Give and Take

may08 012

There is a lovely path that winds through our neighborhood. In the mornings people walk the stretch of the path that is almost complete.
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There are birds in the trees, a few dogs, and an occasional bicycle.

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Once it crosses Bandarkhar Road, however, the path is under construction. Some days there are a workers moving dirt or laying stones. Every few weeks, something more ambitious will take place. This morning, for example, there were new piles of topsoil and manure. Last week, a new pile of stones. The week before, a few shrubs appeared in a circle of wet soil where someone had watered the new plantings.
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The cycling and walking path is one among many municipal projects that remain incomplete. Every day the Times reports on one more road under construction and the hazards of leaving the road or sidewalk ripped up for months, even years. Today’s paper carried a story of residents near Shastri Road who gathered to celebrate a second year of incomplete roadwork. They brought a cake to celebrate that was cut by the cartoonist Mangesh Tendulkar. And the group is planning similar celebrations to protest the incompetence (and the corruption) of the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC). The PMC simply blames the contractors. There is no accountability, and so the satirical celebration.


may08 021

In one of the later chapters in Guha’s India After Gandhi there is an illuminating summary of political corruption in India—a chronicle of the central government and national-level political figures whose corruption is only matched at the regional and local levels. The political scientist Peter deSouza calls corruption the “inconvenient truth” of Indian democracy. Guha cites his own city, Bangalore, where out of every one hundred rupees allocated for road projects, a mere forty rupees goes to the project. The rest is divided up by the politicians and local officials and contractors. And the work, as we see in Pune, is then done quite shabbily or, more often than not, not completed at all.

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Talking with N and A today about their search to find a place to live next year I hear stories of how ruthless some people can be. With little to no oversight, and a willingness on the part of individuals to take advantage of others for their own financial gain, renters are at the mercy of other people’s financial greed. Today I hear of the city real estate brokers who charge two months rent for their services. And renters have no choice, as the brokers work with the landlords to get as much as they can from prospective renters, many of whom come from out of town and have few connections in the city. N told me that he was promised a place. But then the next day he found out that the broker had found someone willing to pay one thousand rupees more and had rented it on the spot. He also told me about A’s monthly rental tripling in price, a change in a written contract with no notice.

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On occasion, a rickshaw driver will try to take us for more money than the ride is worth. A ten rupee ride and he asks for twenty-five, ignoring the meter. There are prices for locals and then we are charged more. Fruit stand operators have also tried to take advantage of us—though they can only do so once, as we do not come back. Haggling is one thing—for bargaining for a better price is part of the way buying and selling happens here. Still, it is depressing to have to deal with liars and cheaters. I guess that is what karma is for.




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