Posts filed under ‘Uncategorized’

The great digital divide

Moolchand’s cheap Chinese handset has, of late, turned silent. Not that the instrument has conked off but, the pre-paid number in the mobile is now “out of service” as it is not topped-up for days on end. It takes a minimum of Rs. 50 to keep the mobile active but in this extended period of lockdown and weeks of zero income, Moolchand scarcely has any money left with him for the purpose. And even when he manages to cough up the little currency needed, he could neither find a shop open to get it done nor has the knowledge and the access to charge it online. His wife, living in a remote village in Purnia district of Bihar, has no clue of either his whereabouts or his wellbeing as the only line of communication with the family now lay in tatters. Moolchand is desperate to reach out to his family for about a month now but even the most advanced mobile technology won’t allow him do just that without putting money to the account!

The new age connectivity of the mobile and the internet is touted as a great leveller that would ensure seamless access to information and to services that would ensure equality among all the citizens. But as the days of COVID-19 pandemic get prolonged, what emerges as a stark reality is the great digital divide that segregates the poor and the marginalised from the rest of the countrymen. When basic food and other essential needs are out of bounds in the normal bazar, it gets usurped and hoarded by the upwardly mobile through a web of online purchases and modes of payment. While the likes of Moolchand struggle to survive through a mixture of community handouts and government doles, the tech savvy class indulge in many an online activity of fun and leisure, all from the comforts of their homes. The shutdown robbed the urban poor of both their income and the self esteem and digital technology is nowhere near to their rescue. 

With the penetration of the high-speed internet and the easy access to digital platforms , the idea of “work from home” was quickly lapped up by the privileged few while the vast majority of the populace lost their livelihood to the Corona onslaught. Many innovative methods to transact business online were smartly adopted and soon Zoom meetings, Webinars and the likes became the order of the day just when multitudes in innumerable shelters despaired to quell hunger and thirst. The drawing rooms of the middle class households increasingly morphed as office spaces in the new scheme of things while every conceivable space in the relief camps where taken up for human occupation. The access to technology has endowed the fortunate class with newer privileges and its very denial to the vast majority is threatening their survival. The Coronavirus has indeed demarcated the digital haves from the digital have-nots in the most cruel way.

As in business, the elites have quickly integrated the digital offerings for the purpose of education too and now almost all private schools conduct classes online. Lessons are taught through a combination of Google classrooms, whiteboard demos and interactive activities with teachers and students secured in the safe environs of their homes. This new methodology is bringing about a paradigm shift in the ways lessons are transacted while the less fortunate children on the wrong side of the digital divide have neither their schools running nor have the wherewithal to harness the technological advantage. This would further widen the knowledge base and the skill sets among students from different economic strata that is already skewed over many fault-lines.  Digital technology thus is fasting emerging as the new differentiator with those without access to it hugely marginalised and even losing the battle for survival.

Meanwhile Moolchand’s mobile got an SMS alert which read thus “ Your mobile services are temporarily disconnected. You can reactivate the number by paying online by clicking at the link given below”. He neither could read the message nor did he care to know what it meant…he just waits for things to become normal so that he could charge his mobile from the nearby petty shop.

Yours

Narayanan

PS: Moolchand is only a representative of the vast number of migrant workers who are stranded in various cities across India.

April 24, 2020 at 11:32 am 12 comments

Compassion Quarantined

For many a Holi, along with the colours, the dance and the attendant bonhomie, it is the mesmerizing delicacies of Pyare Lal, that add flavour to the celebrations in our housing society.  It won’t be an exaggeration to say that Pyare has wizardry culinary skills when it comes to dishing out hot Pakodas, juicy Jalebis or spongy Doklas, all gastronomical essentials to complete the festive revelry. And the best of bartender would still have a trick or two to learn from him in the cultivated art of creating the Bang, the intoxicating beverage exclusively concocted for the occasion.  And Pyare does it all, for every Holi, for a nominal fee that is part of his income at this time of the year.

But this Holi, there was little celebration, lesser colours, zero partying and no work for Pyare Lal, courtesy the Covid-19.  Kids stayed indoors, Whatsapp hooked the parents with continuous Corona updates and Pyare Lal sat at home, without an income.  The five thousand rupees which he could have earned from our society would have ensured that his two children stay in school the next academic session, but that now is doubtful.  And this loss of income was across to many in the similar economic strata, the colour sellers, the water gun vendors, the drum beaters … as all of them look forward to this season to earn a little extra but now stare to a bleak year ahead.

And the trail of consequence that Covid-19 is leaving behind is mostly impacting the economically disadvantaged though it does cause collateral damage to the privileged class as well. When air travel is suspended, the taxi drivers are idle, when corporate announce the “work from home” scheme,  the house-keeping staff is terminated and when we choose to cut down on our outings and the “eat outs”, the jobs of auto-wallas  and the restaurant managers, and of everyone in between, are in serious jeopardy.  When the cheap cloth mask is selling at the exponential rate of its original price, the Samosas of the poor tea-seller across the street is crying out for a buyer, many suspecting it to be the carrier of the deadly virus.

The impact of any eventuality, be it natural or man-made, economic or technological or even socially engineered, is always invariably on the disadvantaged as it is nay impossible for them to shield from its consequences.  When a flood could only inconvenience many of us, it destroys the entire produce of a poor farmer and thus his meagre annual income and an economic slowdown lays down thousands of labourers in the construction industry. The invention of the wheeled suitcase though has made our travel more comfortable and less cumbersome; it also has thrown hundred of coolies out of their jobs in our many railway stations.  A communal riot irreparably damages the lives of its victims as they struggle to come to terms with their personal losses and almost all of them are under-privileged. The poor is spared by none!

While we make newer and bolder innovations, as we adopt sophisticated technologies for our mundane work, it is indeed the poor who bear the brunt of these advances as their livelihoods are snatched away by cold machines.  Add to this the present lock-down and the “social distancing”, it the poor who are truly quarantined, of human compassion!

Yours

Narayanan

March 15, 2020 at 12:58 am 11 comments

We The People

For the nation emerging from the shackles of a long and debilitating colonial rule and limping its feet in the sands of time bloodied by a communal carnage of colossal magnitude, the Indian Constitution  was the sanctified gospel, echoing the consecrated aspirations of half a billion people for a life that is just, liberal and free from prejudice. With 395 articles spread over 22 parts, the Constitution of India is the largest written document for governance anywhere in the world. It has, among others, adopted features from the British, American and French constitutions and thus resonates the values and principles that are universal, gained and refined through centuries of struggle. 

The guiding signposts for awarding ourselves with such an enlightened document, more so when the other country that simultaneously acquired independence opting for a highly sectarian and religiously bigoted statehood, are the timeless ethos of the Indian philosophical thought, enshrined in the Vedas and the Upanishads and etched deeply in the Indian psyche. The belief in the essential oneness of all human beings, in the idea that different sects are but limbs of the one Supreme Being formed the bedrock of an elevated idealism that translated into a workable political doctrine. And it stood the country in good stead!

The idea of equality of religions, for example, has its genesis in the Vedic dictum,” Ekam Sat, Vipra Bahudha Vadanti”,  meaning, that “the truth is one and wise men describe it differently. The acknowledgement of the fact that there could be multiple ways to inquire into the nature of truth, and that different religions are but varied pathways towards the same goal, paved to accept and integrate people of every religion into our mainstream politics. This principle afforded the state to treat every religion equally and confer equality to its practitioners, a salutary accomplishment that many nations still find hard to achieve. 

Again, the concept of justice, of social, economic and political, has its underpinnings in the Upanishadic verse “Isavasyam idam sarvam”, meaning that the whole universe is permeated with divinity and differential treatment of individuals is alien to our philosophy. This approach compelled the state to see poor and downtrodden as “ Daridra Narayanas” , worthy of special focus and targeted schemes to alleviate their poverty. At the social level, these “Harijans”, were seamlessly integrated through affirmative actions of the state, made possible only by the high ideals derived from our Vedic past.

The principle of fraternity that is embedded in the preamble of our constitution again can be traced to the Vedic roots which says :  Saha Nau-Avatu, Saha Nau Bhunaktu Saha Viiryam Karavaavahai” meaning “May we protect us both together; may we nourish us both together; May we work conjointly with great energy”. This idea of kinship and camaraderie, so essential for nation building, has fuelled us to conquer newer heights in scientific and technological advancements and thereby help resolve many a teething problems of a young nation.

It could thus be established that it is the glorious Vedic school of thought that we have freely drawn from to frame our constitution that inspire and instil a sense of awe in all of us. And it would indeed be unfortunate to tamper with its fundamentals and that too with the avowed objective of building a new “Rashtra” that is in variance to the idea of India that we know of and are justifiably proud of.

We could only turn again to the Vedas and pick a prayer so that better senses prevail:

Om Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah
Sarve Santu Nir-Aamayaah 
Sarve Bhadraanni Pashyantu
Maa Kashcid-Duhkha-Bhaag-Bhavet 
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih 

Meaning: 
May all become happy
May none fall ill |
May all see auspiciousness everywhere
May none ever feel sorrow |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||

Yours 

Narayanan

December 23, 2019 at 1:06 am 4 comments

Ik Onkar

We pay our reverence to Guru Nanak Dev Ji on the 550th year of Prakash Parv.

Continue Reading November 11, 2019 at 8:35 pm 4 comments

Band 7 point something

 

IMG_1748Simran Kaur, a chubby eighteen year, was making the last minute polishing of her listening skills as she jot down points of the anglicised lecture that is streaming through her earphones.  She is desperate to clock an overall Band score of anything between 7 and 7.5, which is eluding her in the last two attempts, to secure a seat for a two year random diploma course in a Canadian university.  A decent score card in International English Language Testing System or, IELTS in short, is the passport for thousands of youngsters like Simran who see a future only in countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada and a foreign university course is a well crafted route to move, study, work and finally settle in developed countries.  And of the four skills in English language proficiency that this exam tests a student, Listening has been the one that Simran is finding hard to crack…having only listened to Punjabi throughout her school days… But this time around, she is exceedingly confident as she enters the sound proof chamber of the designated examiner.

Preparing for IELTS is now an obsession among almost all who have crossed seventeen and the size of the coaching business, maybe, is next only to the famed textile industry of Punjab. From farmhouses to havelis, from posh offices in swanky malls to scrambled rooms in shanty buildings, IELTS coaching centres have occupied every conceivable space in the state…across cities, towns and also in the ‘Pind’, the village. And the hoardings that call-out students to enrol to these centres evenly dot the skyline, pop-up in the middle of the fields and also are in display on the rear of most public transports. As you travel through the cities and hinterlands of the state, there is no way you can miss the import of this exam, both for the economy of the state as well as for the future of its youth.

IMG_1749A parent typically spends about Rs. 40.00 lacs on his straight-out-of-the-school child’s two year course in one of these foreign universities.   This amount is not just an investment to his education but also an insurance premium that guarantees a good life for him beyond the campus. As soon as he gets into the university, the student scouts for and gets odd jobs that give him the money to meet his immediate needs and the two-year period is spent as much to get acquainted to the work life of the country as it is to acquire the degree. Once out of college, work permit becomes the next goal to be achieved and after a period of struggle, everyone manages to get it and enter into a life that would remain a dream back home. Green card, PR and citizenship, all follow one after the other and before long, one slips into the ease and comfort of the adopted country. It is estimated that, from Punjab alone, there is an annual outgo of Rs. 40,000 crores to foreign universities to acquire these  degrees/diplomas. 

While it is desirable and even admirable that our children take foreign degrees and work there, once it becomes an unending exodus of the prime resource of the society, its youth, the impact it leaves on the state is indeed catastrophic. The young population is becoming scantier with each passing year and the one that are passing out of the schools have their eyes set on foreign soils. When the working population is fast ageing and there isn’t enough young people to take up their positions, the consequence of it is all too glaring…unattended fields, fast vanishing social life and mushrooming number of old age homes. Empty malls, vacant theatres & shopping arcades and cities fast losing its usual hustle and bustle…. the symptoms are all too evident to ignore.  And there isn’t yet a sign to stem the tide or to bring back the qualified.

Meanwhile, Simran is done with her IELTS exam and is in all smiles. This time, she is sure to score a Band of 8 plus!!!

And it’s now time to celebrate…. with बैंड बाजा!

Yours

Narayanan

August 25, 2019 at 4:13 pm 4 comments

Telephone-Then and Now

My father worked in a private company that made him travel and be away from home for extended periods of time. Even when he was in town, we would leave home by around 7.30 in the morning and would return back well after the Sun has eclipsed on to the Arabian Sea . All through the day, he would remain totally incommunicado to any of us and we would just presume that everything is fine if we did not call us on the neighbour’s home phone, the only one available in the radius of 1 km. There would be panic if there is a call from father and everybody would fear something drastic has taken place and look for cover. So a phone call was always something to be dreaded for and farther you are from the instrument the merrier you would be. Anyway, the bulky black bomb like thing which we called the telephone was not always a pleasant sight to look at.

But we cannot help feel the wind of technological progress that the country was swept with when at last in the early years of 1990s we got a phone connection in our home.  By this time the static instrument has also gone on a transformation and started appearing in lighter and sleeker dimension and in a slew of attractive colours- red, blue and white. And it was a sparkling white telephone that arrived into our living room and when the lineman, who would install the thing and make it ring, did the first testing call, there was a plethora of emotions all around- from one of awe from my grandmother to a sense of pride in my mother and a hardly surprised excitement in me. The arrival of the telephone was such a landmark event that we decided to throw a party, comprising of vadas, idlis, kesari ( sweet dish) and a steam coffee to all our neighbourhood families  plus an added offer to make one free call to any of their local contacts ( you know you pay heavy to make outstation calls!) Everybody was happy to relish the food and announce it through the free telephone call to their cousins. Since you have long enjoyed the privilege of receiving calls in others telephone, it is only basic decency that you extend the same courtesy to all. No sooner my father announced others to use our home telephone as their very own, the more than willing crowd milled around him to jolt down the telephone number which they could share with all their near and distant relatives  as their new contact number which they could use to reach them 24×7.

 The arrival of the new telephone brought with it the constant presence of one of the many neighbours in our home and at times the living room would be so lively that we could mistake it for a mini amphitheatre. In fact, the calls received by our friends were so regular that we would know who would get a call during a particular hour and that person would arrive fifteen minutes in advance. This, though an infringement into the privacy of our home, nevertheless spared us of the effort needed to run to their home and inform about the call that is on hold for them in our house.  But the bonhomie and the affection that we silently enjoyed in this phone service stayed with us, long after the telephone stopped ringing for the neighbours as they themselves became proud owners of the communication tool.

But the advent of the mobile phone was so over-aching, that it made the telephone look a crude primitive tool useful more as a decorative antique piece than a functional instrument. And the entry of the mobile into every pocket made anyone instantaneously contactable and thus all very important. The grammar of ringtone revealed the personality of the mobile owner while the size and feature of it only served to add up to his social standing. If by any chance, in the year 2000 you did not have a mobile, maybe you were either treated as a recluse or that you owe people lots of money that you would like to remain non-contactable, either ways, not a very attractive situation to be in. Soon the mobile proliferated and became indispensible and with it began an ever increasing number of calls from sundry tele-marketers who think that you could buy whatever they had to sell. Add to this the smses that clog your in-box and you are the most vulnerable person who could be approached by anybody for, well, anything.  And with the mobile, you cannot lie for not attending a call by being away as it is always supposed to be with you and the closer your contact you are expected to take the call in the first ring. Oh, how the mobile has transformed from a technology marvel into a necessary nuisance that the modern man cannot do without, however hard he may try.  

The white telephone in our home stayed with us for over twenty years and each time it went out of order, it was promptly repaired, polished and re-instated. But in the last ten odd years, I would have changed my mobile at least half-a-dozen times and still I am seen as very conservative. My servant has the latest version of the touch-screen iphone while I still fiddle with the buttons to make calls! I never fathomed that I will be judged by the version and price tag of my mobile than anything intangible that people care two hoots about. Oh, let me change my year old handset in a week’s time before it becomes a redundant technology and an eye-soar for my colleagues and friends. Oh my dear mobile, how unfaithful I am to you but believe me, I am not alone in this game of infidelity.

 

Yours

Narayanan

February 26, 2013 at 4:22 pm 2 comments


Recent Posts

Categories

Most popular

Chronology

May 2020
M T W T F S S
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728293031

Blog Stats

  • 16,882 hits

previous posts

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 100 other followers