Saturday, March 28, 2009

Moving ON...

(Thank you everyone for not mocking my extreme fabulous smurf outift, or my bid for the MN high office. Also thank you all for not commenting on that post at all and thereby not giving Chris any positive reinforcement.)

Let's talk about poverty some more, shall we?

Yesterday I took the kids to the grocery store and we had a great auto-rickshaw driver on the way home. I was juggling too many bags of food and as he helped me he said, "Ahramse, Ahramse", which means roughly, "Easy does it", but literally is more like, "Do it comfortably". Aijaz used to say this all the time, especially when my kids were piling into the tiny Indica willy-nilly. So I laughed and said, "Dhanyahwad, Bhiaya" ("Thanks, Big Brother" the polite term for any random adult male). He then started in asking Caitlin and me all sorts of questions in basic Hindi and was delighted to find that we could tell him our names, where we were from and how long we're living in India, all in Hindi.

By that point we'd pretty much reached the end of my Hindi, but the rickshaw wallah spoke very good English so as we switched languages it seemed like my turn to ask him questions. We covered family and birthplace and then I started asking him about life as a rickshaw wallah. The information I got was not surprising, but disturbing none the less.

He works 7 days a week, 12-14 hours a day. Daily income is about 500 rupees, or about $10. He doesn't own the rickshaw he drives and has to pay the owner 150 rupees daily. So monthly he takes home about 10500 rupees or just over $200. That's before fuel and maintance costs, all of which are his responsibility. And yet this is enough income to allow him to be the sole earner for his family of four. His kids are 14 and 15, a girl and boy respectively and both still in school, which I think says a lot.

Our conversation moved on from the details of rickshaw driving and I learned that he is a Christian, from a Catholic family and the beneficiary of a Jesuit education. He eagerly told me when Good Friday and Easter will be and explained them to me in detail as well.

And with that we pulled up to the gate. I handed him 1000 rupees and he cried.


Grandpa George said...

Oh yes, GG cannot pass up any comment on poverty ANNNND, he says, BTW, "I've noticed there is a lot of discussion about Indian (just live there was about Bolivian) social welfare at the breakfast table." Inside Joke.

Maggie, I loved this post. It says so much about the differences between nations and how ordinary resources to an American are astonishing to someone who works hard and cannot seem to get ahead.

If you can get The Economist (March 21st edition) on-line, you might want to look at a book review of Imagining India: The Idea of a Renewed Nation by Nandan Nilekani. If you find it, also read the review of Felix Rohatyn's Bold Endeavors: How Our Gov't Built America. I read it and particularly like the chaps on Interstate Hwys and GI Bill. Some who argue that WWII got the US out of the Great Depression would do well to consider this history of the 1950s and 60s, and note also that it was a full employment economy-time in which prosperity was benefitting all and not just the upper 3-5%. (EOL...end of lecture)

Hugs and kisses

Sunflower Hill Farm said...

Hi, Maggie. When I read this post, I cried. What an amazing you guys are having, something most of the rest of us will never know. Thanks for sharing a little of your life!

Take care!