Has living in India become easier?  

I read a news item in newspaper that India has jumped 30 places in “Ease of Doing Business” ranking, given by world bank. (Later our PM also said that general living has become easier in India.) These experts have used pre-defined methodology; the same methodology is used all over the world. This indicates India’s ranking is compared with world’s other nations.

This made me think of us common people. Has our life changed? Has “Ease of doing things” changed for us on day to day basis? I am not talking of general infrastructure and holiday destinations and that kind of things. It is day to day mundane things that we are required to do. It is like shopping, making bill payments, availability of services, standing in queues. It is also about travelling from place A to place B which is part of our daily things that we do.

I am talking about city dwellers who have access to wi fi,  and internet on cell phone.  This infrastructure has improved a lot during last five years. Proliferation of cell phones is really deep. This has made life easy for the people, who have adapted to the use of this technology, irrespective of their location. Payment procedure of regular monthly bills like cell phone, electricity, insurance policy premium has become extremely simple. These are done by card, net banking or even simpler “standing instructions”. New system of wallets is also spreading quite fast. But how many of us have really started taking advantage of this change? I still see many people going physically, to pay these bills, standing in queue! Reason no belief in the system! Systems are available and they are making things easier. More people should be encouraged to use such systems.

Daily transportation is one of the biggest hassles in daily life! In this aspect, things are definitely improving. Main difference is due introduction of Metros in a big way, in many large cities. Metros definitely ensure that people travel from place A to place B in world class comfort and in shortest possible time. Just to give an example in city of Pune, going from Pimpri to Mandi area in peak hours takes about 75 to ninety minutes. After Metro is introduced, this will be reduced to 30 minutes! This one world class solution does overcome daily hassles, reduces traffic on road. Metro is operational in Kolkata for a long time, Delhi was the second city and now in coming three to five years 10 to 15 cities will have Metro. Another advantage of Metro is world class system has changed the mindset of people in public, they are quite disciplined while using the Metros. Of course, they go back to original ways, once they are out of Metro concourse! But I am sure slowly this conduct will improve outside Metro system too!

Abundance of various items, has definitely improved. Vegetables, fruits, groceries, milk, grain, medicines, and what have you, it is available in abundance! Days of shortage have simply gone. Availability of services of technicians like electricians, plumbers are easily found through yellow pages!

During 90’s when people’s aspirations started increasing, getting admissions to schools, colleges and professional courses became very tough. But since last few years seats in many courses and school/colleges remain vacant. This indicates that supply has become much more than demand.

In Banking system, there is marked difference due to technology. Processing of documents has become easier and many types of personal loans are available quite quickly provided all documents are ready. In fact, some banks offer pre -sanctioned loans to some elite customers. ATM’s have made access to cash simple.

Since India is huge democracy many things take time to happen. But they happen. Income levels have gone up and easiest indication of this is the sale of two wheelers in India. India has become the largest manufacturer of two wheelers in the world! Ok this creates its own problems. But expressways are coming up all over and authorities are trying to improve infrastructure to the best of their abilities.

I will share with you a very efficient system created by Pune Municipal Corporation. This is about their yearly property bill. They send the property bill details by SMS or text message. On clicking the link in the message, I was taken directly to their site with all required details filled in! They only showed a button “Pay”; when clicked it asked the normal payment options and  I paid the tax. Time taken 1 minute. Very similar system is created by vehicle insurance companies; insurance renewal time required is similar. Flipkart, Amazon and all such companies have made doing daily purchases very simple. Don’t forget ease of buying Bus tickets, Air and Train tickets.

Why people do not use the systems is due to apprehensions, lack of knowledge and simply because they have techno phobia. I know of an eighty-year-old lady who decided that she wanted to use all the modern payment systems and she has done the switch in about one month!

Most important change for business community is the GST! This one change has made things very simple. There were many taxes before GST and doing business was a nightmare to which we were used to! But talking to many factory owners, people from trading community, they find things much simpler than before!

Of course, there are minuses! Main issue is confrontational politics, there are naysayers like “development experts” whom I call zolawallas! There are people who are really upset because of Government drive against parallel economy! According to me there is an improvement of 60 points and not 30 points in our day to day lives.

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Life’s Station or Status!

Yesterday during Diwali celebrations and chit chat, a very interesting subject suddenly came up for discussion. The discussion became hotter than heat generated by Diwali crackers. Situ told a story of a lady doctor who married a plumber, in America. He also said that such events are pretty regular in foreign countries. He further said that in foreign countries like the US, the social fabric is such that people from different professions in life can be close friends. I said that this a rare case even in America . Jaya and Ashwini were pro this and I was against this thought process. I said that there are two points we are discussing simultaneously and mixing them. One is the respect given to professions/professionals and the other is social friendships, getting married as mentioned about the doctor’s marriage.

My point is that in India, there is no respect given to professions other than the engineers, doctors, pilots, architects and in certain professions. Our society does not give respect to technicians or artisans like carpenters, plumbers, lock smiths and so on. In fact such professions are treated as “lowly”, unfortunately. In foreign countries these trades are definitely respected. But the point being disputed was when it comes to the social status or a social station of these people, will they be treated equally in one’s mind? Will a top notch brain surgeon be a friend of an electrician?  It may so happen that they were classmates in school/college. A small percentage, very small one, will continue to be friends but as a norm this does not happen in real life! Let’s be honest! Utopian thinking says that this happens but will a guy living on Malabar Hills in Mumbai be weekly drink mate of a guy living in Virar or Kalyan! These names written by me are for explanation, please do not take this as my opinion.

Let us look at the background in India, the oldest civilization! There were four Varnas described in Hinduism.

  • Brahmins: priests, scholars and teachers.
  • Kshatriyas: rulers, warriors and administrators.
  • Vaishyas: agriculturalists and merchants.
  • Shudras: laborers and service providers.

These are called savarnas and are supposedly forward classes; remaining are tribes and scheduled tribes are avarnas, with no Varnas and are supposedly backward classes. These are not to be mixed up with Jatis or Castes. With this separation in India for thousands of years, the so called discrimination always happened discretely and many times not so discretely. Does this happen in foreign countries? My opinion is it happens but mostly discretely. To give example of British royalty, Queen Elizabeth’s sister Margaret, fell love with Snowden, a commoner and a photographer. Well, the family was graceful in allowing the marriage (there was no honour killing the way we have in India!) but Snowden was made Lord Snowden. How can Margaret’s husband be a commoner? This is how the discretion was resolved!

World over, there are different types of discretions and discriminations. In India, it is so ingrained in our blood, it’s embedded in our DNA. Coming back to subject of respect for courses or professions, it changes from region to region. It is the parents wish that the child gets well settled as early as possible, after education. In Maharashtra there have been many industries existing for a long time hence engineering course was a top runner. Doctors anyway are respected hence that was another course respected. But up north previously not many industries were around. Jobs were mostly available in government, so there the aim was to a take a basic degree and appear for competitive examinations.

A person’s success is measured by where the person reaches on the ladder to success.  Utopian thinking says that someone is successful in life when one gets to do things in life that the person loves. People love to sing, dance, and paint, play instruments or become writers of travelogues. In their goal to achieve success what are the steps of the ladder made up of! Are steps made up of the quality, in what you are doing; are you the best in your field and are also commercially successful! But the world is not utopia, so my thinking tells me that people go by quality as well as commercial success. To give an example you may be doing quality stuff in what you are doing but you are not able to buy a car to move around. 99% people will say he is damn good but not successful. That my friends is a fact of life! In whatever you are doing longevity is also equally important. One song wonder or one movie wonders are never called successful and it is said that the person did not live up to the potential, which in other ways is unsuccessful. A person who is already “successful” in something and achieves moderate success in some other field is considered more successful than someone who has achieved more, only in the second field!

Coming back to our “hot” discussion that we had yesterday, in India there is a discrimination in the type of work a person is doing; they are respected as per hierarchy of professions which got defined over a period. At the same time, success of a person is dependent on how that person has commercially succeeded in field rather the quality that has been achieved. But in western countries there is a respect to ALL professionals irrespective of the profession. But the success of the person is still judged the same way as is done by us.