Urban India has undergone a sea of change over the decades. A little more than half a century ago, industrialisation beckoned to a large number of people from small towns and villages to shift to the happening cities. Cities welcomed youngsters who were barely out of schools and colleges with open arms. They established their families, educated their children, bought property and built their homes. The vast expanses of urban land were occupied. Satellite townships were absorbed to expand cities and everything seemed to fall into place. Thus the great Indian middle class came into being when the migrants decided to settle down in their second home for good.
But, the success and the relative comfort of the city dwellers as against their country cousins proved to be the thorn in the bush. More and more agrarians who were working hard for a pittance and their landowners who found themselves at the mercy of erratic rainfall looked citywards.
The innumerable job opportunities for the unlettered as the support system of the city to help it function smoothly, translated as secure salaried jobs for them and a better future for their kids. They came in broods from all over and occupied the nooks and crannies of the cities and looked forward to making it big or at least reasonably sustainable. Though their skills were limited, their willingness to learn and work hard for a living stood by them. And today, the second generation of the working class has proved that the speculation of their parents hit the bull’s eye.
They have been educated in English medium schools and colleges and many of them have landed jobs as drivers, mechanics, electricians, clerks, accountants and many have even been absorbed in white collar jobs. Quite a few have managed to clear loans, buy a little gold and build homes for themselves.
Millions of such people who have migrated to the cities in search of greener pastures have no doubt found the experience enriching in more ways than one. Yet the price that they have had to pay is humongous. They have embraced a way of life very different from their own. They have battled against variance in ideologies, language, culture and ethos and have come to terms with them without ado. They have been removed from their families and communities. They have even lost touch with Mother Nature in the bargain.
One is likely to think that the merging of the rural and urban populace would have happened over a period of time and must have helped the city that has sheltered and supported them to progress in a healthy way. Yet, the picture is quite to the contrary.
If one were to present a contemporary picture of Indian cities, it is likely to be uniform across the length and breadth of the country. We are riddled by a large population, pollution of every sort, concrete jungles, garbage and traffic jams — not necessarily in that order. There is a definite line of demarcation that separates natives and migrants socially, economically, politically, educationally and emotionally.
Yet these setbacks have not discouraged mass migration from villages to the cities.
The people who come in search of better prospects know that they have to stretch resources like housing, water, electricity, sanitation, transport among other things till they become threadbare. They are acutely aware that one of the reasons for pseudo inflation is the inverse relationship between demand and supply.
The other obvious reason is, there are not too many hands toiling away and growing food for those of us who are willing to buy them. Yet, these factors do not seem to deter hopefuls from making a beeline to the cities.
The Indian cities are bursting at their seams and are presently witless to deal with fresh onslaughts like dealing with rain woes, overflowing garbage, increased power cuts and traffic jams.
The only way out of this syndrome is to step up the quality of living in our innumerable villages. The government does not really have to do much on this count, except encourage entrepreneurs to establish their industries in and around the villages. Housing, transportation, communication and attendant facilities will follow automatically.
As for the ever growing cities, its population should be persuaded to take up terrace gardening, rain water harvesting, solar lighting and garbage management in right earnest. Only then shall the twain meet!