Mahesh, the rickshaw puller makes rupees 500 ($7) on a good day, pedaling passengers in the scorching summer sun. Half his earnings go to the owner of the rickshaw. It used to be rupees 700-800 before the cheaper new fangled battery-operated ones he can’t afford to buy or rent came into vogue and UBER overtook the city, wiping out the livelihood of dozens of people like Mahesh who cannot afford to get a drivers license. Uneducated, unskilled, feeding a family of four, Mahesh is lucky if he can pay for one meal a day for his wife and three daughters.
The radical right wing government ruling India came to power on the promise of “Achche Din” (better days) for people like Mahesh, a promise to bridge the gap between the filthy rich and desperately poor. Instead, the rich have become obscenely richer, the politicians even more brazen and crooked, and the vast majority of India’s educated upper middle class even more apathetic to the rot that is killing India’s beautiful core. Nobody cares until the corruption and callousness personally affects them. Many of my friends point to the lack of an option to the current establishment. Not only do we have a crisis of leadership, the same problem affecting Russia and Turkey for example, but also a crisis of imagination.
India’s potential is epic, its people resilient and industrious, its youth smart and hungry for progress. If only they could imagine a future that lifts all segments of society, and not just create incremental wealth and opportunity for those who need them the least.
His skin bronzed in the sun, his deep brown eyes unwavering, Mahesh possesses a kind of mesmerizing beauty and reserve that gave me a surge of hope. Would I be so stoic and upright if I were him? He looked me straight in the eye when we spoke, without bitterness or complaint. “It’s my life, my destiny” he said, “and for the sake of my family I will do anything, even ride this rickshaw from here to New Delhi”. Humbled.