?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Postcard from India: Third World

« previous entry | next entry »
Dec. 12th, 2012 | 12:06 pm

I think I have a new definition for “Third World”: it’s where it’s cheaper to hire a person than buy, rent or build a machine.

In Varanasi, I do my laundry in the shower bucket and then hire the woman on the corner to iron it. Ten rupees per item—about twenty cents. At my hotel, a thirteen-year-old boy starts on the third floor and sweeps the dirt downstairs, room by room and hall by hall, until it all goes out the lobby door. The broom is two feet of twigs on a foot-long handle, and he sweeps in a crouching position, moving sideways, a ninja of cleanliness. He is less expensive than a vacuum.

In India, as in South Africa, it’s not only a privilege but a responsibility to hire “help” if you are economically able. Gardener, houseboy, maid, driver, maintenance man, cook, laundress. Every one a job, every one money sent home to the village, every one someone who roots through your leavings in their area of responsibility, pulls the recyclables and the re-usables, sells them for extra income. Don’t pick up that bottle—you’re not being helpful. You’re taking the houseboy’s job.


______________________________________________________________
My apartment this week came with a maid. Her name is Gulabi. She looks at me weird when I greet her and again when I thank her.


Link | Leave a comment | Share

Comments {10}

C.S. Inkheart

(no subject)

from: frecklestars
date: Dec. 12th, 2012 06:42 pm (UTC)
Link

I may borrow that definition for future classes. It's an excellent one! (If a slightly depressing commentary on the world economy...)

Reply | Thread

Andrea Blythe

(no subject)

from: blythe025
date: Dec. 12th, 2012 08:05 pm (UTC)
Link

That makes sense.

Also, "...not only a privilege but a responsibility..." Very interesting. It also makes sense, too.

I always enjoy reading about India on your blog. Your insights are great.

Reply | Thread

revelgrove

(no subject)

from: revelgrove
date: Dec. 13th, 2012 02:56 am (UTC)
Link

Interestingly, Austria thinks of recycling the exact opposite way. If everybody takes care of their own crap, nobody has to have the job of sorting through it and the bottom tier of work starts higher up. I suspect either extreme is a better solution than the middle-ground we have here.

Reply | Thread

(no subject)

from: anonymous
date: Dec. 13th, 2012 08:58 am (UTC)
Link

Unfortunately, if you raise the bottom tier in the third world (like India and South Africa) with its huge unemployment percentages, you don't raise people's incomes, you just cut a large sector of the population out of the income loop and take away their oppurtunity to make a living for themselves. In the third world (and South Africa specifically) people still take a lot of pride in working and earning their own living and no job is seen as inferior or not good enough. So it does become part of the social contract to employ other people if you can in any small way afford it. In the third world, taking care of your own crap literally means a child goes to bed hungry.

Reply | Thread

drwex

The same was true in the US

from: drwex
date: Dec. 13th, 2012 07:55 pm (UTC)
Link

My grandparents were well employed through the Depression. They acquired a couple of house-servants during that time because it was simply expected that if one could afford it, one hired another person during those tough times.

One of them turned into a lifelong friend of my grandmom's, helping raise my father and his brother, then making my grandparents godparents to her own daughter.

Reply | Thread

Ironing?

from: anonymous
date: Dec. 14th, 2012 12:28 am (UTC)
Link

Okay, do you really have to have spandex ironed?

Reply | Thread

whipchick

Re: Ironing?

from: whipchick
date: Dec. 19th, 2012 09:23 pm (UTC)
Link

I wore all Indian clothes all the time! So yes, my cotton puffy pants needed ironing :)

Reply | Parent | Thread

Jemima Pauler

(no subject)

from: jem0000000
date: Dec. 19th, 2012 10:49 am (UTC)
Link

One of my teachers in college said roughly the same thing, about it being cheaper to hire a person than get a machine, but this is a more vivid example than anything in my textbooks ever was.

Reply | Thread

whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Dec. 19th, 2012 09:22 pm (UTC)
Link

Thanks - it was really present for me. I had a servant attached to my final apartment in Mumbai, and I didn't know how to act around her, it was so odd. And every day--EVERY day--she washed all the floors.

Reply | Parent | Thread

Jemima Pauler

(no subject)

from: jem0000000
date: Jan. 14th, 2013 05:12 am (UTC)
Link

Lol, some things never change; we have to mop the floors at work every day, too, sometimes more than once. I imagine she gets hers cleaner, though. I've noticed that taking an old towel to my kitchen floor gets it a lot better than using a mop on it does. (Or I assume she's using a cloth, since you didn't say mop?)

P.S. Are you still coming through the southeast around late January? My boss has me scheduled through the 21st, but I can get time after that if I get it in quickly.

Reply | Parent | Thread