8th , 9th , 14th , 19th – thats what I hear every morning as I enter the lift to my office. Its 8.30 AM as hordes of hassled people jam into a lift juggling their bags , tiffin boxes still managing to talk on the phone. One lone voice and a smiling face greets the old lift operator in Tamil “ Appu Sir – Did you have your breakfast” . You can see the joy in Appu Sir’s face as he finally feels acknowledged. He feels he exists. To everyone else he is just a robot who for years has been pressing the lift buttons to your floor.
The 32 lane Toll booth on NH 8 between Delhi & Gurgaon is the second largest in Asia. Over 2.5 Lac’s pass thru them daily. Its a sight to see the speed with which the toll boy collects and dishes out changes in the evening rush. He is just a nameless face. One morning when the crowd was not a mad rush my friend Rajesh Marwaha a good rare samaritan greeted the Toll Boy with a pleasant smile ” Good Morning Ji – Kaise Ho” . The guy literally fell off his chair. For so many years nobody had even noticed him – and here someone was greeting him. A simple act – but the millions who cross him daily had never thought about it.
While Govt may claim that Wholesale price inflation is 7 – 8% the truth on the street is very different. Food inflation is at an all time high – galloping past 20 % YoY. Onion prices in many parts of the country are touching Rs 100/Kg and most vegetables are priced above Rs 50/kg. Govt employees DA is increasing by 20% , most companies are doling out pay hikes in the range of 12 – 15% – but have you even given a thought to your maid & drivers salary. People who live from hand to mouth. While the Planning Commission & Montek may say that Rs 32 / day is all takes to be a middle class citizen of the country the truth in the street is very different. Maids earning 3000/ HH / Month and Drivers earning 10 – 12 K / Month need a big fat hike now.
I have tried convincing many in my building to give maids a weekday off. But thats a touchy topic and 125 angry women pounce upon me as the discussion starts. These people are indispensable to the Housewife ( there are over 15 M of them in the country and they form the largest group of unorganized labour) they are supremely skilled and can manage a wide variety of work ambidextrously. They are efficient , fast , tech savy with HH gadgets , they are not maids they are Super Maids. If they knew english they could be the next big export from India – and yet when it comes to feeding them – the first thought is to treat them with leftovers and cold food. Dammit they are human too – treat them to a nice warm lunch after they have slogged in your house for 4 hrs with backbreaking work. When you give them Diwali sweets get a nice new box for them. Its not the cost that you save – its all in the thought.
The MP’s gang up together to give them pay hikes and block thru legislation any rule that puts them at a disadvantage ( RTI for political parties , no participating in elections if you are in Jail etc) – and we shame the politicians for this. But the smiling housewife your friends & relatives & maybe at your very house needs some introspection. Like they say change begins at home.
We see the contractors at Maruti & Bajaj protest against low wages and long hours. The era of “salam saab” is fast ending. We are lucky that the poor in India are not violent ( Aka S Africa / Brazil) – but lets not push them into a corner so far that they have no choice but to revolt – and that can indeed be a violent volcano.