Thursday, January 24, 2008

Do we need one car each? ( and so on...)

A monologue with the Government, or those in power...

There's good news. And I have already started taking my driving lessons. (It was highly incidental, but what a coincidence!) The newspaper reports say (and so gulp them with a pinch of salt) that the 'Nano'- the cheapest car in the world, will be priced around INR One lakh...

So while I was thinking to save up my money and go for a second hand dabba car within one lakh range sometime in six months, I now might as well wait another few months and add another few thousand and get a brand new Nano. Makes perfect economic sense, nai? So it will, for many others like me... And so in a year from now, we all will be happily hopping to TATA showrooms like we now hop to Big Bazaar and get ourselves a car each for a change instead of a t-shirt or a jeans or steel vessel. I am thrilled, I am swooning in disbelief...

Utopia rings bells of alarms, doesn't it? What's wrong here? What's the catch? Let's rack our brains and think a bit.

Kudos to the Tatas to make a car within the reach of the 'common man'. Kudos to the very communist government for putting a step forward to usher in 'development' and 'industrialization'.

Okay, hold on. I am going to explain the quote-unquote thing.

Common man. Whom are you talking about? Surely not he, who spends most of his time traveling in a bus or a metro, not he, who gets fascinated and starry eyes on being offered a credit card. Surely not he, who sweats each day on his way to office, sweats back all his way, and then haggles over the price of tomatoes somewhere in between. Surely not he, who is still in doubts whether he can afford the maintenance and petrol costs if he buys a scooter.

Development. What are you talking about? I have been walking fairly enough in the city and hopping on many a crowded buses. I am yet to come across a decent bus stand, which has seats where people can sit and wait, and which tells which buses go from that route and where. I have moved around in nearby 'remote places' merely hundred kilometers from Calcutta proper, where the most popular of transport is still the three-tyred cycle rickshaw, where there are far more saree shops than proper medicine shops, where basic medical aid seems non-existent. Take snake-bite for example. Many deaths in the villages occur due to snake bites. And naturally so, Bengal is a haven for most snakes poisonous, including the King Cobra. Can't you make that damned snake anti-venom available at medical stores? No. It cannot be retailed and you need to get it only from big government hospitals, provided the doctors are available. Perhaps such things require legislation and consultation. Development is something that happens spontaneously, isn't it?

Industrialization? What are you talking about? O, do you mean industrialization as that situation wherein you confiscate a piece of fertile land and gift it to any XYZ company. The company will grow, so will the smoke, so will the population density in that area, and so will sprout a few measly tea stalls and bun stalls in a futile attempt. And when the roadside stalls sprout and when a few youths are employed as peons and a few young women are degraded to being sweepers and cleaners from being free-willed maidens who picked up green peas in their fields before the SEZ nightmare happened, of course, you will point your fingers wisely and say: "See, we told you, SEZs generate employment..."

Stop kidding me. I know who will get the icing on the SEZ cake. You want to know? KFC, McDonald's, Burger King and Sify Broadband cafes. Sorry to the bun maska and the kerosene stove tea. Saab log don't eat at down market places and nor do such stalls suit the chic and plush corporate glamour. So please, shove off, you villagers, make way. So what if we now stand on what was once your land...

All the development that is happening is happening to you and me, who have the luxury to type away idle thoughts on the brand new keyboard and who are discussing which next laptop to buy. Development, the real one, out of sarcastic quotes, should ideally happen to those who are sweating day in and day out to and back from bus and trains and who haggle the price of tomatoes. Development should happen to those dark and dusty village children who walk miles to the lone primary school years in vain hope till truth dawns upon them and they give up. Education is still a joke in majority of remote India and development should happen to that sad and different species of human race altogether who live and die each day in an ignored existence. The talks of 'development' and 'industrialization' are mere candy floss.

When I see flocks of villagers marching kilometers, the red flag swinging behind them to come to the city and attend this or that political meeting with religious reverence, I feel extremely sad and pained. Here is one state, and here is one people, who have unquestionable faith in their leaders, or let's say, the communist ideology. Here is a people who believe that their government is indeed for the sickle and the labourer. They might be right. But they might be wrong too...

It seems to me that the communism today, or for that matter any political ideology, is nothing but degenerated and misinterpreted set of basically skewed up ideals. Today, communism seems simply standing up for the poor while keeping them as poor as they are, while enveloping their scope of vision with so many like them that they feel they are happy and satisfied and one of the lot.

Was the communist ideal always like this? Wasn't it always an excellent piece of theory which can never ever be implemented in practice. Like the Heisenberg's principle of uncertainty- it is a fascinating truth, but it cannot be proved experimentally. Isn't communism that perfect synonym of utopia? For when have we, in the course of history from Marx to this date, witnessed the successful evolution of a classless society, where all evolved together and ultimately all were equals?

Why cant there be a sensible development? Why can't there be more public means of transport, more realistic prices of goods and lesser loans and credits? Professor Pinto once thundered in the class in his trademark style: "All this is lobbying. There's this dreadful nexus of car manufacturers and banks and builders and so on. Why don't they increase the number of municipal buses? They won't do that, for then, how will cars and scooters sell by hundreds each day?"

Though the quote may not be verbatim, I hope this is the essence he wanted to convey. For after that lecture, I brooded on and on, and could never shake of this logic.

Think of it. A bus can easily hold 50 people at a time. Why don't you increase the number of buses? Why don't you clean the buses more often and spend some on the interiors of the buses? Why don't you make the mode of transport popular and start brand image advertisements to clean up that snobbish 'O , so down market thingy to travel in a sweaty bus' attitude. Why don't you make the public transport system so chic and so plush, that everyone feels a relief using it and prefers it to driving down the chaos of jam and pollution each day? If you plan it well enough, a state transport system is a winning formula which satiates all the wants- economy, convenience and environment.

Case in point, the famous Neeta Volvo versus the Maharashtra State Buses that ply between Pune and Mumbai. Neeta Volvo (and Konduskar and such alike) reek of monopoly and cheating- the way they hike their tickets on weekends and the way sometimes dump passengers on the worst seats possible in spite of advance bookings. State buses offer the same facilities but at a far cheaper rate. But the State Bus ticket counters are dilapidated, easily ignored, tin-roof structures nearby a urinal and Neeta operates from a plush office. Only a lot of asking will ever, if at all, tell you which are the stops all over the city (Mumbai and Pune) where the State buses stop enroute to pick up the tourists.

As we are talking about the government downplaying their facilities, let me provide you with another example:

The postal letter drop box. I still write a lot of inland letters and postcards, and so I know how difficult it is to convince yourself before dropping that letter thru the flap of the box that this mode of communication is still not defunct. The letter drop box always seems to stand so unceremoniously at some busy corner, with so much of dust sleeping on it, and with so many cobwebs swinging by, I always ask three different strangers to ascertain if this is 'still in use' or is past its expiry date. When you do deliver the postcards and the inland letters in good time, why don't you just make an effort to make the service well known? Why don't you tell the public you offer cheap services and direct them to the letter boxes? Why don't you just colour that damn thing bright red once a year at the least??? Might as well go to some ad agency, get them make some hip direction banners and post them prominently on top of all the letter drop boxes?

So the thing is, all this talk of development and industrialization is sheer humour. You are game for development? Then start sacking teachers from municipality schools this second on. Start some serious re-thinking of what kind of teachers you want to teach at pre-school and primary levels all over the villages of the country. Get some management graduates tell you what product marketing is so that the state transport and postal services and all that stuff you let rot away in oblivion is used by the common man. And for God's sake, hire some dumb advertising agency make some yellow and black billboards to signal the bus pick up points, and the letter boxes.

We want to grow richer and drive that Nano, but we don't want to do so kicking the stomach of someone thin and lean and who sleeps hungry. We want to grow, but we also want those strangers who sweat each day to see a better tomorrow than their disappointing today. We also don't need one car each and we need you to know what development really is.

-Gauri Gharpure


prolerat said...

It isn't a communist or socialist government or state.This is a contradiction in terms.Check out the World Socialist Movement site
for info on what is communism/socialism,

they mean the same thing.
Those parties which call themselves communist or socialist are either reformers of capitalism or state capitalists.That is they seek to manage capitalism via government controls.
It cant be done and is a a Leninist distortion of communism.Lenin knew this, as real Marxists told him so.
If you check out those links and make up your own mind about it, that will be sufficient.members of the World socialist Movement dont wan tot lead workers or [poor people w ewan tpeople to lead themslves and abolish social distinctions of rank and wealth .
Enjoy,nice to meet someone who does try to give some thought to matters in the world.

Arindam Sen said...

Well, nice one Gauri. But, I beg to differ in many points. First, why Govt. should run buses? It's a private good - the Governments role is to provide good infrastructure and lease the job of transportation to private players.

Second, why is it people thinking of pollution and traffic situation now? Is driving car the monopoly of elite few? This is because of the elitist mentality. When the minister is driving a fancy car, isn't he polluting too just like when a middle class family is driving a Nano? And funnily enough, they are talking this about the least polluting car in the market - the Nano.

I guess things are moving in the desired direction as it should have been. Govt. Public transportation shouldn't been there to begin with and gradually it will become defunct. New innovative modes of public transportation are coming up and maybe in 6 months or so we'll see Nano as a mode of public transportation.

Arindam Sen said...

Further, too add about the quality of service provided by the private players, once govt. ensures there is competition in the sector, things will improve definitely. Right now most of these private players ensure through unethical ways that there are hardly any competitor in the market. Once the Govt. becomes honest (which it is not to be sure!) quality will rule supreme.

Joseph said...

Dear Gauri,

Yes! That is what I said in class about the lobbying against public transport.

In Pune, the lobby is led by the local MP, Suresh Kalmadi, who actually owns Sai Service Station and stands to benefit from the sale of two-wheelers and four-wheelers.

Thank you for opening this debate.

Joseph M Pinto,

feddabonn said...

@ arindam:

i think gauri's point was the govt. should focus on investment in public transport rather than investment in developing cars.

i think (more) people are thinking of the traffic and pollution situation now because we have seen what unrestricted vehicle buying does to cities. bangalore and hyderabad, for instance, are being f*****.

which are the 'new innivative' means of public transportation?

Gauri Gharpure said...

@ prolerat- thanks for dropping by..u ve said what members of the World Socialist Movement don't want to do in that comment, and you have also told what really can't be done with reference to communism/socialism.. But then, how about telling then what exactly 'can be done' or is 'the right way to do' in a communist thought process, for I, for one in my limited knowledge have seen the communist governments in power to do just what you have rightly pointed out: A rigorous effort to control, perhaps even restrict capitalism than an effort to uplift... If a theory is an excellent piece of thought, but if it can't be generalized, replicated, or its mere comprehension is so complex and intricate and full of fearful interpretations, it stands to be more defunct than anything else we may want to consider...

@ arindam... :) hey thnks again for dropping by.. fom ur comments I believe you read thru the entire length of tht long post, so!

I was taken aback to read 'why should govt run buses?' and then tht 'to provide good infrastructure.... players'

If it's government's mighty role in inviting SEZs and giving them land in an effort to increase their revenue, it is also firmly its responsibility to see that the common man is accorded a decent, cheap and safe means of transport. If by your comment you mean that an ideal situation cud be great infrastructure provided by government and services leased out to private players, which in turn will shake off the lethargy and bring in competition and efficiency by keeping the pricing as low as possible and the services high enough, well :) seems right only coming from someone as well read and well informed as you.. (Mitrajit explained that Arindam perhaps means to say this, is he right?) But then, if there are ways and means to think on lines such as yours, the question is, why don't we see more efforts in directions like these, that directly make a difference to the masses than the highly indirect means of wealth generation with reference to the tata case, being the most recent one...

If what Mitrajit explained was contrary to what you meant, well... there we go again :)

yup, and Baruk has got inquisitive about the new innovative modes of transport u r talking about, so have I.. put in some words when u find the time..

Sir--- Many things that you said are in my mind somewhere and encourage me to think and question myself from time to time.. Thanks for being here..

@ baruk-- U are right on in that the government shud invest more, in fact huge amounts in public transport.. But I myself am not so sure about the 'rather..' In fact, i also feel about that point of 'unrestricted buying' you have mentioned, but then, development and policy making is such a gargantuan task, isn't it? What we are facing today, is perhaps the mis-doing and wrong decisions of governments in power a decade or two back.. New legislations, have only two options- take us to the dogs, and that will really take you less than a blink of an eye, or sit down, talk sense, and let sense prevail...

Tata, the company as such, seems to
command an unflinching sense of commitment and respect from all people, till this one Singur thing. I also, personally feel, that beyond a corporate social responsibility, which till date Tata has set examples for, it is also a business conglomerate. And so, it would have been foolish not to take the land that was offered by the West Bengal govt. What the communists have failed to do is to present their stand in proper perspective. They have gone both ends, one to the extent of a total black out of anything to do with profit, industrialization and development in the last two decades or more, and then suddenly, in a mere half a decade or so, they want to usher in as much development as they can. This is foolish and anything drastic always has huge drawbacks.. But basically, yes, u r right, i mean that the government should look more wholeheartedly into projects which will really 'develop' the sweaty, ill and poor common man just as it wholeheartedly takes in debates and crushes people and opposition to ambitious multi-crore projects now.. As I said in the post, I want to drive the Nano, but I wouls be pleased if I am ensured that something is being done for the men and women not only in Singur, but all across India. We cannot allow them to create two different human kinds- an illiterate and biased vote bank, and an affluent society that doesn't care to vote...

Gauri Gharpure said...

* if i am assured...

With regards to crushing people and opposition who talk contrary to their set ideas, seems the handling was more than pathetic in Nandigram... The Singur thing has settled down fairly quietly and there are not any reports to the contrary coming up, if you trust the media, that is... But Nandigram was a massacre of a different kind... What irks me the most, is when you crush the basic power and means of a person to oppose your decisions. What happened in Nandigram seems to be a bloody pig-headed show of autocracy and single-minded ideology reverence... If people stop being humans and function only as party members, be it the CPI (M), the Trinamul congress, even BJP or Congress for that matter, doom will set in. Perhaps it really has... In our first class of Mass Comunication, there was this professor who, though bored me for the larger part, said one thing which caught my attention:- "Ideology is immune to change. It is one basic thought in relation to the situation".. I again hope this is what Dhole meant, for what drew me out of my sleep was the idea that 'Ideology is not stagnant' I always that ideology means a concrete mould of thought process and so perhaps, I was so disinclined to anything political or ideological.. The thing is, to cut a long comment short, when one gets blind breathing one political doctrine after the other, and grows up chanting 'XYZ party zindabad' let lord save him... Human mind should be most open to thinking freely, and in Bengal, at least I feel even thinking contrary to communist thoughts is not entertained... What the Party says, you think. The party shows u the line, and there are no two ways about it. Like George Orwell said, The Communists won't believe that their opponent can be both honest and intelligent at the same time'.... Nandigram was bad... And baruk, I think I wrote this entire lenght of post just for u, for I think u will read it... Sorry if I over shot my comment space...

Gauri Gharpure said...

*Ideology is NOT immune to change... That is, over a period of time, ideologies can mould a bit differently, or so to say, evolve with time and situation.. tht's wht was the essence of the lecture I hope..

Indian Home Maker said...

I have lot's to think now.