Sometimes it isn't clear whether we are progressing or regressing.
News papers and TV channels are going ga-ga over the town of Aurangabad in Maharashtra.
Hitherto known for the world famous frescoes at the Ajanta and Ellora caves, a Unesco Heritage Site, dating back to the 2nd century BC , the town now has a new claim to fame.
Young entrepreneurs, industrialists, professionals, and in general, folks with lots of money to spare, recently negotiated a deal with Mercedes Benz in Germany, and did a "co-operative buying" of 150 Mercedes Benz cars. Which were delivered yesterday , and the Regional Transport Office , thrilled to bits with the opportunities to hobnob with the names that count, has promised to immediately fast forward the registration of the said cars.
My experience with co-operative buying efforts, has been restricted to two things.
One time back in the late eighties, when we decided to be part of a co-operative housing society , in our hometown; but mostly because at that time we were eligible for a housing loan , which tended to convert dreams into reality.
The second effort, was by a bunch of us ladies, who traveled one morning to the nearby Agricultural Produce Wholesale Market across the creek, and came loaded back with vast quantities of fruit and vegetables, bought at amazing prices, which we then distributed at cost price, to those who had signed up but were too lazy to travel with us.
The first effort was predictably riddled with lots of paperwork, and proving that you were not , basically, a crook, in the eyes of the government. The bank took 21 days to do a telegraphic money transfer of the funds, the final installment, across 200 kilometres, making me wonder if I should have simply put it all in a bag and run with it, even allowing for refreshment breaks and so on.
The second effort saddled us with large quantities of certain fruits and vegetables, but eventually tested our creativity in using and preserving the stuff.
Times have certainly changed.
150 highly moneyed, amazingly solvent folks from Aurangabad, actually did a deal with Mercedes Benz in Germany, and got the cars, in a batch, at what my late mother would have called "wholesale rates", even then, quoted at 60,00000 - 70,00000 Rupees each.
The new owners, when asked, clarify, that "Aurangabad is generally known as an industrial or tourism-oriented place. Now, this shows the spirit of Aurangabad where 150 people have come together to take the Merc. This shows the unity, the bonding we young entrepreneurs have in Aurangabad"........
The cost of each car is the cost of a decent 2 bedroom apartment in Mumbai today, and counting. Those who work in Mumbai, now commute from places further and further away, because the cost of staying in the suburbs is prohibitively high. Yes, Mumbai has opportunities, but housing is a disastrous situation.
I wonder, how many of these Aurangabad folks are scions of already well established media and industrial barons. How many have made education an industry raking in huge profits, and how many are politicians or related to some.
It is rumoured that the leader of this set, has a sticker on his Mercedes that says , "My other car is a Nano" (the cheap family car marketed by Tata's for people like you and me).....
I wonder if 150 of them would show such bonding if the project was to contribute to a project for drinking water for far flung villages, or building schoolrooms, for schools in remote villages, that exist on paper only. I wonder if bunch of these worthies ever thought of contributing towards say, building a bridge across a local river, to ease the woes of those travelling large distances to study and work. I wonder if such requests would be met with deals requiring you to name the bridge or scheme after some ancestor of theirs , or some political benefactor .
Agreed, the government should be initiating these projects and it is continually involved, , but then you need to be in a queue and wait for your turn to be funded and hope for the best. Like ordinary people stand in queues for life-essentials......
But this is a different generation.
They have grown up , if not in the lap, then at least, holding the hands of Luxury, seen power and what it can do, and have never had to suffer for lack of anything.
Those who were adults in the middle of the 20th century, had immensely respected role models, many of them folks who fought for the country's freedom, and many others who were real philanthropist's. A lot of these folks are today in the sunset of their lives, almost on the horizon, and nobody consults them.
And so the Managing Director of Mercedes Benz is in Aurangabad, to deliver the shipment, to all these worthies, who will now figure in some book of records , and put their city on some kind of map. The marketing guy of the company will probably get a nice promotion. There will be write ups, parties, photos, possibly some sour faces .
A few folks will take inspiration from this, and form their own co-operatives , to buy even more fancy cars, and never mind if the roads are bad.
I wish at least some of them had studied some history.
When the British ruled India, and Bombay was taking its place in the scheme of things, the main island city and the region of Salcete (Bandra etc) was separated by a swampy area. This made travel between the islands very difficult.
Somewhere between 1841-1846 a request to connect the two was shot down by the British government, who didn't think it fitted in with their spending and development plans.
And so a Parsi (Zoroastrian) philanthropist and native of Mumbai , Lady Avabai Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, wife of the first Baronet Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, donated the entire amount, of Rs 1,57,000 that it cost then, to build the causeway. That too, with the stipulation that no toll would be charged for the usage of this from the citizens of Mumbai.
The causeway , built in 1845, bears her name today.
I dont know what kind of cars they had in those days. Mercedes Benz started in 1890. No one really knows if the Jeejeebhoys and/or their descendants drove these. I dont think anyone wants to know either.
Their public benefactions are so well documented, and so huge, no one really cares what cars they were chaufeurred in.
This is the age of private personal benefaction, the age of doing good for a quid pro quid.
Coming up, Mukesh Ambani's ( scheduled to be the richest in the world in 2014 according to Forbes) single family 45 storey home, in the island city......he is expected to move in shortly.
Returning to earth with a thud.
My household help S. has been complaining about the rise in bus fares, from Rs 3 a trip to Rs 5 a trip. She needs to take a trip daily to one of the places she works at, and is seriously thinking of walking one way . .........