In the beginning there was none…then came one which in turn spawned some and that’s how we had come. Units turned to tens which became hundreds which grew to thousands which gave birth to ten thousands which created lakhs and the chain went on and suddenly BOOM!! We had ended up with a whopping 7 billion. That “BOOM!” is what we have fondly come to call as the population explosion which I am sure we would all have studied in our Social Science textbook. Being from the second most populous country of the world with a head count of 1.23 billion I would like to present my take on living with such numbers. So living with 1.2 billion, a boon or bane? That seems to be the million dollar question. It depends on your take on it. Do you like getting your teeth knocked out in the mad rush to get seats on a train or bus that’s just about to leave a station or terminus? Do you like waiting for days in long queues ranging from getting tickets in a local metro to paying homage to a God? Do you like travelling in a general train compartment or a bus that’s jam packed like sardines in a tin? Do you like seeing people littering and befouling the public? Do you like people begging you? What would your answer to those questions be?
It will certainly be a “Never!!” unless you are some eccentric crackpot which of course you are not. Ok, I may have exaggerated on the details of the questions above. You don’t get your teeth knocked out nor do you wait for days(unless it is Thirupathi) but the thing about the general compartment and the others is so true. Somehow people are always on the rush, a mindless and unnecessary rush. A local metro train is about to leave and people madly dash here and there just to get a seat. They use a wide assortment of weird items to “reserve” their seat which ranges from handkerchiefs, newspapers and even slippers. If anyone ignores these tokens and takes what is supposedly their seat then all hell breaks loose. There are instances where some women demand men to yield their seats as they believe that men possess superior stamina and power and that a thing like sitting down is very trivial and hence it should be ladies who should always have the right to sit. In all this madness the person who wants to get down at the stop is also pushed into the compartment in the rush while all he wants is to actually get out and he misses his stop(thankfully I have only witnessed this but not experienced it). I did have to bear with some elbowing in the face and foot stomps in these encounters. I guess it makes you tough and contributes to character building. The most amusing experience I have had is when I had boarded a local train which came from Thirupathi and was headed to Chennai Central. After reaching Central it would again leave in about 15 minutes to Thirupathi. As the train pulled up to the platform I was getting ready to detrain when I was attacked! A mob of people started pushing their way in even before the train stopped in a mad rush for seats. I was pushed inside and people started squatting around my feet totally immobilizing me. It took about 5 minutes for me to get out of that sardine tin. I learnt never to board a Thirupathi-Central local train ever again.
Talking about Thirupathi, the place where one of the wealthiest Gods in the world is worshiped, reminds me of the never ceasing queue. All the wait just to see the idol for a few seconds and pray while the priest shouts “Jerigandi! Jerigandi!”(Hurry up! Hurry up!). My Dad is a big believer and he would take us whenever we visited India during the summer holidays. It would take hours spanning to even 8 hours or so. I would be bored silly and my legs would ache from all that standing. Sometimes they would shut us in a room for hours and put a Telugu devotional movie which I don’t understand nor care about. I try to hide my frustration and when I finally see the idol my prayer would be “Please! I want to get out soon!”. I thought that only Thirupathi was this bad but then I visited a temple(Sri Rangam) in Trichy and it was a similar experience but it can never beat the former. When I grew old enough I decided that I had spent enough time waiting at temple queues and never again will I go to a temple again. After all temples, beliefs and customs are simply man-made and if you really believe in God then the thought is all that matters. But Alas! I can’t make the same choice for ticket queues at railway counters and other places. Like it or not I HAVE to go through the looooong wait. I also have to deal with people cutting lines and people asking others to buy tickets for them too. There are also girls, especially cute good looking girls who use these situations to their advantage(I have seen my friends do this with expertise). The cute girl goes up to some guy who is of their age group and makes this very sorry face and asks him to get a ticket for her and the oh-so-gullible boy accepts and he gets it for her. I guess it is a two-way street, the boy gets a high out of interacting and helping out a cute girl and the girl gets her ticket. A note for those girls, just don’t call that guy “Anna”(Brother) as that is so tactless. There are other queues too like ration shop and voting queues but thankfully I haven’t experienced them as of yet.
Waiting not only comes in the form of queues but also in the form of waiting for a bus. I usually have to wait for anywhere between half an hour to an hour just to get a bus that is empty enough to humanely travel. The buses are usually chock blocked with people and there is barely any room left unless you count hanging from the foot board or you prefer becoming a human origami. This state of void less space extends to the general compartment of express trains where the effect is multiplied. Booking train tickets need to be done at least a month in advance and even then there is a possibility that you may still be on a waiting list. It is often not easy to predict when you have to go somewhere so booking a month in advance is not really viable. The next stage is Tatkal tickets(booking the same tickets at a higher price, the concept is shove a little more cash at them and you get a higher priority) which again is a hassle as you have to book from the IRCTC website or go to the station to book. And let’s face it booking on IRCTC for Tatkal takes nothing short of a miracle. Long story short many, especially students mostly due to their small wallet, just opt for the easy way out-the general compartment. A travel in this compartment can prepare you for any other journey that you will possibly undertake in your whole life. I think NASA has to include this as one of the training procedures for their astronauts. Want to sleep? You can only wish with all the ruckus going on around you. Want to stretch your sore numb legs? Not a chance. Want to go to the loo? Sure, but good luck trying to find another place to cling onto when you return. Just go easy on the liquids till you can get somewhere near a bathroom, which is another problem of its own.
Somehow with this many people the number of bathrooms around is alarmingly less. So as a solution to the lack of bathrooms in the close proximity of the full “bladdered” seeker there is a tendency to convert any wall, bush, transformer and various other spots into public urinals. It seems amazing how people get the urge when they leave the house where they were supposed to have finished their business there itself. Unfinished business really tends to piss you off. Added to this is spitting. If people spit when they chew betel leaves or pan masala I guess it is understandable however irksome it is but many spit for apparently no reason at all. Is it their style of stating “I have been here , done that”? I am always on the high alert scanning the ground so as not to tread on any of these territorial marks. Another one of these territorial marks is the occasional paper cup or plate, bus or train ticket, toffee wrapper and all sorts of other rubbish strewn on the sides of the street. Lack of dustbins prompt people to merely toss these items a side without a second thought and when torrential rains come the garbage clogs the drains causing the roads to be flooded and the same people who littered the public blame the corporation for their poor service and maintenance. Oh the irony of it all is just off the charts! Not to talk about other waste like greenhouse gas emissions and so on. But wait! Actually I guess people litter out of good will. They litter so as scavengers/scroungers and beggars collect the paper and plastic waste and get to make some money. Yes, this must be the reason! How heartless have I been by not following those people but rather stuffing things like toffee wrappers, biscuit and snack packet covers in my pocket and banana peels, paper cups and plates and other things in a bag till I find a dustbin to properly dispose them. I being a middle class citizen should help the lower class under privileged people who take to lives as beggars and scroungers. I have been very selfish indeed.
With such an enormous population it is very hard to provide food, water, shelter and a job for everyone. People have no choice, they are reduced to begging as hunger squeezes their stomachs and thirst parches their throats. On trains, at temples, on roads and everywhere else they reach out to you in hope for some monetary aid that can provide a momentary relief. These people range from small kids, old people, disabled people and able but hopeless souls. I had once traveled to Bhubaneshwar for a paper presentation. It was night when I reached at the railway station and I was with my friend contemplating on how to reach the college’s hostel as we were new and they did not provide us with any transport. Just then a 5 year old gypsy girl came and asked for money but I refused. I normally never encourage begging. I assumed if I refused she would go away like any other normal beggar but she was different. She was also adamant, determined and downright cruel. She kept on persistently asking me and I flat out refused. The girl then to my horror jumped onto my suitcase and started hugging it as if it was some teddy bear. She was as tall as the suitcase and simply refused to let go. I didn’t know Hindi or Oriya so I just started muttering in a mixture of English, Tamil, French, Sinhala and bits of other languages I knew. I even tried my hand at some broken Hindi but I guess she only knew Oriya which I had no idea about. The best support my friend gave was a hearty laugh at the sight of it all. I finally gave up, took out my wallet and to my dismay had no coins. So I heavily handed her a 10 rupee note and as if I had cast a charm she quickly let go and went on to find her next victim. I ought to say that I admire her strategic scheming and planning. On one side I looked at it with some amusement but on the other side I was struck with the harsh reality of the state of poverty.
We have the educated unemployed and the uneducated unemployed. For every seat, post and job we have lakhs and lakhs of applicants. Finished 12th and you want a seat in Engineering at an IIT or NIT? Sure, just write an exam that has about more than 11,00,000 people like you competing for the same thing and the chances of you getting what you want is just 0.02%. Every exam that you write be it GATE, CAT, UPSC, TNPSC, Bank recruitment exam and so on has at least a few lakh people for you to go against. So good luck for getting what you want.
Competition even extends to basic resources like land, water, food which in turn results in scars and scarcity. Yet people blame their woes on the government for their plight.
The helpless government can only do as much. With such a big and diverse population the administration task must be a real nightmare. Whew! I am glad that I do not have to be the one to make those decisions. We have the world record for having the most number of parties….before you rejoice let me add that these are political parties. So an idea by one gets contradicted by the other and we end up not being able to dish out the best ideas in a timely manner. Such diversity can be a real hindrance. One person doesn’t agree with the other, one group doesn’t agree with the other, one party doesn’t agree with the other, one city doesn’t agree with the other, one district doesn’t agree with the other, one state doesn’t agree with the other and this recursive chain goes on leading to clashes and disturbance of communal harmony. These clashes could range between Ajith(Thala) Vs. Vijay(Thalapathy)(if you want a Bollywood reference take Salman Vs. SRK) fan clubs to religious group based clashes.
So what are our world leaders doing to solve this problem? Here is a cartoon that answers this question(Notice the headlines in the newspapers).
However just like a coin which has two sides so does living with such numbers. Sometimes, the demerits may even serve as merits. You will never feel alone ever as there is always someone to run into wherever you go (of course that someone can be a person whom you’d rather not meet too, like a thief or psychotic serial killer).
You tend to have a lot of relatives too, what with your grandma and great great grandma having 8-10 children. My paternal grandma had 9 children. The most I have seen is my Aunt’s mother who had 19. With such a big population everyone ends up being related to someone. So you end up having a big family(but for people who hate family gatherings this is very bad news).
Your life revolves around a variety of people from various cultures and as you meet many such people it helps you to be more understanding, adjusting and adapting with different types of personalities. We believe in “Unity in diversity”. With a big population wherever you go, even around the globe, there will always be a fellow countryman to help you out.
More people mean more ideas and more ideas equal to more innovation. We also get more labour power at a very cheap price, that’s the secret behind why 90% of the goods people buy have the tag “Made in China”. It follows the ideology of “Many hands make light work”(too bad if you follow “Too many cooks spoil the broth”).
Many ideas give birth to many products and for these products to thrive we need a huge market and in order to get this huge market we need a gigantic demand and that’s where our large population comes to the rescue and saves the day. With a lot of ideas comes a lot of competition, healthy competition to get the best idea. Competition is the key to innovation.
These are the mere musings of a person who is one in a billion.
As closing words I would like to say: contraception, family planning, birth control.