Subsidizing the digital rich

December 11, 2016

Will all those who crib about subsidies for the poor, now rally against the various digital subsidies for the rich?

It is requiring careful observation to distinguish between ads by the government and the corporates. Both appeal to our patriotism and the need to go cashless. And use the same Model.

I am beginning to believe that some credit card product manager is running this country. This is exactly how we used to sell credit cards – service charge waiver, additional insurance, etc. What next – Reward points? Cashback? Balance transfer? Modi-autographed mugs?

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Language of War

December 11, 2016

Svetlana Alexievich writes in her book, Chernobyl Prayer, ‘Reports on Chernobyl in the newspapers are thick with the language of war: ‘nuclear’, ‘explosion’, ‘heroes’. And this makes it harder to appreciate that we now find ourselves on a new page of history. The history of disasters has begun.’

Going through all our posts and media reports, it is obvious that we have also slipped into the language of war. Surgical strike, carpet bombing, collateral damage, death, jawans, anti-national, rationing. And the history of surveillance has begun.


Reality and delusions

December 11, 2016

I went for a haircut today, ignoring my father’s warning that it would be crowded on a Sunday.

The barber wasn’t around when I went in. Two customers were waiting. One of them said that he had gone home and would be back soon. ‘Muthu’ was on TV. The flashback was starting. By the time (father) Rajinikanth was cheated out of his property and pauperised, the barber was back.

After I was done with my haircut, he asked for Rs.80.
“Has the rate gone up?” I asked.
“Only by 10 rupees,” he replied apologetically.
“How is your business doing?”
“You can see how bad things are – Sundays never used to be so sparsely crowded. Earlier, I couldn’t have gone home for lunch at 1pm. Nobody has money. People were giving me old 500 rupee notes. What would I do with that? I gave a free haircut to some of my customers. So few people come in now. “

I wasn’t enterprising enough to educate him about PayTM or a swiping machine.

“The person who was there when you came in – he is having a haircut after 3 months.” (Yeah, I know, it has been only one month since Nov 8 – but the math will work out if, like me, he cuts his hair once in 2 months.)

The cynical-me quipped, “By the time this is over, looks like we’ll have a lot of rishis with matted hair.”

“After 50 days, people may not be alive,” he was more cynical than me. “The big guys are able to get 100 crores and more. Only we struggle. At Annur, last week, somebody spread a rumour that Modi is going to credit 1 lakh into all our accounts. Many people waited outside the bank for a long time before being turned away. How can Modi give 1 lakh to all of us?”

It may seem as if I am beating a dead snake. But the snake is alive and hissing. (Figuratively speaking. I don’t recommend beating a real snake.)

The whole of last week, when I had to commute from Coimbatore, I saw long crowds at ATMs (especially government banks), or closed ATMs, early in the morning and late at night, all the way from Coimbatore to our village.

Our daughter’s music teacher was worried as her husband, who used to work as a goldsmith, is out of job. Her eyes lighted up, when my wife gave her the fees (in 100 rupee notes) for last month, though she had not held any classes then. Usually she would have refused but accepted this time without a protest.

Our neighbouring farmer has not received any money from the milkman this month. The milkman has not been paid by his cooperative. The farmer has no money for buying cattle feed. With no monsoons, his current crop will be a total failure, and the cows are his only hope till the next rains. He asked hesitantly if I’d allow him to graze the cattle on a fallow patch on our land, where there is any hardly greenery.

But a large landowner was able to hold a function at his newly constructed home, inviting 5 or 6 villages, and serving food for two days.

What we see needs to be recorded, in the hope that our delusions will be dispelled some day.


On standing in queues (or) How people die in queues

December 4, 2016

Indeed, queues are not new to Indians, especially the poor. It is only now, many of us who can talk about standing in queues are standing in queues, and therefore, we get to see and hear the plight of those standing in queues. Standing in the queue is an educative experience, in itself (for us, the so-called educated). The objective is irrelevant. Moreover, in today’s India, the more the time you spend on the queue, the more the points you garner for patriotism. I lose a lot of points writing such long, sob stories and shouldn’t miss a chance to gain some.

When I was on my third mission to get Aadhaar card, last Monday, there was again a long queue. After waiting for over an hour, they issued only 60 tokens at 10am. I was 70th on the queue.

There were a number of old people, who had come for the second, third, fourth times. Many of them had returned, even after registration, as their fingerprints had not been captured properly, and their cards were declined. One helpful staff member said that a new machine was expected to arrive in the next couple of weeks and that may be able to record their fingerprints. But most of the elderly decided to wait.

One old, illiterate woman, complained to the staff member that the people at the ration shop were insisting on her Aadhaar card. She showed him the acknowledgement for Aadhaar that she had received earlier. Her card may have been declined due to no fingerprints. He asked her to show that slip at the ration shop. She had done that already, and yet, they had refused to issue her the ration items. He, then, advised her to go to the Tahsildar, get his signature on the slip, and take it to the ration shop. The flabbergasted lady trudged away.

I keep asking my mother, who had been pressurizing us to get that Aadhaar, to tell the ration folks that there is a Supreme Court order against insisting on Aadhaar card. But she says all arguments are in vain. All that the staff at the ration shops know are verbal orders from above. And I am not sure, if this is a fight I wan’t to pick up seriously at this point. (Anyway, my objections to Aadhaar are not just about queues but I’ll keep them away from this post.)

Our next quest for Aadhaar was on Friday. My wife decided not to leave anything to chance and went to join the queue by 6.30 on a cold morning, chilled by the previous night’s rains. Surprisingly she was only the second person. I relieved her at 8.30. After a week of heavy rush, or due to the rains, the crowd was relatively lean that day. I kept hearing stories from those on the queue about their previous experiences. An old lady who was number 3 on the queue had gone for breakfast at some eatery nearby and was not back for over an hour. My wife had been worrying if she had fallen down somewhere. Another lady said the old woman came yesterday, couldn’t get a token and was in tears. She was coming from Periyanaicken Palayam, around 20 kms from that office. Everyone sighed with relief when she did rejoin the queue.

“I have had fractures on my leg, after a fall. My hip is broken. I had to go up and down to 4 offices, just to find out that I have to come to this office. Our ration has been stopped this month,” she told me later.

Person no.5 on the queue was an eighty-two year old man. His 6 sons and 1 daughter and their families had already taken their cards. At that time, he didn’t deem it necessary at his age. But now, some pension of Rs.1000 that he was getting from the government has been stopped, due to Aadhaar.

We kept hearing many more sob stories. Another old man was complaining that getting the right information was the most difficult task. If he sought some clarification on the documentation and such, he would be asked to refer to a poster with that information. He can’t read.
“Are they telling that the uneducated cannot live in this country anymore?”

There were also touts who had offered to take some of them to a private operator, nearby, for a cost of Rs.250-300. Without middlemen, I already had an appointment with the same private operator for the next week (but our conscience had pricked holes on our privilege and we decided not to go there). The cost quoted to us was Rs.150 per person. Even that was seen as unaffordable (or non-essential) by most of them.

After a combined wait of about 4 hours, we got the tokens. Some people from earlier queues, who, for some reason or other, were turned back after waiting a whole day despite having tokens, were given priority ahead of us. The operator and the machine struggled a bit to capture our young daughter’s fingerprints. Otherwise, our registration went off without much fuss. When we finished, I could see that the old lady (No.3) and the old man (No.5) were still standing, while the others were being attended to. I intervened, and heard the same story again, “Their fingerprints won’t get recorded easily. We will be making 60 others wait if we attend to them now.”

“I am eighty-two years old. I have been waiting since 6am and am starving to death. Should I collapse and die to get this Aadhaar? What is the need for a government that tortures its elders like this?”

“Why don’t you go, eat and come?” my wife asked.
“Will I not go, if I have money?”

We compelled him to come with us and bought him some bun, biscuits and tea. It must have been around noon. He refused the offer to eat lunch at a nearby mess, “At this age, if I eat food cooked badly outside, I’ll have diarrhoea for 3 days. I’ve learnt this after so many such experiences.”

So, yes, people dying in queues could have died anywhere. But why should they be forced to be on this queue at this point of time is a question that cannot be evaded.