November 1, 2016

Dear Colleagues,

Here is another round of random reflections for your perusal:

  1. While traveling by train early morning from Delhi recently, the challenge of ODF (Open Defecation Free) India became vivid. A look outside the window of my compartment showed hundreds of men (not women) squatting for morning defecation around the railway tracks. Piles of garbage and feces were littered around the tracks every time the train passed a human settlement. It is a sight I grew up with, and alas not much has changed since then. This may be a visible indicator of success of Clean India Mission!
  2. Rapid spread of digital medium and mobile technology has been providing means of entertainment and news, giving print newspapers and magazines tough competition. Yet, in small towns of central Maine (USA), local weekly newspaper continues to thrive. It acts as a regular medium of communication about local matters of interest to the lives of residents. A prominent section of this weekly is providing information on and mobilising community volunteer actions for neighbourhoods. Debates on decisions affecting communities, like recruitment of new principals for primary schools, are alive on this platform. Why not in our neighbourhoods?
  3. This past month, several festivals in India coincided—Dussehra, Durga Puja and Muharram. During Dussehra, effigies of Ravana and his family are burnt; the idol of Goddess Durga is worshipped and then immersed in rivers/tanks; during Muharram, decorated ‘Tajiyas’ (paper replicas) are carried out in procession throughout the night in some parts. In Gwalior, it was a very interesting period of inter-mixing of these three cultural/religious practices last month, happening simultaneously, and without any friction or conflict. Peaceful co-habitation models do exist!
  4. America, and indeed the world, is currently ‘consumed’ with forthcoming presidential elections. The third and final presidential debate took place in Las Vegas. Hosted by the university, the ‘intellectual’ debate galvanised the city of Las Vegas, otherwise known as ‘sin city’. Thousands of college and high school going students participated in preparing for and debating issues in advance of the presidential candidates. A fascinating though important exercise in learning citizenship and democracy!
  5. In general, American economy seems to be doing ok these days. The resurgence of cities like Cleveland and Detroit is an indicator of the same. A billboard advertising for jobs outside the city of Detroit asked those especially interested in ‘moonlighting’ to apply. Moonlighting is generally undertaken by those who already have a job, and want additional income, generally ‘under the radar’. Such advertisements seem to indicate that employers are facing difficulty in finding appropriate employees, and labour market is tight. It may also imply that moonlighting arrangement also suits certain employers since they do not have to pay various benefits to such employees. Old practices in new forms!

All the very best


Rajesh Tandon