Random thoughts from here & there

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Prema, the “kaam waali bhai” –in her late sixties- was waiting outside the apartment we are staying in.  In her mind, the Kashmiri family that employed her during winter was back; Prema did not solicit us aggressively. She waited for us- patiently. As I ambled out for a smoke, I noticed the frail, elderly Prema. She made eye contact; I smiled and asked, ‘ kya haal hai? (How are you?). “ Badiya, Sahib,”(Great ,Sir) responded Prema. I could see struggle and striving in Prema’s frail physique and visage but surprisingly, I could not discern pain. “ Marad Zinda hai (Is your man alive?), “ I asked. “ Nahin, chaar saal pehley “khatam” ho gaya”, said Prema. (No, he died four years ago). “ Kitney bacchey hain? (How many children do you have?). “ Chaar betiyaan , sahib, “ responded Prema and added, ‘ Sab kee shaadi hogayee hai, ‘ in a smugly satisfied tone.( I have four daughters but all are married). “Akeli rehtee ho,” I enquired. ( Do you live by your self?). “ Haan , Sahib”, said Prema. (Yes, Sir).  The brief encounter with Prema was revealing. The elderly woman at the fag end of her life was a brave woman who had neither given up on life nor had broken down despite the hand that fate had dealt her- loss of a husband in a patriarchal society, the birth and raising of daughters in a society where the male child is accorded preference and is viewed as  a hedge and insurance in old age. And now loneliness at  a vulnerable age. Prema bravely and stolidly soldiered on , facing all odds with a forbearance  and determination that was admirable. There is a lesson in Prema’s saga: life is struggle; fate, socio-economic status and socially and culturally determined constructs can be daunting but that does not mean one should give up. Prema is a tribute to determination and will to live- an inspiration to all!

 The harshness of Life in a world of apps and platforms

 Anil, the driver of an Ola cab, cheerfully greeted me as I boarded his taxi.  I soon stuck a conversation with him. Anil was from Mathura and had like countless others migrated to Delhi to make a living. Anil lived in a shanty town with his family of five. I asked Anil about the nature and functioning of Ola cabs and he briefed me succinctly. As far as I could understand, all that Ola had done was to provide a tech platform and aggregate services. People with commercial vehicles could plug into this platform and deliver a service and Ola would make money by charging a commission- all a reflection of the world we inhabited defined by technology and communication. “ Anil, why don’t you buy a cab too?”, I asked. “ Sir, I cant. I live hand to mouth. I have no asset. All I have is a skill- to drive”, “ Anil responded morosely.  Ola- the tech platform and service aggregator- and Anil’s struggles accorded a real perspective on life and the state in the 21stcentury. While technology and apps may be changing the tenor and pace of life at a staggering speed, the fact remains that access to technology is unequal and asset and cash poor people can only remain at the margins of this world. This calls for a real and substantive role for the state as an enabler and a welfare provider- something certain ideologies disavowed and rooted for a market Utopia. Anil and his case provide a useful contrapuntal here.

The need and ability to connect transcends cultures, time and space 

On my way back from Gurgaon to New Delhi, I hailed a cab. The cabbie,  Maheshwari, looked sullen and sounded angry. I boarded the cab and probed Maheshwari’s face. He did not seem to be inclined to talk. Maheshwari did not take the usual route; he took a detour. I feared the worse; he was taking me for a ride both in the literal and real sense. I did not express my concern at this point in time. “ Delhi is a ruthless place,” I said, rather abstractedly. Maheshwari, who had stayed silent all the while, looked at me through his rear mirror- a probing look. He still did not utter a word. “ Nobody cares about anybody here”, I added. This evinced a nod from Maheshwari.  We drove past an upper class woman walking her dog. “ Look at this: some have the best of all worlds here”, I chortled. Maheswari now laughed,’ yes , Sahib, your’e right”. The ice was broken. Maheshwari and me struck a conversation spiced with humor, nature of life, the struggles in Delhi and what have you. He was now relaxed and had developed a rapport with me. Maheshwari dropped me at my destination. As I got down from his cab, I looked right into his eyes, smiled and gave him a tip. Maheshwari, looked back at me- straight into my eyes , beamed a warm smile and said, “ Thank You”. As I was about to  enter the apartment I am living in, I realized I had run out of cigarettes.  I started walking to the market square. Maheshwari, who had, almost reached the end of the street noticed me walking again. He stopped and the moment I walked past his car, he said, “ Sir, where are you going now? Can I drop you?” No charges this time . Sir”, he added with a beaming smile. I smiled in return and thanked him. “ Your wish, Sir”, added Maheshwari and bid me a hearty Good Night. A lesson was learnt again. All of us have a need to connect and if we attempt to connect in a genuine way and with empathy, people respond and connect with even greater intensity.

 

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