One thing that’s a given in India are frequent power cuts. When they occur right in the middle of writing a sentence on e-mail or while blogging, well, it can blow another type of fuse. That of an already testy patience as the hotter than red chilis summer is now fully upon us in southern India. OK, so there’s 100% power back-up in the building I live, but it usually takes a few hours to get back the reliable online connection…ho-hum!
Made me think today when the temperature is hovering at +38 C and just stepping out in the heat results in a massive outpouring of sweat that the cuts are more frequent as there are tons of us overloading the electrical grid with AC units and fans blowing air around. Who am I to complain when I know the power’s cut off totally to many smaller villages and communities and for half a day at a time! Do they have fridges? What happens to the food in their fridges? This is what privilege looks like in Hyderabad -100% back-up and I can still type on the computer. And get a cold drink from the fridge.
A while ago I got back in from the local supermarket drenched in sweat after just 10 minutes in the sun. Saw so many service workers on the way. The security guards around the building complex standing, albeit in the shade; then the guards in front of the Minerva Grand Hotel in full festive gear. All of them wearing heavy cotton shirts and long pants, baking in the midday sun. There’s just absolutely no shortage of service workers; they are everywhere in India. Women in work saris; men in khaki and blue uniforms.
These are the hundreds of thousands who keep providing a myriad of services from driving cars to washing, cooking, and doing the laundry for the “professionals” like me. Scrubbing, cleaning and flushing the toilets of thousands upon thousands of others. And they often don’t have their own bathroom at home or use a communal toilet wherever they hang up their hats. They’re not worried about not finishing an email when the power goes off. The power going off does not annoy them but maybe provides a break from doing something totally mundane….I’d like to hope that is an option? They could eat a lunch or chat while waiting for the juice to come back on.
While privilege in my neighbourhood is not white in skin tone as the building is full of Indian middle class families, it is a class or caste privilege that marks these flat dwellers nevertheless. A truly well-oiled and functioning system whereby everyone presumably “knows their place” in the hierarchy and behaves accordingly.
I’ll never need to have the kind of conversation in India that I recall having in North America before I came here. My next-door neighbour kept complaining to me about the derogatory comments she had heard from others in the building about people like her living on welfare. She lamented bitterly of being labeled a bum or a free loafer, buying beer and cigarettes with taxpayers’ money. I now think of how totally unimaginable this conversation would be in India where I doubt there is even a functioning welfare system while one might be needed badly for the orphans and the elderly. Here, work is simply available as services are bought and sold and bargained about every day. The difference that stares me in the face is that Indians sell their labour and through their work express the obvious dignity in a country that has over 300 million officially living below the poverty line.
I don’t know which society is better off, the western so-called welfare state that ends up subsidizing some who see no other way out from their poverty, yet, they are living in constant “ill fare” and become stigmatized by a system that is trying to help them. Or, the situation in India where people sell their labour and way too often for a pittance but at least derive their self-worth and esteem through work. They are exchanging their labour for money; not living on money they haven’t earned. I honestly don’t know which system functions better, but at least those who work are too busy living their lives and simply won’t waste time complaining. Hmm…