Powerless

I realized in the rickshaw ride home today why I want to work on development and transportation at the supranational level.  I don’t think I could stand to work and live day to day in a place that I am so powerless to change.

I recently started reading a book about Mumbai, called Behind the Beautiful Forevers, a book about a Mumbai slum and those who toil day in and day out just to survive and maybe make it out.  My experience in Mumbai has been with a city where people jostle and push and there is no consideration for the person next to you.  That’s not to say that I haven’t met great people, but the street is a whole different world.  Cars don’t give a damn about who they might run over and neither do motorcyclists, bus drivers, or even the man walking next to you.  There is no stepping aside to let someone pass, but instead you just push on.  Even into the old lady standing next to you, because believe me, she will not hesitate to leave you behind.

To me, this is indicative of Mumbai’s problems.  The luxury tower goes up next to the slum because by golly, I’ve made it and I’ll live wherever I want.  The trash goes on the street because I’m not going to be bothered that it bothers you.  Police are corrupt because I just need to get ahead and don’t care who I step on.  I don’t think I could deal with this day-to-day.  I have experienced it and I want to help change it.  But I can’t do that here.  Because I am powerless to make a difference.

My only hope is to empower and influence those down the line who might be able to make a difference.  Or make it harder for police to be corrupt, for buses to break down or anything in between.  I have the means to make it to the top of my profession, and maybe, just maybe, that will make a difference in someone’s life on the ground.  But if I sit here and go to work everyday and watch it, I am just going to become more and more disillusioned with the world.

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This entry was published on July 27, 2012 at 11:28 pm. It’s filed under India, Mumbai, Thoughts on Life and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

4 thoughts on “Powerless

  1. Pratiksha on said:

    Sometimes it’s not so much that people don’t care about others’ lives, but that they feel that they can’t care about others. If they don’t jostle and push they’ll miss their train and be late to work, and someone else will get the job– there are too many people so everyone is aggressively defensive. A lot of Indian people recognize and criticize these behaviors while sitting at home, but as soon as they step out, they’re part of it, because if they decide to be considerate and nobody else does, they (feel that they) will be trampled on. Trash goes on the street, but who is bothered by it? the same people who will throw their own trash on the street, because what difference does one person’s trash make, whether on the street or in a trash can? If a policeman chooses to be honest, what happens to his income?

    I think in an increasing number of cases it is more of a psychological phenomenon than an economic one, because I have attended a few Indian events at which well-off Indians will push and shove and leave things in a mess for no apparent reason other than habit (though their children typically will not). But at some point, it was (and for some people, it still is) an economically-driven behavior rather than an inherently impolite/uncultured/aggressive group of people.

    • I completely agree, but it is hard to deal with day-to-day. You definitely will get left behind if you don’t push your way through. You will never even make it out of your house, let alone all the way to work. I think one of the most interesting realizations for myself is why I don’t think I could live in a place like Mumbai, despite the fact that the problems I am most interested in solving take place here.

  2. Patrick Heywood on said:

    Doesn’t he international solution still need the ‘people one the ground’ to implement solutions. Seems to me that there needs to be someone who can handle the hustle and bustle?

    • There definitely needs to be people on the ground. People who care so deeply about a place that they want to see it change for the better and can deal with the day-to-day of living there and staying committed. However, I am realizing that my nomadic tendencies also mean that I haven’t yet fallen in love with a place in a way that makes me want to stay put and fix it.

      My mind always wander to thinking about how there is this city with its myriad of social, economic, political etc. problems, but the city next door has them too. The nuances of place and culture come into the play, but at the most basic level, many of the problems are the same. So we need a flexible mold for the wheel that can be adapted to each particular place, but that doesn’t allow someone to make a square wheel because it is going to make him money by creating a business to file away the corners.

      My interests always seem to fall on the higher level, on the theory and ideas of best practices. What I want to do would be useless if there weren’t people passionate about the cities they live in and the individual lives of the people who live there. But I don’t think I would be effective being the one on the ground.

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