Two Indias

I was in Delhi all of Monday and Tuesday, but I learned about the massive grid failure from the New York Times. The hotel I am staying in, the restaurants I eat in and the building I go to work at all have their diesel generators.  When the power grid went down, lights flickered, went out and then came on again in a few seconds as these generators kicked in. This is a common enough occurrence that I never gave it another thought.

It turns out that half the country has been without power for 2 days, the Metro is shut down, etc. I wouldn't know it, because everyone I work with comes in to work in a car. Driven by a driver paid for by their work place -- no company would dare rely on Indian public transit, it seems. So, some folks came in late, but that was also because the monsoon started this morning, overcoming the city's storm drains.  Traffic was snarled for hours, but I assumed that it was because of the rains. The city's traffic signals no longer worked, but traffic signals do not play that big a role in Indian driving.

Consequently, the impact on high-tech India of the massive grid failure is probably zilch.  Okay not zilch. Their monthly diesel budget is probably busted.  But, meanwhile, low-tech India is in the dark. Literally.

The quality of life shows its head in other ways as well. A restaurant bill for one in the posh areas of Delhi will run you about Rs. 1200 ($24).  A restaurant bill for one in middle-class Delhi (in a clean, well-run restaurant) might run you Rs. 200 ($4).  For the same food -- I am not comparing filet-mignon vs. taco-salad here. Meanwhile, in my parents' village, that meal would cost you about Rs. 50 ($1).

As you can imagine, then, the way people think about money in the two Indias is different. At my parents' village, I went to get my glasses repaired. The nose piece had broken off and was replaced, inclusive of labor, for Rs. 20 (40 cents).  The optometrist said that he recognized me.  "You are S2's dad, aren't you?," he asked.  I said I was surprised that he knew my daughter.  "Yes, yes," he said, "I know. Last year, you paid Rs. 350 ($7) to enroll her in that dance class even though you were going to be here for only a month." Normally, that tuition was for six months and my throwing away $7 on the dance class made me so notorious that all the other parents of little girls in that town probably remember me a year later. Meanwhile, high-tech Indians routinely drop Rs. 350 for a coffee and a snack.

When Americans bitch about the 1% and all that, we don't know what we are talking about. To see real inequality, come to India.

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