As the signal turns to red, my patience gets in the red. Drumming my fidgety fingers on the steering wheel, I just about manage to steer my anxiety out of the veins of my anger. Fifteen minutes. That is the deadline after which my payment gets capped by Rs.150 per hour. A fleeting disinterested yet agitated glance around is a ritual to keep my ears averted from the mindless honking behind me. It is at the crossroads of the diplomatic area in New Delhi that I saw him … at the crossroads of going to bed hungry and sleeping with hunger sated. Sandy complexion, hair coloured in what the fashionable would call flaxen tones and bearing a gurgling transparent plastic vessel on his head. The straw highlights are courtesy the poverty that he seemed blissfully unaware of at his age. The water waves onto the walls of the vessel bubbling with the babe’s ethereal movements, almost silhouette-like, dressed like a waif (a word glamorized by the patronization of the likes of Kate Moss). So the waif walked on, the ward of the weary wife, tied down by the day’s share of burden and walking into a sunset not so colourful, not even promising.
In just over a fortnight, this city is to host the biggest extravaganza that it will see in a long time to come. The Commonwealth Games — a Game with its capital at New Delhi, but run on Common Wealth drawn in from all across. A game the booty from which is seen frittered away freely across continents (to the mother nation, some would say) through an invisible cord of cordiality in the form of business papers. The signal lights once again take me by surprise by staying a step ahead of me. As I steer my ship away along the rain-rundown road, the green light makes me sheepish. It is as if to remind me of the dragons that slept inside me while I gave my silent consent to the wastage, now breathing fire in vain.
In the past months, a lot has happened. I do remember the bus fare that I used to dole out two years ago as a fresher in college. Today, it has exceeded more than three times the initial fare. Global price rise took the blame like Akon in his famous (infamous?) song. And while NASCOM and other industry watchdogs and co-coordinators (seemingly) inflated national capital loss incurred in a day of national Bandh, much like the inflated prices floating around, our Parliamentarians did not think or blink twice before inflating their healthy pay packets (made obese by perks not unheard or unseen of). With subsidies on everything from cooking gas to fuel having been rolled back, the common man was left naked on the last runk of the economic ladder. Those based on the last runk since forever — the documented/undocumented poor – sodden with the muck of callous governmental attitude, fell to pieces, the dust settling on the slush of abject poverty underneath. A system of introducing different slab rates for different economic classes never seemed to strike (or maybe it was ignored) the brightest of economists in the cauldron of Parliamentarians. Or maybe rubber stamp statuses are to blame. In the name of supplementing the government exchequer, the personal coffers of deviants are being filled, each penny shorn from its intended use driving a nail into the coffin of the poor. Stories of housemaids having to forego bus travel while shuttling between households in order to save that fare bloated to three times its value and of daily wage earners bogged and strapped down by the increase in the price of the odd vegetable in his diet (what is supposed to be high-powered) while his pay leaf starved with him into a lean, bring tears to the eyes and a gush through arteries. Tax billows in the past years in the name of the Commonwealth Games were accepted with the view that it is all to spruce up India’s image abroad. But India’s spring cleaning, coming after a long 28 years, was not even a cosmetic change. A few spunky stadiums, roads re-laid a second time after being ploughed out once to lay some forgotten phone lines (they call it miscommunication between two wings of public works undertakings) and rows of artificial grass planted over the graves of broken dreams are not enough to hide the huge disease infested slum clusters and plastic clutter of the real Delhi. Only a tourist with blinkers on his eyes blindfolded to any sight other than the purported approved sights recommended by the State would be benighted enough to see any radical change in his/her notions of past-postcard India. Slum tourism is sure to gain in gravitas against the grave mistakes of the government and related agencies. Stadiums inaugurated as world-ready and world class saw their ruddy surfaces erupting in red boils like a teenaged face in acid rain, pounded by the first flush of ravaging rains that the capital has seen in its recorded history.
“It’s unmistakably a case of divine intervention. It’s as if the Gods have joined hands to wreak havoc on plans mired by hidden agendas and besmirched by vested interests,” I hear a young woman quipping to her friend, along college lawns. “What has the Government done for the common man except embezzle money in his name? With these heavy rains, at least people would be free of water-shortage problems for a safe year or two.” She does not weigh in the disadvantage, one might say. What would have looked like a common teenage angsty rant on a normal day made strange sense at this point with the mind cluttered with innumerable examples of debacles tried to be passed off as spectacles. At first glance, it seems like a disaster waiting to happen. Preparations have been on the backburner for aeons and the requisite authorities have been on the backfoot about malfeasance involved. The city resembles a shoddily torn down film set with unrelenting rains raping juvenilely raw roads and seems to be happy playing host to a rogue army of mosquitoes feasting and infesting on succulent vital fluids, sucking away life, much like the lifelines of the city being depraved. Nationalistic blood would undoubtedly burn and boil and pray to deliver in a desperate face-saving mission.
The city lights would fade away as soon as the arc lights are gone. The city and the country at large would be left to deal with the mess left by the gross mismanagement that left its citizens in the lurch. The cleaning drive would trail from the Parliament gates to the judicial temples. Or maybe, the jazz of the spectacle would sheen up the squalid face of corruption. Cut to a few years down the line. Commonwealth-worthy India will put together bidding papers for yet another spectacle drawing traction and credibility from the glory of the last minute grandeur. The vicious circle of poverty, gambling with public money and false pride would thus continue. The charade of governments would continue as public memory can be expected to be shorter in the afterglow of a superb international performance than it is in times of constant crisis. And even if democracy is exercised with the optimum use of critical facilities, it may very well be a choice between the devil and the deep sea.
Cut to scene two. The rains continue copiously in an incessant chatter. The Games do not quite turn out to be the magical rhapsody of “Atithi Devo Bhava” sentimentality and the eleventh hour speeding up. Postponed, displaced … whatever. It would take a pile up of a number of decades before such a dubious extravaganza is planned again as public money was embezzled and siphoned off without the promise delivered. Public memory would expectantly have a high resolution in this case as the popular contention of “I don’t care how much goes to corruption if we are able to pull off a spectacular show hosting the Games.” The perfect recipe for the contents of the 19th centuryÂ Communist Manifest to be acted out in a play format; for anarchy is never an option as a headless State falls prey to ravages of crime.
This is just brainstorming about the future in near reckoning. But one thing cannot be denied. The glory of a nation is measured by factoring in human development — education, health and satisfaction. If it were just GDP we would have been as good creating artificial earthquakes to boost up production hence notching up growth. Investment without a vision is a perfect example of drifting without direction. The curtains are set to part on us. As if symbolic of saving much lost time, the CM makes an appearance on T.V in a quick-to-don Salwar Kameez, giving the laborious time-consuming hassles of draping aÂ saree a miss. She advocates faith in God.
Have the Gods answered already? An idle mind muses while the eyes graze across the CWG reserved blue lanes scraped off by the zooming past of fast beasts on wheels.Â Or is it a rap on the knuckles to teach erring parties a lesson, sure to clear out right before the ripe time? Whatever be the case, hope it is in the best interests of India.
“Oh! The cloggy lanes. I wonder how the city is going to manage during the rush hour with blocked lanes,” and so chatters away a lady to her better half.
“Did you hear? We might be in for an early Autumn holiday treat this September. The roads can do without additional student traffic in the peak hours,” thinks aloud a college belle.