India 4: D is for Depressing

Delhi in December is damp, dismal and depressing — and so is this blog entry, which veers from the trivially tiresome to the thoroughly tragic. Grab a box of Kleenex and, err, enjoy.

  • There is a kitchen in my office, about 2 sq.m. in size, with an automatic Nescafe-making machine. Two people are employed to wait in the kitchen. If somebody asks for tea or coffee, they take a cup, press the button and hand the drink to you. Only one of them has a chair.
  • In India’s state of Orissa, under one in five households has electricity.
  • Most factories in Gurgaon have signs prohibiting child labor. Instead, 8-year-olds spoon out dal and wash dishes in the dusty roadside eateries outside them, and 12-year-old rickshaw-wallahs cycle the adult workers to work.
  • Half of India’s children are malnourished. Television commercials heavily promote zero-calorie sugar substitutes.
  • The Delhi city government decided to give all elementary schoolers an aid package consisting of a school uniform, school bag, shoes and two pairs of socks, valued at Rs. 290 (~$5). This is also the price of a single 8″ pizza and a Coke at the food court in the MGF Metropolitan Mall in Gurgaon.
  • India has over 5 million people infected with HIV. Under 50,000 of them receive treatment.
  • Whenever the power fails in my condo in the evening, there is a moment of pitch black silence, and then the screams of terrified children start to echo through the tower blocks.
  • The average per capita income of Malawi, the world’s poorest country, is $161. Average per capita income in India’s Bihar state is $94.
  • “A three-year-old boy was eaten alive by a herd of pigs in a village on the outskirts of New Delhi after family members did not notice him wander outside his home. Only the boy’s limbs were recovered.” (Reuters)
  • Flat surfaces in the Indian countryside (and Delhi’s slums) are neatly lined with drying patties of cow shit. They are used by the poor for fertilizing fields, as cooking fuel, for heating houses, as insect repellant, as insulation and to provide durable flooring.
  • One of Gurgaon’s many epithets is “the Singapore of India”. Unlike its namesake, it has no public transport system, and in November alone 28 people were murdered by a gang preying on people hailing illegal cabs.
  • The average Indian spends 2.9 rupees ($0.06) on telecommunications yearly. It would require over a million of them to employ me for a year.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, I’ll confess that I’m actually starting to like India, warts and all. But the next episode will probably concentrate more on Gurgaon, the bizarre yet intriguing site of a continuing slow-motion collision between hypermodern India and ageless Bharat. Tune in next time…