Nothing more exemplifies modern India than the call centers my wife and I visited in Bangalore, where young men and women wearing headsets talk virtually non-stop with often frustrated callers from all over the world. The jobs are so stressful that break rooms with the most current video games are provided as incentives for people who manage to stick it out for more than a few months. And yet, every week, young people from all over India apply, trying to gain access to the kind of life that only a job with a regular paycheck can provide. But not everyone in India is happy with what is going on in Bangalore.
On another day, we visited a tiny Indian village in which men carry on the occupations taught them by fathers and grandfathers as far back as anyone can remember. Cattle owners, a carpenter, a cobbler, a jeweler and a barber who also cleans ears maintain a self sufficient and inter-dependent economy in which money has not been needed and escaping poverty an unknown concept. In a corner of the village a no-longer-young potter was making clay vessels by the only method that he knows. Balancing a large round stone on a small rock, he spun the stone faster and faster until it had enough momentum to keep it spinning while he formed a lump of wet clay into whatever vessel the people in the village needed. His wife painted his handiwork for delivery to someone in the village who might give her a gallon of milk or something else in exchange.
But something new had recently come to the village. Connected to a power line strung on a pole is an old television set tied to a satellite receiver that provides the first view the villagers have had of the India of call centers and Bollywood movies. As a result, in the Indian version of “How ya’ goin’ keep ‘em down on the farm,” sons are no longer content to practice the vocations of their fathers, but want instead to go the city where they can earn money and buy things they never before even imagined.
Through a translator, the potter told us with a hint of a tear in his eye that none of his sons wants to be a potter, let alone one with an embarrassingly old stone for a wheel. As a result, when he is no longer able to spin that stone, the other villagers will lose their only source for the many things the potter has always provided. Neither he nor the villagers know what they will do when that day comes. For some people in India, the price of progress is very high.