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Europe India Life People

The last moments of a dying spring

For the many thousands of immigrants who crossed over from their home continents, the European dream is rapidly falling apart. This is year 2012 and in many ways, serving right for all that the lunar calendar had foreseen or for that horror show of a movie which came out by the same name. Stories of crumbling economies, spurts in unemployment, pink slips, relocation and the like hound the headlines and quite frankly, its depressing to hear these first thing in the morning. Today, I have a few characters to acquaint you with and also their lives which as always, have some stories to say (hopefully not long enough to make you yawn, but indicative of what is happening around this part of the world) .

I start with the two guys I meet in this Indian restaurant quite regularly – Prem and Rasheed. They work in the restaurant. Prem is quite new to Lisbon, three years since he came here while Rasheed has been around for 7. Prem is a funny guy, speaks broken Hindi (he is originally from Nepal), thinks he is a stud, speaks Portuguese quite decently as well as the job involves interacting with the customers on a regular basis. He is an electronics engineer who one day hopes to study further. One of my first questions to him is the cliched Indian mentality of asking – You say you are an engineer. How did you land up in the kitchen of an Indian restaurant? To which he said that he landed up in Lisbon in the end of 2008, hoping to find a suitable work profile in Europe. Portugal because, firstly it was cheaper with easier visa processing formalities and the electronics/ telecommunications had witnessed quite a boom in the mid 2000s, along with the rest of the world. He later realized that the timing of his arrival in Lisbon coincided with the start of the global  recession and the ensuing European crisis. Ended up in a restaurant and never got out of it. He is leaving for home on Tuesday for the first time since the end of 2009 (He says he used to earn twice as much in 2008, when comparing to his salary at the present moment) saving up a little over 700 euros after 3 years of work.

Rasheed worked 11 years around Europe and was finally able to bring his wife to stay along with him, 6 months back. His kids are still in Pokhara (his wife hails from Pokhara, Nepal). Unlike Prem, he hasn’t seen the doors of university although took a loan from his step father to get into Europe in the wake of making an easy buck or two. Not a bad thought although it is strictly  reminiscent of the immigrant issues countries like Greece and United Kingdom are protesting against. Back in 2001, there was no real pressure in stemming the exodus of people towards Europe or the United States and so he survived, As things got worse concluding in the global recession and the recent eurozone crisis, he saw his salary dip to a third of what it was in 2006. He could save up a bit to ensure he went home four times in the last 11 years.

The third person Irfanuddin, the Pakistani father of 3 from Karachi runs a small supermarket in the avenue where I stay, is contemplating on going back to his motherland. His eldest son enters college this year and he couldn’t afford to put him into a good university in Pakistan despite the boy being brilliant. Even after being in Lisbon for 9 straight years, he couldn’t afford to give the boy a sum of 2500 euros to ensure his admission and the poor guy was obviously distraught when I met him last weekend. Sometimes I feel bad that I am compelled from deep down to purchase a few things from him despite them being a few cents costlier than the others. These days he says, all that he earns by keeping the store open from 0900 to 0000 is 40 euros, most of which happens by the sale of tobacco.

Most of the Indian graduates studying in the United Kingdom or majority of the European Union and United States are force – returned home as a counter measure adopted by these countries to counter the immigrant mess. The criteria for getting a work visa and/or employment in the United Kingdom is bound by a cyclic criteria, which shall eventually shut out hopes for a non – EU/ UK citizen. The stories can go on and on – be it be the Indian guy with an immobile right hand who wanted to find work in Europe returning empty handed (because nobody in his right frame of mind would engage a guy with only one hand, any work when there are countless others walking without any job at hand) to this Latin american guy I know who decided to get married to a Portuguese to make himself legal in the country.

European societies are highly multi – cultural, so there is enough scope for a cross continental wedding to save your life, if you are up for it. And I do see a lot of couples around me who are open to this, one way or another. And I belong to a country where, forget being from the same state, the partner might have to pass through the caste filter to make things legal. Anyways, that is a debate for a different day although quite note worthy of the changing notions of union and also reflective of the times that we are in, today. Coming to think of it from the point of view of the nations involved, it makes perfect sense to react the way they have been responding to the hard times by having more stringent immigrant policies. Most nations revel in bringing populist measures, which is easily anti – immigrants because they want to give higher chances for their youth, in comparison with a foreigner. And that indeed happens to be the right way to go about it.  [This was not supposed to be a rant, just in case you missed that in the midst of all this.]

But what is sad is when talented professionals are given no choice but to become the Prems of tomorrow, having to do something in order to ensure there is sustenance. I can authoritatively say that almost 80% of the new recruits are not happy with their current job profiles, but nobody wants to throw it away because you are not sure, when can you land up on a more suitable profile for work. So, for the next 4-5 years, we might very well be witness to MBA’s working in the kitchens of McDonald’s to make a quick buck, of more and more people turning into academia as a means of surviving the rough seas (most academic positions ensure you get a stipend, deemed fit enough to survive), Africans and Latinos marrying Europeans and Americans and vice versa for getting the documents which make them legal  [not the most apt, but indicative enough to get the hang of what is meant] and more of these kind of questions by eager individuals trying to survive the grind. The optimist will always push the individual showing light 5 years ahead of him which shall or shall not be necessarily true, the pessimist will conclude the world will end on 21/12/2012 and the realist will concur that there sure was a spring, (which will explain the exodus) and that it doesn’t exist anymore.

PS: Reading into a lot of conspiracy theories lately, it gives me a feeling that our existence and these tough times right now are part of a major conspiracy theory boiling over.  Major major conspiracy theory!

Categories
India Opinion Transportation

Safety on trains cannot wait

I was trying to imagine the ill fate of those 32 who perished in the Tamil Nadu Express fire today morning. What wrong could they have done, to have found themselves on the S11 coach of the train? The scenes of the fire were rather gory, pictures seen across the media houses of the country over the course of this day. Many more have been injured, some miraculously escaped through the skin of their teeth and the rest were not lucky enough to get through this. For a railway network, which focusses on new trains to the home state of the railway minister amongst other states and some other measures, safety could be one of the core issues which might require an urgent look in and addressed in the truest of senses.
This is not an attempt to point fingers at the Railway Ministry or the officials in the Railways or even the government over their usually callous attitude to everything that happens around them. But this incident could have happened in a general compartment next door (since S11 should be presumably next to the general compartment, in a 24 coach train such as the Tamil Nadu Express) instead and it could have been catastrophic. I believe, that at any point in time, there are atleast 150 people, if not less travelling in these general compartments. That is no way a justification that something like this could happen in a sleeper compartment and we be mum over the issue.
I had read a couple of months ago, at the prospect of introducing fire proof coaches in the mails and express trains of the Indian Railways. Tamil Nadu Express, being a priority train for the government (Yes, there are always trains from a state which have higher priorities over the others. For ex: 12623/24 Trivandrum – Chennai Mail has a priority over every other train running in that section) should have been one of the first beneficiaries of this, had the implementation been properly executed on the ground. And maybe, this article may have never even come up here. Railway authorities may point out that the number of accidents have decreased – as they have tried to show here right after the accident, but there still is room for making sure this issue of safety completely foolproof to a very good degree.
Categories
India Opinion Politics

One more fast-unto-death, Mister Anna Hazare??

So, this joke called Anna Hazare decides to go on a fast-unto-death from tomorrow, his second or third fast with absolutely no results one must point out. Relentless. Earlier, the government used to atleast budge a little to his demands. That was until he did not have corruption in his own backyard. And once that got proven, nobody ever gave him a fuck too. That is actually the story of our country. We have a grand beginning to anything that happens. Although its a matter of time until it fizzles out as well. I had predicted this as early as August last year, in my article here.
 
In this case, any sensible man would have taken to account the sheer impossibility of the objectives, anna had set during his campaign. His dream of being a second mahatma, riding on the wave of a corrupt free India backfired for the first time really when we discovered the contradictions and the varying opinions coming out from the Anna camp. It gave the impression that the team had immense differences in opinion and never had a sound agreement over the core issue. His second mistake – joining hands with Baba Ramdev. Baba Ramdev himself has unaccounted assets worth billions in both land and money as far as the Scottish Isles. Ridding the country of black money would have had to start from their own backyard, something which is shameful enough to begin a possible downfall. 
 
 
Third and the most lethal one in my opinion was his dream of being a political alternative. Although it sounded very well, considering how much this country is fed up with the two major political powerhouses, one still cannot accept the reality of seeing a third alternative. And sadly, the third alternative will always be seen as the third best in this country. That explains the lean crowds that he has begun to experience for the first time since the campaign took off. He is not used to the thin attendances. And I am pretty sure there won’t be many takers for his fast-unto-death drama, starting tomorrow. With the recent digs at the media as well, apart from the political babus of the country, I believe they have managed to dig a deeper hole into their miseries. One wonders why they still vouch for media presence when all they have been doing is to trash them including. Subramaniam Swamy called them naxalites, in one of his recent meetings. I wouldn’t say the term naxalites is descriptive of team Anna and their campaign, but they sure seem no real alternative in this mega cauldron geopolitik environment prevailing in this country.   
 
My thoughts today are with those people who might eventually turn up for his fast-unto-death hoping for a change. This word change was first defined by Barack Obama in his political campaign in 2007. To be honest, there was no change at all since his election into office, if not for more wars and bloodshed. I would just like to tell these people that the change is a myth that certain people promise you, in lieu of seeking few personal benefits for themselves. The verdict is already out in the open for you all to take it and make an informed sensible decision on this regard. Its hot in Delhi – so sit back at home and relax with friends & family. Learn to accept the realities of life as they come in front of you and try to accommodate them in the best possible manner.   
Categories
India Life People

On Diplomatic mishaps and tragedies…

I met up with this long time Bangladeshi friend I knew through emails and Facebook today. Although I knew this guy for almost a year and we were put up in the same city for around 9 months, it so happened that we could meet up only at this point in time. And that too, because he was leaving Lisbon and headed to Barcelona. We discussed on his journey from Dhaka to Lisbon – one which was quite arduous to a listener myself, so I could imagine how much more difficult it could have been for the one facing the music.
 
And the villain in the eye of the storm was the Republic of India. Quite unbelievably so. Although I knew there was a wee bit of criticism on the diplomatic, administrative and bureaucratic setup prevailing in this country, I for one was completely unaware of the complexity of the situation especially for a foreigner in my country. I will not go into the details for personal reasons, but it all started at one of these embassies for obtaining a visa. Yes I know of our people who have faced similar problems in the States or even down under in Australia, but here we are talking about neighbours – people of the same ilk, who fortunately or unfortunately got separated to the other side of the fence and now find themselves to be in a clueless situation in this godforsaken alien land of ours. And hearing his story, I was astonished to know that he had to resort to consular assistance from Bangladesh to get things on track in Delhi. The callous and deplorable attitude with which these diplomatic officials operate in this country is something we are unnecessarily getting too used to and not caring to work on for betterment.
 
That’s not what happens when a Portuguese goes for seeking diplomatic assistance in Spain or even an Englishman goes across the channel to France for diplomatic support. That is just not something that should be happening anywhere else, for that matter.  
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And yes, here is something different that you may also like. An article on the Times speaking about the views of foreigner women on India and Indians themselves. Quite an interesting read although one doubts over the amount of homework done on this piece.    
Categories
India Politics

On reinstating faith in democracy…

Going by the title, reflecting on the need to reinstate faith in the minds of people regarding democratic governance policies and institutions might be a bit too far fetched considering we haven’t been doomed as yet, some would say. But then, we are very much on that motion, winding down the lanes into believing that the democratic setup that we have been witness to, over the last 60 odd years has started showing signs of rupture and tear.
As I write this piece, riots have broken out in Ara, Bihar over the untimely killing of the Ranvir Sena chief. The MLA from Najafgarh has just been shot by unidentified gunmen in broad daylight. The government has simply failed to curb inflation, that which was INR 63 against a Euro is now standing at 73 in the space of 8 months. Fuel prices have shot up. The man accused in the biggest corruption scandal is out on bail and attends the upper house of Parliament, the next day. The national carrier which was once among the top 5 airlines in the world is sinking and nobody cares about it. Acute power shortages – while we complain of 2-hour outages in Chennai, some areas of New Delhi have had close to 8 hours and worse, some areas of Jammu and Kashmir have 18-hour power cuts. Mamata Banerjee’s paribortan drive took a turn for its worse and ended up splurging INR 9 crore on a private club team which won a private league (the debt of West Bengal exceeds INR 190,000 crore as of today). And if all this was not enough, the government tried to curb social media independence by attempting to filter online content which you and I release onto Google and Facebook, even taking them to court over-exercising this issue. 
 
And I for one, have always have had my reservations over the need to exercise my franchise over such a setup existing in the country, sometimes even going to the extent of saying that the British Raj was much apter than what is currently on display today – drawing a lot of flak expectantly from all quarters. All the above-given instances are just a minuscule into the conundrum that people are getting to be increasingly aware of and start inquiring on. Well, if you were indeed to ask me if after all this whether India was really shining as is being perceived by the west, I wouldn’t agree so. At least not right now. People need to be reinstated with renewed faith in the system prevailing. I don’t know how this will come about and I am no economist or a financial school cat to put in those hard terms on the forefront, simply for the lack of knowledge on them than anything else. 

Impatience and frustration are engulfing the masses and they won’t keep quiet for longer periods from now. And thus the need for reinstating faith – soft measures to stem the aftershocks of inflation and price rise, fast-tracking of the judicial exercises on the 26/11 attacks, stemming corruption (with or without Jan Lokpal), delineating dangerous coalitions like the Trinamool and the DMK to name a few could all be some positives that the babus of New Delhi could try to achieve. 
Although, having said that, there is one person who is “fairly positive” when it comes to the growth story of India right now – Bill Gates, who reiterates some faith on the situation in his recent interview to NDTV. Although I fail to understand how its always good to know. Excerpts from the interview are attached along with this post:
   

By the way, Travel Trails have been updated with new photographs just to remind everyone.