Panting for breath, I scaled the four steps of Mumbai’s local transport bus service better known as B.E.S.T, having chased the bus for about 500 feet, and then within 30 seconds plopped down on one of the seats labelled ‘Striyansatthi’ (ladies only) – grateful for having found an empty seat, especially one that I wouldn’t have to give up for anyone else. There were other seats specifically marked for the physically challenged and geriatrics as well. With reserved seats on the increase, for a second my mind flashed with pity for those who weren’t eligible for any of these. If luck favoured them, they would get to rest their tired feet, or else, travel standing the rest of the journey. I sneaked a glance at the teenage girl next to me, as her head bobbed up and down every few seconds. Sleeping peacefully, her loaded backpack straddled on her lap, I guessed her to be catching up on sleep in between school and tuitions. Judging by the pressure to perform and the amount of stress today’s generation was being saddled with and considering that most bus journeys took up the good part of an hour, this seemed to me as sensible use of time.
During my recent return from the USA to Aamchi Mumbai, I caught quite a few instances of people making the best use of resources available to them. Be it time, money or material. Aboard a short distance local train, crammed into the ladies compartment, I sat amazed, as I saw women whip out compact cutting boards, knives and packets of vegetables from their handbag as they proceeded to chop those and store them in boxes. The lady by my side sat detangling coriander leaves. These were working women, struggling to juggle work outside of and within the home, making the best use of time on their hands.
So what if we do not have the infrastructure or the money to build a private, world-class luxurious hospital? I had not liked the approach road or the entrance into the hospital that I had to go to, accompanying someone. The lack of attention to hygiene and general cleanliness of the surrounding areas was starting to look like a deal breaker at the outset itself but I was curious to witness the interior, which turned out to be well maintained, neat and clean. The ‘hospital’, run by a husband and wife – both surgeons, was built on a section of a residential building, possibly a modification to two or three apartments. One part of the living area had been converted into a ‘general ward’ that housed just three beds. There was one deluxe room, one X-ray room and an operation theatre as well, plus offices for two doctors. The bulletin board proudly displayed their achievements covered by the national newspapers – including a rare form of laparoscopic splenectomy performed by the male surgeon, only one of twenty-seven cases worldwide. Healthcare is a sore topic in India, I thought watching one of the episodes of Satyameva Jayate where I discovered that only 1.4% of our GDP is being spent on healthcare. In no way, should this be acceptable, and I am certainly not proud of the way the system is performing though I still have hope. Yet well meaning doctors with a desire to serve humanity and a pledge to the Hippocratic Oath continue to do the best they can with what they have.
Around me, indigent folks on the roads lacking a poncho cover their heads with plastic grocery bags in an attempt to avoid getting drenched. Mumbai is not unique in this regard. A photograph in LIFE magazine depicted a young poor African lad wearing flattened water bottles, tied with cloth on his feet, for lack of proper footwear.
India is still a developing nation and has a long way to go before it can become comparable to the likes of cities like Shanghai or Tokyo. Just a few mornings ago, the newspapers announced that based on the findings of the S&P (Standard and Poor’s global economic ratings) India could become a ‘fallen angel’ from BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) even as Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee rejected the report citing justifiable reasons of transparency and rating process. Socio-economic progress continues to happen, but if one were to measure it against the number of years the nation has been functioning as an independent democracy, it would resemble a snail’s pace. So even as, flyovers across the city start to double in number every few years, even as primary education is made free for every child regardless of whether there are enough schools and teachers to support this well intended good cause, even as malls across the city close down due to competition from other malls right opposite the road thereby squandering crores of rupees, the common man continues to trudge along slowly and steadily, employing whatever means to hand.
And for a more humorous take on ingenuity, walking up the stairs in a marriage hall, I stumbled upon a door held open by a belt – usually used to hold one’s pants up! Noticing that the door opener had broken, someone had very cleverly tied the belt to the door knob and the staircase metal railing together. I couldn’t help but hope that the man hadn’t been caught with his pants down – pun intended. Through it all, the saying ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ comes to mind. After all, aren’t circumstances responsible for discoveries and inventions?
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