Wednesday, December 15, 2010

India – Land of Contradictions

Often when foreigners talk to me of India they point at urban Bangalore – my hometown with its sprawling malls, filled with pretentious European brands flaunting obscenely priced designerware, the pubs and bars well stocked with exotic liquor and the cafes and restaurants proffering plates of food as varied as Spanish Tapas to Japanese Tepankayi, out to the city’s well-to-do men, women and children that spend money without much thought. Simply put they are used to everything being served to them on a silver platter, while foreigners say “this is not the real India, the real India lives in villages and slums”.

To me, that is not the reality of the situation. In my minds eye there are two India’s one that forms the playground of the rich, and the other is the never ending obstacle course that the poor, lower-middle and middle class struggle to overcome and leapfrog over.

The irony of it all is having grown up and spent most of my life in India, I, like most of India's upper class learnt how to shut out the other India, choosing only to see what was in the India created for us – the fortunate and the secure.

Living in houses of considerable proportions, accustomed to running water – both hot and cold, electricity to power all the innumerable gadgets that the 21st Century has to , rich Indians go about their daily lives oblivious to the ‘other’ India that exists only footsteps away.

In some sense, the two worlds collide, as domestic staff are employed in and around the house. Maids, cooks, gardeners, watchmen and drivers live and work alongside the rich, serving and attending to their every need, yet indifference reigns supreme.

The strangeness of the situation is further exaccerabted as I have been living in Australia for the last three years. With every yearly visit to India – my home – the disparity of it all seems larger than life, yet within no time I slip back into the general, accepted upper class way of life.

Personally, at the core of India’s problems is our treatment of the poor in terms of opportunities – literacy, food, health and sanitation – it seems like a solution or improvement is decades away. Yet, what plagues me is that inversely, the ‘other’ India is raring to go – on its way to becoming a globally recognised economic powerhouse with extremely innovative technology.

Interestingly we (Indians) lay enormous blame on the corrupt government and politics within our country, and I am not claiming to be any different, but the point to be made is that the private business and technology sector has managed to create a massive platform for itself, so much so it has become globally recognised, yet with regard to issues of our own people we have a long way away to go to bridge the gap between the rich and poor, moreover for the poor to be able to live according to an internationally accepted humane standard of living.

As a chef, food writer and food, wine and travel enthusiast the paradox of the rich eating luxuriously well in India while countless numbers out there starve or barely get by with one meal a day is an extremely daunting and self -loathing. Ironically, this is the premise of how the two India’s live in synchrony, side by side, day in and day out for the world to gasp in wonder.

I am but one human being – yet I am one Indian with a fighting spirit, voice and hope for a brighter future for my country. The truth of the matter is that the children of India need our help. The country is home to nearly 44 % of the world’s malnourished children and many do not have access to a single meal in a day. If food is not available, education is neglected, perpetuating the vicious cycle of poverty. Not only is their right to life under threat, but also their right to development.

Though there is still a tremendous need for increased efforts on the part of Governments, legislatures and societies before the state of the world’s children improves, some progress has already been made. In November of 2001, the Supreme Court of India passed an order mandating that "Cooked mid-day meal is to be provided in all the government and government-aided primary schools in all states of the country." This gave rise to what has been termed the ‘mid-day meal scheme’.

Today, the mid-day meal scheme in India, reaches out to an estimated 120 million children in government and government aided primary schools and is one of the most successful school lunch programs in the world. The success of the scheme can be attributed to public-private partnerships nurtured and developed by State Governments of the country, in which non-profit children’s organizations such as Akshaya Patra act as the implementing arm of the government. This approach has been so effective that NGOs today play a significant role in the scheme. Akshaya Patra alone reaches out to 1.2 million children across the country, an estimated 1% of the total number of nationwide beneficiaries.

YOU can make a difference. All you need to do is click on the link to Akshaya Patra and donate. A contribution of just Rs. 525 equivalent to US $/AUS $ 11.90 will help feed a child for a year.


Raksha Bhat said...

Hey Megan,
My first visit here through Indiblogger,must say this is one of the best ones I have read so far...glad to see Indians residing outside contributing for this noble cause:)


pramod said...

great way of penning down my friend.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

My first visit too.

Poverty is entirely removable-we need to prevent poor from wasting their money on alcohol n such stuff

Game of Mind said...

Extremely well written, and your blog exudes all your experiences and learning (the advantage of being a global Indian). Keep it up.

Arpana said...

well written post for great cause!

ambatisreedhar said...

I really admire you for writing such a good post. Bangalore,Hyderabad,Delhi,Culcatta,Mumbai etc cities are not India.True India is in Rural villages.My district Srikakulam really looking for help.So much poverty and illiteracy.
Thanks for your concerns for the rural poor kids.
Sreedhar Ambati

Sourav said...

True India remains a land of contradictions and apprehensions to many. To me there is no real or unreal India, its just India!

Liked how you related the views and voices of those who are coming from abroad to what reality is! All the best for such a wonderful cause.

Keep writing Megan.

Naveen Srikantaiah said...

Nice Blog about Akshaya Patra foundation commendable job! keep posting

Ashwini said...

As a fellow upper-class Bangalorean who loves Akshay Patra, props to you for posting this!

We are an incredibly feudal society still - going to America for college helped me see that.