The Other India

October 7, 2007

India is shining. The Indian elephant is on a roll, galloping along on the path to economic progress. India has more billionaires than any other Asian country. Indians are starting new companies. Indian companies are acquiring foreign ones. The rupee is stronger than it has been in recent years. Foreign exchange reserves are at a record high. Stock markets are on a roll. The GDP is growing at a phenomenal rate. The list goes on.

It sure does.

Only the very rich are getting obscenely rich. The growth is mainly due to the services sector and main beneficiaries are probably the technology and finance professionals. Costs are rising as a result, and other middle class Indians are feeling the pinch. Caste based politics is taking several states backward rather than forward. The very partisan media is indulging in a dangerous game of sensationalism that we have never seen earlier. The poor are not getting any benefit of the growth. Large scale migration to the major cities is increasing stress on the urban infrastructure. We have a serious power deficit. Literacy levels are not improving as much as one would hope.

People straight out of technical and business schools are earning salaries unheard of till a few years ago. Not so much growth for other professions. The costs are rising as a result of the increased purchasing power of these professionals. You can go to a coffee shop and spend hundred rupees on a coffee and some snack.

It is not uncommon to hear of apartments costing in crores of rupees. Surprisingly, costs are starting to match the US (in dollar terms), but not the infrastructure. But given that not everybody gets those kind of salaries, how is the rest of India going to cope with this inflation?

The rich are richer than the rich people in even developed countries.

“If you look at Forbes, the oracle of capitalism, India ranks 4th in the number of dollar-billionaires, after America, Germany and Russia. More recently, some gentleman paid Rs 15 lakh to get a preferred number for his cellphone.” (A Nation of Two Planets)

“This is Mumbai, the commercial and entertainment center of India and the country’s fastest-growing city, home to more and more millionaires and Maybachs and restaurants and nightclubs and strip bars and movie studios and immigrants and luxury-goods stores every day. And its citizens — or some of the privileged ones, at least — are eating it up, embracing the explosion of luxury culture. The city is home to the kind of shopping one could find on Rodeo Drive, as well as the kind of ferocious poverty that defines the third world.” ( Mumbai’s moment)

In these same metros, coexisting with the uber rich, lives the Other India. The poor are as poor as ever, and the gap just keeps widening.

Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata are all home to massive, sprawling slums in which a large portion of its citizens live. These slums are severely lacking in essential services such as decent housing, sanitation and access to clean, safe water. Their denizens are pushed to the very margins of society, existing in the smallest sliver of space possible. Living on the periphery, they are often a source of embarrassment to those who wish to present only the glowing face of Indian success. (How The Other Half Lives)

On the United Nations Human Development Index, India ranks a dismal 127, way behind countries such as Libya and Columbia.

The agriculture sector has major problems. Farmers have been drinking their pesticides to commit suicides due to poverty. They wouldn’t share the euphoria of a Sensex crossing 17000 if they are unable to feed their families.

It is easy to lose track of the big picture in the euphoria of economic growth, but this growth is not balanced and is affecting only small sections of the society. Is this the sort of growth that we want? India is poised for greatness, but we cannot afford to lose track of social issues in pursuing economic growth. A record GDP growth rate means nothing for the millions who don’t have food to eat, or water to drink.

To quote John F Kennedy

“Economic growth without social progress lets the great majority of the people remain in poverty while a privileged few reap the benefits of rising abundance.”

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7 Responses to “ The Other India ”

  1. Shefaly on October 8, 2007 at 2:03 am

    “how is the rest of India going to cope with this inflation?”

    By dividing itself into ever larger number of economic strata. Say 5?

    At the top are those, who can dine out spending INR 10000 pp and not think about it. They keep drivers, live-in servants, gardeners. Their shopping list does not contain ‘alu, pyaaz’ but Versace, Tarun Tahiliani etc. Their social to-do includes fashion shows and cinema premieres. They get manicures as often as we brush our teeth.

    Then there are the young-and-suddenly rich. They do not have access to ‘lounges’, so they hang out in coffee bars and new mid-market restaurants spending INR 500-1500 pp in one visit. They ‘hang out’, use words like ‘cool’ and ‘like’, wear false names like ‘Jane’ and ‘Jason’ at work, spout false accents at work too and return home to an unknown life (yes indeed many live with parents, still) and a second face they put out in front of parents.

    Then there is the relatively older worker, say in the 40s. He has a family to support. His salary went up but not so much. They live better, shop more and own more but they write PDCs (post dated cheques) and calculate salary in terms of EMI (expected monthly instalment, I think). They shop however in relatively ‘local’ shops than in new malls. If they have a car, it is a Maruti or Santro that the father drives. There is no driver. There is a part-time servant who comes to clean etc.

    Then there is the retired person of the last generation. This pace of progress has not touched them. Their monthly food budget for 2 is still INR 3000-4000. They do not eat out. They read newspapers, shop at their usual store which now delivers and has gone bright and shiny, they walk their own dog and think taxis are luxury. They are not poor; they after all live in bungalows which are suddenly worth INR 4-5 Crores (yes, 7 zeroes) but it does not matter because they do not want to sell although they get daily solicitations. They find the lives of their children laughable so children spare them hurt by telling them less and less.

    Then there is the abject poor, who can only look at these and wonder about their own life, their karma, their poverty.

    Any other?

    Disclaimer: These are based on observations made in the last 2 annual trips to India, mainly to metros and to 2 smaller (B) towns.

  2. madhuri on October 8, 2007 at 8:01 am

    When i visited Kolkata, this year in June, i was aghast to see the numerous shopping malls and the immense crowd of youths that thronged these malls.
    It is good that there are more job opportunities for the youth today than it was 10 years ago. But since most of them live with their parents (as Shefaly has already written)they are now spending more on their materialistic needs to the delight of urban shopping malls.
    Not only is this leading to an increase in prices but a steep increase in the rift between the under privileged and the ones that can afford.
    If i look at Shefaly’s division of strata then there is a huge rift between the abject poor #5 and the young and suddenly rich #2 than it was before.
    The problem is compounding because the infrastructure is the same as it was 10 years ago. There are no new schemes to get the poor educated, no new schemes to get the poor better living conditions or better health facilities.

  3. Shefaly on October 8, 2007 at 8:20 am

    Madhuri: I am trying to visualise but finding it hard to guess where these malls might have sprung up in Calcutta! When I lived there, Park St could not be changed. Camac Road had a minor mall with mixed shops from clothes to PCs. There was no scope to put anything on Middleton Row or Lansdowne Road… So I suppose Salt Lake? Or Chowringhee or Old City near Stock Exchange?

    Madhuri and AD: About youth living with parents and spending and its societal impact, Murakami’s non fiction commentary ‘Underground’ is very interesting. Whod’a thunk desi youth will have some similarities with Japanese youth even if just in passing and in callousness?


  4. madhuri on October 8, 2007 at 9:14 am


    the malls are springing up besides the bypass created to connect Garia (south Kolkata) and airport. You are right about the places you have mentioned being already stacked up for any new establishments. The bypass has suddenly given rise to hordes of new apartment complexes on both sides which do feed the shopping malls.
    But for a crowded place like gariahat too,now there are more vertical establishments (like Pantaloons)rather than individual shops (horizontal). I also saw near the American consulate
    (Ho Chi Minh Sarani) that old buildings were being torn down to construct commercial buildings.

    About similarities to Japanese youth, you are exactly right. Sometime back, I was discussing this with an American friend who had just visited Japan and she was aghast at the youth there who wore the best and could afford the best. She was complaining about the average graduate student in the US, who were independent from parental financial ties, lived from fellowship to fellowship (and also their tips of being waiters or pizza delivery personnel) and shopped only when their two pair of jeans would rip apart in unmentionable regions.

    Seems like the desi youth today is much better off today than before (issh i think i am growing old and sounding like my dad day by day) <:D

  5. amreekandesi on October 8, 2007 at 8:56 pm

    Shefaly you summed up the divide very well.

    Also somewhere in the middle there is the older generation, the parents of the high flying kids who cannot fathom coffee selling for 70 rupees. Actually, neither can i :)

    And yes Madhuri, i was amazed by the sort of malls that have sprung up all over. Was more shocked than surprised by the prices though. I really realised that Newyork wasnt that expensive after all, after visiting New Delhi!

    Hopefully these changes are not going to erode the value system that we Indians have always been so proud of.
    I remember Aishwarya appearing on the David letterman show, and when she mentioned something about living with her parents (a 30 odd year old woman), he was so shocked!

  6. resouces stuff on March 30, 2008 at 8:43 am



  7. Denver on February 13, 2017 at 1:20 pm

    I am going to avoid LTE phones as long as I can. With At&t demanding small storage capacity(So you have to use cloud storage) I find At&t 3G so fast and so prevalent in the Northeast. I can’t think of any reason I would need speeds greater then my home Broadband, other then to have a rogue app once a month using up my unthrottled 3Gig’s and leaving me with throttled data. I wish there were more folks willing to forgo contracts just so they have the option of leaving the Carrier. Looking forward to Thursday’s S3. (After the diptnsoipament I’ll opt for the GN)

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