Contrast is King

From the moment I arrived in Hyderabad, India, the friendliness and hospitality of the Indian people was visible, tangible and welcome. So too the intensity of contrasts, in every respect.

Some students from Hyderabad’s Institute of Management Technology (IMT) gave me the low-down over lunch. They told me about different parts of the same city having different customs, different dress codes, different languages. There are no rules of thumb here, its all about the context you’re in. Everything is here from bejeweled decadence to squalor, and everything in between. Within 20km from the IMT’s flash new campus are villages that go without power for much of the day, and to the bright young people at IMT this is a call of duty to make development more sustainable and equitable for all.

Now that I have come by train some 400km east-southeast of Hyderabad,  I find myself less than 40km from India’s eastern shore in the town of Bhimavaram, and in the company of my fellow PSU students once again – success! While having missed the first full day of field work was a setback, I felt welcomed and intent on throwing new energy and fresh perspective into the mix.

For my first primary research assignment I teamed up with Kate to explore the family and community factors of India’s overpopulation issue. The village we visited was nestled between a stream – complete with small herd of water buffalo – and rice fields. All of the residents we interviewed, with the assistance of some local MBA students who helped bridge the language gap, had some common characteristics: they were working at their home where they lived with their spouse, parent and 1- 3 children; had not completed high school, made between US$90-120 per month; put 20-30% (US$20-40) of that away for a rainy day; and were engaged in producing sickles used to harvest the fields.

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All except for Narsama: 60 years old, no children, making US$50 per month washing clothes. She has three brothers, one of whom she lives with, and who have three sons and three daughters between them. She spends only half of her pay on living expenses. While we asked her questions about her life I was struck by the realization that the purpose with which this village went about its business was not to supply sickles to local farmers or high school graduates to engineering colleges, but to simply be, to exist, to continue.

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Any population restriction interventions that fly in the face of that belief would therefore be seen as a threat to a community’s very existence, and would ultimately fail. One policy we discovered was an incentive scheme rewarding families who had only two children, seeking to strike a balance between continuation of community while addressing some overpopulation factors.

Today, as I awake from my first decent sleep in a while, I’ve made a conscious decision to not look at the schedule. There’s no risk of confusion as to where I need to be and when – I’m already here. In letting go of the need to know, I also let go of any expectations about the day’s activities, and am compelled to be prepared, accepting and grateful for whatever happens. Bring it on.

– Simon

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One thought on “Contrast is King

  1. So glad you are “already here,” Simon. This is an insightful post. I’m especially struck by your observation that simple existance being the business objective of the village-based sickle industry we visited.

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