Our country's situation is piquant. At a time when we need engineers to build infrastructure, graduates from the IITS are being lured abroad. At a time when the elite should create a robust public spirit because privatisation's taking place in an ocean of the destitute, the brainy and rich have seceded from their birthplace. We're a nation that needs to be built precisely at a moment in history when 'nation-building' has been declared passe.
Down and Out, Labouring Under Global Capitalism-a book about the unseen migrant labour force that heaves the global economy on its back-is an optimistic book. Its authors haven't produced a 'happening' book about the fashionable chiaroscuro of poverty. Instead, it's a matter-of-fact book. Its text is straightforward, its pictures are direct, its design neat and precise. It appears as a coffee table because it asks to be read. It insists that we read about the dignity of the widow who leaves her two-year-old in the care of her four-year-old and walks to a brick kiln miles away to slog there all day. It hopes that we might suffer with the busy three-year-old who races through the night, back and forth, carrying bricks to earn wages to feed his father. Hopes that we'll spare a thought that diamonds glitter with the breathless sweat of cutters who chip at the jewels in airless suffocating ateliers. It states simply, truthfully that at every point of economic consumption in India, hot calloused hands and grimy baby feet provide the crucial synapses. Liberalisation and globalisation need not be bad words. But without investment in social infrastructure and systematic efforts to include the poor in the ambit of economic reforms, the words have simply come to mean an amoral and shallow Get Rich Quick mentality where all culture's kitsch, all wealth reserved for the lucky few.