Monthly Archives: March 2010
I have been reading Maximum City by Suketu Mehta, his nonfiction account of returning to modern Bombay to live after a 21-year absence. Some of it is so spot-on it is hilarious. So much so, that I thought I would share some of his most astute observations about life in India. For those of you who have been, who understand the yes/no, now/never, love/hate relationship – you will totally get and appreciate this. For those who haven’t, you will be highly amused, though perhaps a bit perplexed. And it is sadly, frustratingly, altogether true. My favorite line:
India is not a tourist-friendly country. It will reveal itself to you only if you stay on, against all odds.
Bombay survives on the scam. The ethic of Bombay is quick upward mobility, and a scam is a shortcut. Anyone can work hard and make money. What’s to admire about that? But a well-executed scam? Now, there’s a thing of beauty!
All things in Bombay fail regularly: plumbing, telephones, the movement of huge blocks of traffic. For the month after my family arrives (at their new flat), I chase plumbers, electricians and carpenters. The electrician attached to the building is an easygoing fellow who comes in the late afternoons, chats with me about the wiring in the flat, and patches things up so they work only for a little while, assuring multiple future visits. The phone department has to be called and the workmen bribed to repair it. It is in their interest to have a lousy phone system.
As for my plumber, I want to assassinate him. He pits the occupants of the flats against one another, telling the people above and below me that I should pay to fix the numerous leaks, then telling me I should convince them to pay. The president of the building society explains it to me: All the pipes in this building are fucked. All this takes most of our waking time. The city is groaning under the pressure of the 1 million people per square mile.
India desires modernity; it desires computers, information technology, video on demand. But there is no guarantee of a constant supply of electricity in most places in the country. The country is convinced it can pole-vault over the basics: develop world-class computer and management institutes without achieving basic literacy; provide advanced cardiac surgery while the most easily avoidable childhood diseases run rampant; sell washing machines that depend on a non-existent water supply; drive scores of new cars that go from 0 to 60 in ten seconds without any roads where they might do this without killing everything inside and out, man and beast.
It is an optimistic view of technological progress – that if you reach for the moon, you will somehow, automatically, span the inconvenient steps in between. India has the third largest pool of technical labor in the world, but a third of its one billion people can’t read or write. The country graduates the best technical brains in the world, but neglects to teach my plumber how to fix a toilet so it stays fixed. As a result, in the “Country of the No” nothing is fixed the first time around. You don’t just call a repairman, you begin a relationship with him. You can’t bring to his attention too aggressively the fact that he is incompetent or crooked, because you will need him to set right what he has broken the first time around.
Bombay is not the ancient Indian idea of a city. It is an imitation of a Western city, and like all other imitations of the West here – the Hindi pop songs, the appliances, the accents people put on, the parties the rich throw – this imitation, too, is neither here nor there.
One of questions I am most often asked about the topic of the “invisible children” of India – the orphaned, the abandoned, the runaways and throwaways – is something along the lines of, “Why aren’t more children adopted?” or “Are any of these kids ever adopted?”
In India (as in many other places), the issue of adoption is a complex one. Corruption, particularly in international adoptions, is rampant – and not just within India, but outside its borders in foreign “adoption agencies” as well. Government regulations and oversight, issues about parental relinquishment and what children are really available for adoption, and the legal process are all involved and complicated. There are far fewer domestic adoptions within the country than one would think – fewer than five thousand a year – while millions of children languish in orphanages and more than four thousand potential adoptive parents wait on lists in both Delhi and Calcutta alone.
I recently published an article on Blog Critics, about the myriad issues surrounding adoption in India. If you are interested in this subject and some of the background issues surrounding it, you might like to take a look. An excerpt is below:
In March 2007 I was in Northeastern India, on my third trip to the country and in the midst of writing my book, The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India. I had first come to India two years prior to volunteer in an orphanage; the beautiful, parentless children had touched my life so profoundly that I had been inspired to write a book about their lives. Some of them had been orphaned by death, but far more had been orphaned simply by poverty: their parents were too poor to feed them. In a way this seemed a greater tragedy, and I set about trying to discover why more of these children weren’t adopted.
It turned out to be an extremely complicated subject in India. Many of the children are never eligible for adoption, because they have not been truly orphaned or the requisite relinquishment forms have not been signed. Although there is a four-year waiting list for domestic adoption in both Delhi and Calcutta, the laws and regulations are exceedingly burdensome and not easily navigable, even for government and social workers. And the biggest hurdle of all seems to be corruption; it is rampant in this country, particularly when it comes to international adoption. In my research and interviewing process for the book, I heard story after story about children who weren’t really available for adoption, being taken from their parents and sold to wealthy, unsuspecting foreigners; children whose adoption papers were forged; orphanages where the children available for adoption were fed and healthy, while those unavailable were malnourished and abused.”
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