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Two unrelated incidents occurred yesterday. They were in no way linked but somehow painted a graphic image of India. The first was the trials and tribulations of the week end of a dear friend in the heart of Uttar Pradesh. The second an article I stumbled upon aptly titled: Rs. 1.25 lakh for a small peg of cognac at Delhi hotel. True these were not sold every day but we were promptly informed that a champagne bottle priced at Rs 1. 75 lacs was quite popular with our guests and sells pretty well.

But let us take them one at a time. Last week a friend volunteering with us told me that she was planning to visit Mathura with the family of one of the student she was teaching as they belonged to Mathura and had offered to be her guide. I was a little concerned as my friend is in her seventies but did not say anything as she was really excited and keen to go. The experience she said was one of a kind as she visited the sights on a motorbike! But what truly disturbed her was the squalor of the places she went to and the abject poverty around her. A far cry from the Delhi of malls and starred hotels just three hours away. She told me that the slums of the city were luxurious if compared to what she had seen.

Was it then synchronicity that I should come across the article just a few moments before hearing about the famed week end. I remember jumping out of my skin some years back when I heard of a bottle of champagne being sold at the galling price of 50K! Well prices had gone up. If daily articles cost more then spirits had to follow I guess. So a peg at 1.25 lacs should not make us jump. Welcome to India the land of the uber rich and the abjectly poor. The land where some gorge themselves whilst others starve. Yet another tale of two Indias!

True you cannot and should not grudge anyone for their success, their riches, their prosperity. But can you turn your eyes away from the terrible pictures of children dying or the chilling statistics on malnutrition. Can you keep mute when you come across a child begging? Can you simply pass the abysmal living facilities that dot our city unmoved? I guess you can as most of us do with our myopic view of life contained within the four walls of our existence. How many of us would like my friend visit a place with someone who we considered ‘lower’? My friend did and what she saw was first hand: people living in cramped spaces with doorless bathrooms, where words like privacy have no meaning at all, where in a few square feet the old and the young eat, sleep, pray, cook, laugh, cry, fight, love and live or should one say survive. How many of us would share this space albeit for one night as my friend did and not be critical or horrified but humbled. How would you like to live in towns and shanties everyone has forgotten with no civic amenities where garbage and refuse lie everywhere and walking becomes an obstacle race? Yet many do, without grudging or complaining, forsaken by all.

Forgive my ranting but when I stumble upon a peg @ of 1.25 lacs my blood runs cold. There is something obscene and revolting about the image of someone sipping in a few minutes what another would never dream of in a lifetime. But that is the way we are. When will this country awake!