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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Unreasonable Insecurity

I pass through this very intersection every morning with so much ease. Today, the pace is skewed. There is a sense of disarray as motorists try to push past each other through the traffic light. The light here always tests their agility because if you miss the green, you have to wait for another three minutes before it lets you go past again. Those three minutes become eternity for an otherwise time-insensitive nation on the move. Today, there is a sense of chaos here. People are honking, skirting each other and rushing past. I look out of my window to seek the reason. It is not difficult to find because it is lying strewn all over the place.

A tomato seller's cart has overturned. There are tomatoes everywhere and the rushing motorists are making pulp of it. The man is trying to get his cart back on its four rickety wheels and a few passersby are picking up what they can in an attempt to save him total loss. Though symbolic in the larger scheme of things, it is not a substantive gesture. His business for the day is over.

The way this man's economics works is very simple. There is a money lender who lends him money for just one day, at an interest rate of Rs 10 per day per Rs 100 lent. With the money, he wakes up at 4 am to go to the wholesale market for vegetables. He returns, pushing his cart a good five miles, and by 7 am when the locality wakes up, he is ready to sell his day's merchandise. By the end of the morning, some of it remains unsold. This, his wife sells by the afternoon and takes home the remainder, which becomes part of his meal. With the day's proceeds, he returns the interest to the money lender and goes back to the routine the next day.

If he does not sell for a day, his chain breaks. Where does he go from here? He goes back to the money lender, raises capital at an even more penal interest and gets back on his feet. This is not the only time that destiny has upset his tomato cart. This happens to him at least six times every year. Once he returned with a loaded cart of ripe tomatoes and it rained heavily for the next three days. No one came to the market and his stock rotted in front of his own eyes. Another time, instead of the weather, it was a political rally that snowballed into a confrontation between two rival groups and the locality closed down. And he is not alone in this game of extraneous factors that seize not only his business but also his life. He sees this happen to the "gol-gappa" seller, the peanut seller and the "vada pao" seller all the time. When their product does not sell, it just turns soggy.

Sometimes they eat some of it. But how much of that stuff can you eat by yourself? So, they just give away some and there is always that one time when they have to simply throw it away.

Away from the street-vendor selling perishable commodity with little or no life support system, the corporate world is an altogether different place. Here we have some of the most educated people in the country. We don the best garbs. We do not have to push carts; our carts push us. We have our salary, perquisites, bonuses, stock options, gratuities, pensions and our medical insurance and the group accident benefit schemes. Yet, all the while, we worry about our risks and think about our professional insecurity. We wonder, what would happen if the company shifted offices to another city? What would happen if the department closed down? What would happen if you were to take maternity leave and the temporary substitute delivered better work than you did? What would happen if the product line you are dealing with simply failed? In any of those eventualities, the worst that could happen would still be a lot less than having to see your cartful of tomatoes getting pulped under the screeching wheels of absolute strangers who have nothing personal against you.

All too often we exaggerate our risks. We keep justifying our professional concerns till they trap us in their vicious downward spiral. Devoid of education, sophisticated reasoning and any financial safety net, the man with the cart is often able to deal with life much better than many of us. Is it time to look out of the window, into the eyes of that man to ask him, where does he get it from?

In his simple stoicism, is probably, our lost resilience.

-----------Courtesy- A mail i received ----------------------------------

9 comments:

Balachandran C said...

Thats a nice thought. Once I read it a daily about how a platform seller leads his life on biscuits, running back n forth on Mt Road in Chennai. May be MNC profs are building hopes and lives on Global or US economy in precise. When there is a day where Indian Govt and Indian Companies need services from IT profs,we could breath ease. On other hand, Such vendors building lives on perishables, relies on their own strength and the needs of the human - To eat. :-)

Goda Ramkumar said...

Of course it is a nice article. Good you put it up for a more public view.

Vijay said...

thanks for sharing this... IT professionals not only are owners of risky tomato crats but they themselves are tomatoes in most cases squeezed by work pressure, chutneyed by appraisal stamps and rotten by late night shifts. u lose physical and mental balance just for the sake of financial security.. after all money is everything, it can buy everything but for ur lost happiness ;-)

gokul said...

id beg to differ.as vijay said..everything comes at a cost..they dont have to deal with a manager ;-).its like comparing apples and oranges.no 2 ppl in life can be compared.i understand the complexities involved with the day to day life of a street hawker but that doesnt make him a candidate for comparison with an IT prof.exxageration of problems.what does that mean?its his perspective and we cant be judgmental on the problem he has unless you dig deep into it.i mean what does he get to do with all the money that he gets.a 2 bedroom flat on the 25th floor.cars,expensive electronics.its just human to want more..im sure those hawkers wouldnt want to swap if you really told them what our days were made of.it all looks good from the outside.they dont have the greed for bigger things in life.their needs are minimal.im not saying id swap my life for one of theirs but my point is the comparison is unjust.

Venky said...

@Gokul i find the intention just to be an antithesis to mine.
U are looking at all the disappointments at level 1 .
I am talking about ppl who dont have a secure level 0

There is no guarantee he is going to have his dinner that night.
Such an insecurity leaves u no motivation to live life.

If u are disappointed its cuz u don't get the higher luxuries and not the basic amenities.

I would be wrong if i compare different species ,but the comparison is between 2 humans who are bound to see each other and comparison even if i dont, is bound to happen between them .

gokul said...

a luxury today is a need tomorrow.
there is no gaurantee il be able to digest my food with all the things running around in my head.
wat the hell is level 1 and level 0.food is a basic necessity to him.to me its peace of mind.we r pretty much on the same level.its just the thing that we lack tat differs.
a comparison would be valid only if 2 ppl are considered to be on the same platform.in which case most of the aspects would be similar which questions the intent behind ur comparison

Venky said...

"A luxury today may be a necessity tomorrow, necessity even a hundred yrs back are still necessities"

aren't u both humans?
dont u guys need the basic necessities like food clothing and water?
for u these are options , for him he cant choose between them.
U choose which brand of the above u need and he if lucky gets em.

Its just u dont realise how lucky u r.
u just fall under the same cribbing Techie category.

Like u previously said u cant let a swap happen which means u intrinsically know u are lucky which but consider an insult in accepting so.

Sugumar said...

1. insecurity itself is a motivation.

2. cart seller doesnt pay huges taxes to run govt, lay roads, rails, etc, professionals do.

3. I know cart sellers grab stock morning in safal/reliance and sell them by 11:00am (beleive me) in the interiors (layouts). They have an other job to do in the later part of day. He is a happy healthy man

4. If you think professionals can be feel more secure and do better, that is a good thought!

I think every one's life is same!

What we need is more education and discipline. Like ants and birds :)

Very nice article though

Smitha said...

Loved the post, even better are the comments ..good job!