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We are living in a dystopian world!

As I sipped my cutting cup of of tea at the tea stall, I couldn't but help notice the guffaws of the sabzi waala (vegetable vendor) sitting right next - from what I could overhear in the cacophony of street traffic, he was watching some Bhojpuri standup comedy. The chai waala (tea vendor) noticed my scrutiny of his neighbour, smiled and then said:
Jio ने सबको बीज़ी कर दिया है! ग्राहक आए या ना आए - ये अपना भोजपुरी इन्टरटेंमेंट में ही लगा रहता है! 😆 
With the economic headwinds strong, and no sight of respite - it amused me to notice the scene I was in. The poor vendor was not disappointed or dejected; he wasn't looking forward to his job or future either - notably, food inflation has remained at its lowest levels in the last few years due to efforts of Modi government and the vegetable vendor has surely not had or expected higher earnings. Other forms of inflation - housing, transport (fuel) etc - are moderate and hence his savings, if he has any, would not have grown,  rather would have been depleting. The only thing that may have improved for him is what his preoccupation thence - cheaper data speeds and thus access to cheap personalised entertainment.

Mulling over all this, I proceeded to board the metro train. It was rush hour and the metro was jampacked with people - most were texting or watching videos on their phones here too. Most of them would be midlevel executives going by their attire - I wondered why they were in a metro? I knew the answer because it was the same reason I was in the metro - the roads were worse than the jampacked metro - there were not only jampacked, they were worse in terms of commute time; Mumbai ranked #4 in traffic congestion and the city's roads saw 119% congestion in 2019.

Again, for the mid-level city executive, a look at the last 5 years was the same as that for the vegetable vendor - traffic hadn't gotten any better, commute times have only risen; so have fuel costs.
Interestingly, we've had two dips in international crude oil in these 5 years - but on both occasions [rather time periods], the govt has chosen to enjoy the gains of the lower pricing to fund its own deficit than pass on the benefits to the consumers/citizens. Not that cheaper fuel would have helped - it would only have made the terrible traffic woes even more terrible.
Food inflation has stayed low but real estate is so damn expensive that people have no choice but to rent/buy housing farther and farther from the city. Recession, or stagnation in the industry is not going away - Banks are stretched and hence credit is not flowing, so there is hardly any new investment and hence fewer opportunities on the horizon. Professional growth isn't something most mid-level executives are vying for - several, in fact, maybe just trying to keep their jobs and their salaries intact.

Back to the scene in the metro, a phone rang - given that there was no space when the co-passenger pulled out his mobile, I had no choice but to peep into this phone. I could see the Trucaller screen pop up the name of the caller - a telemarketing agency. He cut the call without bothering to pick it up and went back to the Netflix show he was watching. Had it been a friend, I would have lectured him on the HUGE privacy nightmare that TrueCaller is! On this occasion though, I kept quiet not to offend an unknown bloke.

I got down from the metro and started to look for an Uber - it took the usual 4 minutes of search and 10 minutes of waiting time for me to board one. The driver was estranged, almost as if he had resigned to the traffic which he stared at. I tried to make small talk asking him where else he had driven during the day and if traffic was any better.

D - सssब  तरफ़ ऐसाही ही है साहब!! जहाँ देखो रास्ता खोदे रक्खे हैं!
Me - चलो कम से कम waiting का तो पैसा मिलता है आपको
D - कोई फ़ायदा नहीं साहब - २ साल से Uber वाले commission कम कर दिए हैं! और traffic में गाड़ी कम चलता है तो उतना कमाई भी नहीं पूरी होती
Me - पर पहले से तो अच्छा है ना ?
D - पहले मैं काली पीली चलाता था; Uber वालों ने पहले तो सपनें दिखाए, तो हम सबने नई गाड़ी खरीदी loan लेकर - अब commission कम किया तो हमारा गाड़ी का हफ्ता ही महंगा पड़ रहा है हमें | इस से अच्छा तो हम पुरानी काली पीली ही चलाते!

The gist of the above conversation is that he bought a new Car on loan in hope of better earnings when Ridesharing companies were offering better commissions. But now that the commissions have reduced, he is finding it difficult to even manage to pay off his EMIs for the car loan. But now that he was caught in the vicious circle of the Loan-EMI repayment, there is no way he can go back. He has to continue being an Uber driver in the hope that someday his EMI will be paid off and he will start earning money - assuming the maintenance costs of his vehicle do no rise by then.

I got home and a friend was already there waiting for our pre-planned dinner. He had flown in from Delhi for a day and we decided to meet for dinner. We compared notes - Delhi was no better, real estate was marginally cheaper but public transport was worse off. His preferred method in spite of traffic woes was driving his car and his commute time was worse than mine - almost 2 hours one way. Delhi had one more problem, acute pollution which gets especially worse in winter months; he was worried if his daughter would develop asthma with the kind of air she was breathing at a young age.

The entire day reminded me of the dystopian movie In Time, where people stop ageing past 25 so time has become the universal currency traded between people. When the time "bank account" on an implanted clock reaches zero, that impoverished person "times out" and is euthanized. So everyone earns so that they may live a little longer, and each luxury they enjoy reduces their time to live. In a heart-wrenching scene - the protagonist goes to meet his mother when the city bus fare rises from 1 to 2 hours, and she only has 90 minutes. She tries to run to meet her son, but times out at the last moment and dies in his arms!

It feels like we are living in a parallel era, where people pay with their Privacy, their time and their Health. The vegetable vendor gets his ₹300 a month entertainment - just like Opium to fulfil his desires, while his future remains suspended in his current state; the Uber driver is perennially under debt but yet unable to give up his profession; the mid level executive stuck in his day job and stuck in the traffic of the city; also a parent stuck with poor environment and constant worry about his offspring's health!

It is as if the Big Bad Corporation - the Mobile Operator, the ride-sharing app, the MNC corp, the Govt and the Carmakers have all managed to lock the common man into a vicious cycle of selling their time, their privacy and their lives for luxuries they cannot afford anyway. It is, as if, these citizens would have been better off without the luxury - without having to pay for it, and without having enjoyed it - but alas, they are paying for these luxuries by reducing precious hours from their lifetimes!

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


  1. Interesting Nikhil... A very different take on today's reality


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