Aam aadmi, you have mentioned in your CV that you are illiterate and unemployed...
<Interrupts>: That was a typo; I am not merely unemployed, but unemployable. I can’t do anything and most of the times I don’t even feel like doing anything!
Then what do you do on a typical day?
I joined the local Chiranjeevi Fans Association and am now an active member. It’s full of people like me. Whenever a new movie starring Chiranjeevi or his extended family releases, we tie banners around the town and celebrate by dancing near the theater. If there are no movie releases, then it gets boring. Sometimes, my friend who works as a mechanic gets a bike from his garage and we roam around on the streets all day. At nights, we usually drink local liquor and pass out only to wake up next afternoon!
Wow, how can you sustain such a life style? What do you do for a living?
I am a house owner.
House owner? What kind of a job is that?
The govt. of Andhra Pradesh gave me a house as part of its housing development project for the poor – Rajiv Gruha Kalpa so that I do not have to live in the slum anymore. I rented out that house for Rs. 1500 and continue to live in the slum. I am a house owner by profession!
Do you have any other sources of income?
Hmm… yes, elections!
Yes. Election season is a festival for all of us. Political parties pay 100 to 150 rupees per day, one biryani packet and liquor for attending election rallies and shouting a candidate's name all day! It doesn’t matter which candidate! It is one of the best jobs in the world. I wish there is an election every month.
How do you run a family with only 1500 rupees a month?
I have a white ration card which means that I get rice at 2 rupees a kilo, LPG at 150 rupees, dal at 30% of market rate etc. My wife also earns some money by working as a maid in four or five households which takes care of the kids. So this 1500 is enough!
What about saving for a rainy day?
That is taken care of the govt. too. I benefit from “Rajiv Arogya Sri” scheme which gives me medical insurance up to Rs. 150,000 in Apollo hospitals! So in case my liver gets bad from drinking all the cheap liquor, I can go to Apollo! Sometimes, when I am short of cash, I use the NREGA scheme for some quick cash where we don't do anything and yet we all get paid! I take my whole family if the weather is good. It is almost like a picnic!
It is very surprising... I mean with all these govt. sops, you can actually afford to be unemployed!
Yes, there are thousands like me with no skills, no prospects, no motivation, frustrated and a potential for violence. The politicians are aware of that. They are in fact shit scared about the situation. That is why they give us all kinds of sops during the elections to prevent us from getting angry. We have now reached equilibrium.
What kind of equilibrium?
I vote once in five years and in exchange, I don’t have to work for the rest of my life. Neither do my children! The subsidies and reservations once announced stay forever and they only keep getting better. Statistics may say that I am below the poverty line. The fact is all my sources of income are black money!
But you live in a slum, sleep on the footpath and wear really shabby clothes! How can you be content with this? Don't you want to live a better life?
As far as shabby clothes and sleeping on the foot path are concerned, that is my business model! You wear nice clothes and look like a person who lives comfortably in a clean neighborhood. Do politicians come to campaign in your locality and offer you freebies during elections? No, they just make you pay more taxes so that they can they can give us homes, healthcare, LPG and rationed food supplies etc.!
Are you suggesting that your life is not as bad as it is portrayed by the popular media?
You can say that. In the strange democracy that we have here in India, it is us – the illiterate, unmotivated and the unemployable that determines who is going to make foreign policy, solve our energy crisis, protect the environment and push for India’s place in the Security Council! We are the ones who determine the next leaders. The rich always have it easy anyways. It is you middle class people who have to pay the same taxes and live the same life irrespective of which party is in power!
But there are districts in India which are really worse off. People have to trek tens of kilometers just to get some drinking water!
True, I am not speaking for all of India. I know only about a few districts in Andhra Pradesh (and Kerala, where my friend Joseph lives). If you define poverty as lack of opportunity, it does not exist in these places. There are enough opportunities for everyone to survive and make a decent living. Most of us choose not to because we don’t have to. People from districts where things are really bad can come to our district and work because there is a lot of work to be done and we don’t do anything. In fact, a lot of them are already here. Whenever you see a road being built in Andhra Pradesh, all hard working daily labor are not the locals but immigrants from from poorer states like Orissa, Bihar etc.
Don’t you realize that a whole generation of idle young people is very bad for our nation? Small and medium scale industries are already very badly hit because of the shortage of skilled labor!
How is that my problem? I am a poor person who has trouble taking care of my family here! We have been oppressed for centuries by Brahmins and other upper castes and now you are blaming us for bad industrial growth too? Haven’t we suffered enough for centuries? Blame the congress govt. for taking up only those projects which can be named after Rajiv Gandhi! Why do you want to drag the Gandhi family into this? Don’t you see the pattern? The congress govt. will do only those things that can be named after Rajiv Gandhi! In my village, there are no toilets for women. Someone told me that our country has more mobile phones than toilets and yet the govt. does not even invest one rupee in building toilets or improving public hygiene. Do you know why? Because toilets cannot be named after Rajiv Gandhi! (however accurate the accusation might be)
So your philosophy is that your forefathers have had to face a lot of discrimination on caste lines, so you deserve to “take it easy” for a while?
You can put it in those terms. But hey! We are not asking for all these, the politicians offer us most of the sops to win elections for their own selfish means. When we’re getting stuff for free, why should we reject it? What about the next generation? My son is now growing up and like all boys, he wants to be like daddy! He already understands that it is his right to get free food, housing and other necessities without having to work for it. He is a smart kid. My boy is going to live more comfortably than me!
If that is the case for generations to come, when will India become a developed country?
We’ve been talking for an hour now. Do I look like I care? All the freebies we get are the politician's idea of social justice! Why is it so unsettling for you that we have figured out a way to live in poverty? I have emphatically planned on staying poor! Do I look like I failed in life? I am passing on my genes just as successfully as you are. Isn’t it what all species strive for?
It has been wonderful and almost enlightening to talk with you aam aadmi. Thank you for your great insights. We’d sure like to have you back real soon!
That is it for this week folks. Coming up next: Is Bandra safe for Bollywood?
Irresponsible citizens continue to throw banana peels on the streets. Ekta Kapoor’s body guard recalls the horror of almost slipping and falling down while walking her dog! An NRI exclusive…
P.S: Thanks to Nanni :)