Does that mean at some point the villages will be desserted? No, certainly not. They will become thinner but there will always be people who will stay back to till those fields. And then there will be the parents, women and children who will live there. Only the young men of the villages might no longer be found there. They will come back every year during the sowing period to take care of their fields and then go away to the cities to build bridges, carry water and clear garbage. Indian youth of the cities, women included will go to the Americas, The Londons and Singapores of the world similarly and return home for the Pujas, Diwali or New Years. Or when there is a death in the family. They rarely come for marriages unless of extremely close people.
Cities cannot wash their hands off its migrant population.


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