Monday, April 7, 2008

Cell Phones Leapfrog Drinking Water

I recently had an opportunity to travel to our native village Naithana in Garhwal, which is in the state of Uttarakhand in India. This is a tiny remote village with a population of less than 100 people in the hills of Himalayas in northern part of India. I had been there just once before when I was 6 years old and only had faint recollections of the place.

This time I had a very different experience. The village has dilapidated even more. The houses are in ruins. All this because of the one-way migration from villages to cities. My father's family migrated out 46 years ago. No one ever goes back there. Our ancestral house, which was quite palatial at one time, is now totally disintegrated. In Hindi language, we have one word to describe it -- khandhar.

No Water Supply For 2 Days

The village does not have drinking water reliably supplied to the houses. Although the water pipes have been laid out to some houses, the supply is erratic at best. I was there for a couple of days, and the taps had been dry for over two days they told me. So the people living there had to fall back to plan B -- fetch water from the natural spring water sources that surround the village. That is what they had been doing for generations, so actually it was not much of a plan B for them. It was more of a plan A prime, I suppose. They do not expect 24x7 running water in the taps at home.

I did not expect much signs of progress in this village. In the morning, we were going to the water spring outside the village. You know, for the shower. On the way, I saw a couple of village girls walking back, carrying bucket full of water on their head. But lo and behold, to my surprise, here is what I heard and saw next.

... To Fetch A Pail Of Water

As the girls approached me, I thought I heard a cell phone ring. Maybe it is a transistor radio, I wondered. But as they passed me by, I saw one of them pull out a cell phone from under her scarf.

And she started merrily chatting away. I was blown away by the sight. It was a great contradiction, something you can only see in India.

Leapfrogging In Developing Countries

Is this really the way things are supposed to progress in developing countries? You now have cell phone service in places where there is no drinking water service. Similarly, there is a burgeoning air travel market in India, leapfrogging the investment required to build roadways infrastructure. And India has more number of poor and malnourished people than any other country, yet 4 of the top 8 richest people in Forbes Richest People list this year, are of Indian origin. At the Delhi airport this time, the immigration line for foreign passport holders was much longer than the Indian passport holders. Yet, the Delhi airport is a shambles.

I am amazed by these set of contradictions. It would be wonderful to get an objective third-party account of the current conditions and progress in India, maybe from an American/European tourist. Much like the venture capitalist Mark Davis wrote during his recent India trip.

Maybe these are just the growing pains of India. These inconsistencies should smoothen out in a few years. That is what I hope for. Go India!


Jake said...

Wow, that's crazy. I posted to FriendFeed here:

Are you on FF yet?

Puneet Thapliyal said...

Thanks Jake.

I am in FriendFeed now.

Ontario Emperor said...

It's easier to set up wireless service than it is to get reliable water. Sad, but true.

When I visited South Africa in 1997, I read about a shantytown that had no telephone landlines, but did have a few communal cell phones available for use.

Gary Myers said...

"All this because of the one-way migration from villages to cities."
Maybe the cell-phones (and wireless communications in general) will change that, or at least help move from cities to towns.

Puneet Thapliyal said...

@Gary Yes, I really hope so. It is a beautiful place, our village, in the Himalayas. So I hope people would start moving back and reinvigorate the region. Amen.

Puneet Thapliyal said...

@Ontario Emperor: You are right. I suppose that is why progress in developing countries does not follow the same route as that of the already developed countries, when those countries were progressing themselves, decades ago. There are ample possibilities of leapfrogging all around.

Dhiraj said...

India is a mystic place to see and enjoy the contrasting views of life...migration is natural which happens in every part of the world...albeit at different level in a develop country...we do see high concentration of folks along the coast than central part of US..

Puneet Thapliyal said...

@dhiraj Absolutely. Well, we too have migrated from India to US!

David Haimes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Haimes said...

When I first went to India in 1999(visiting my wife's family) I found this sort of thing fascinating, houses with no running water but internet connections and satellite TV.

I have just got back from a work trip to India, I need to write a blog article with all my thoughts. It is an amazing country, which has played a big part on the world stage in the past and will surely be a huge influence in the future too.


Dear Puneet,
Sorry to hear about ur Dad.He'd been a great inspiration.Take care.

The Consultant said...

I was India in those days. The anecdote is crazy.