The great divide

The Supreme Court should not be identifying the poor, but must leave that to ‘us economists’, says Planning Commission member Abhijit Sen.

Of course Mr.Sen. How stupid of the Apex Court to be so presumptuous! The amount the PC has allotted as being the ceiling to qualify for the BPL status is way generous! Why, some of the heads under which the allocation have been made are not even necessary like, rent, for instance or even education. My maid complains that she hasn’t been able to get a BPL card despite running from pillar to post for 5 years. Maybe the PC had found out that she spends more than Rs.32 per day and so have blocked her efforts.

I am surprised no one is praising the Commizzion, which in one deft stroke has ‘disappeared’ (as my granddaughter would say) lakhs of poor from the face of India. What a great way to project the ‘prosperity’ of our country! So now we have magicians in the PC in addition to jokers as our elected representatives. Truly a circus!

More seriously, the recent riots in UK were termed by observers as a reaction to the deepening social divide between the haves and have-nots. In India too the divide which has always existed is widening at an alarming rate. It is almost as big a ticking time bomb as the increasing population is. The situations of both classes of the population are similar, but oh so different.

Last night as I suffered from a bout sleeplessness, the similarities and differences between the two jostled in my brain. I am jotting them down before they fade away.

Note: Haves are those who obviously fall way above the PC defined BPL, and not to be confused with those who marginally escape being BPL. In short folks, it means people like you and me and those like the Ambanis, our leaders and of course PC members. The Have-nots are those workers, labourers and other BPL populace, which doesn’t have two spare coins to rub together.

They are denoted as Hs and HNs, respectively .


Let’s start with the basic needs of roti, kapda and makan and then go on to the other heads.


Both Hs and HNs suffer from heart-burn and acidity.

The Hs indulge in food – rich, oily, spicy and down it with gallons of cola, coffee and aerated drinks. They belch grossly as a result.

The HNs belch too because their stomachs are empty but producing digestive acids. The HNs stay hungry for hours and even days. Sometimes their hearts burn too when they see so much food being wasted at weddings and in hotels, when their kids go hungry.



Both the Hs and HNs are in a fix about clothes.

She stands in front of the wardrobe and wonders what to wear from the rows and rows of clothes and then agonises over what accessories to go with them..

In her meagre shack she  looks at her single threadbare saree and wonders how to hide the big tear in it since any attempt to stitch it would only tear it completely. Her hands are bare, the glass bangles having broken when she was scrubbing vessels in a house the previous day, and the neck are ears are bare too….



This one is less about a dwelling place and more about sharing living quarters.

The Hs share. Of course, they do – the roof, that is. They are loathe to sharing the rooms/loo with members of their own family and so go on building/renting bigger houses where they all have their own ‘space’. Look at Mukesh Ambani’s Antilia! Guests coming to the Hs’ houses have to announce their arrival months in advance to avoid inconveniencing them.

The HNs on the other hand are experts at sharing the single room which accommodates not only their own family but those who keep streaming in to the city from their villages. When they live on the footpath, it is of course open house. And the loo? It is shared between a dozen families, that is, if they have one at all!

They have such large hearts that they even allow their hutments to be razed to give the Hs their malls and markets, while they live in inhuman conditions on the outskirts of the city and commute long distances to clean and wash for the Hs.

Actually the PC has been very generous in allotting Rs.49 as house rent. The HNs don’t pay rent at all – living on footpaths and under half constructed over bridges. So aren’t they saving the humongous amount, especially if it is a family we are talking about here?



There are more similarities in this one – both the classes have water.

The H in their overhead tanks and underground sumps, which they liberally flush down the pot, wash the terrace, balcony, car(s) etc. etc., not to speak of leaving the tap open as they brush and shave. The richer Hs even fill their sunken bathtubs to wallow in it. If the water wasted in hotel rooms by the Hs waiting for the hot water to start running from the taps is saved, I bet it can provide enough water for an entire colony of slum dwellers.

The HNs have a lot of water too – around their houses, in the narrow lanes and by lanes in their slum colonies and in puddles breeding mosquitoes around their shacks. But for water to drink, wash or bathe, they have to stand/fight in line at the single tap/hand-pump or trek miles to fetch a potful.



When there is no power the Hs have to sweat it out without an AC in summer and shiver in winter without heating. They can’t watch TV or use their computers unless they have power back up. What deprivation!

The HNs have all the light they can use since street lights don’t go off unless there is a major power breakdown and they don’t need any fan, living in the open and enjoying the gusts of wind from passing vehicles – so what if it is laced with methane and all kinds of toxic fumes? The slum dwellers, who are ‘not poor’ according to PC standards of course, are worse off, having to shell out unreasonable amounts as ‘electricity charges’ to the slum lord who has let out the jhuggi at an exorbitant rent.

I hope you understand now that being poor is a breeze while being a H is fraught with hardships of all kinds!



This affects both. The Hs are not able to go for those holidays, can’t afford to eat out at swanky restaurants and can’t afford to commute by car. The poor things!

The HNs don’t have to make a choice about things they want to buy with their meager income. They need food. But here comes the dilemma: what to buy? It certainly is not possible to buy one potato, one tomato and three bhindi with their income, as demonstrated by a TV channel. So grains win over and they end up eating plain rotis, which  they  sometimes wash down with water — if they can get some, that is.


These are all the similarities that I could think of, which would have you believe that the Hs hold all the cards vis-à-vis the HNs. But the latter hold the trump card.



While the Hs sit at home and pontificate over the state of the country and lament the poor quality of MPs and MLAs that get elected, loath to leave the comfort of their drawing rooms, the HNs lured by the ‘spirits’, and other ‘incentives’, fooled by the false promises of the leaders who make a beeline to their miserable homes and sometimes cowed down by threats of their slumlords, march to the polling booths and plunge their ultimate weapon on the symbol they have been ordered to push…thereby extracting sweet revenge on the unfeeling Hs who zip past in their fast cars and faster lifestyles.

Poetic justice? You bet!


(Image courtesy:




  1. The great Indian divide growing bigger and bigger by the day. What an irony India sees everyday…Every time I go to one of the malls and come back all pampered, I can’t stop thinking about the security guards, the salesmen an women etc who stay there all day but can’t afford anything being sold there 😦
    But the problem is bigger than buying things from a mall. Many people starve for days and there are many who spend thousands on a single meal 😦


    1. I have had the same feeling while browsing the malls, Akanksha. There is an opinion that since we have earned our riches we should not feel bad about enjoying it. Would you agree?


  2. Zephyr, this post continues to be timeIy, even a year after you wrote it. The sad part is, I think it will so be even after many years. I used to think that those up there were blind and deaf, based on the absurd decisions they took. Only dumbness remained. Now they qualify with their dumb decisions too. Those that decide lead such subsidised lives, their entire thinking is skewed.


    1. I am tempted to re-post it with some changes and additions. Maybe I should. Some posts indeed are timeless because we as a nation will never change for the better. 😦


  3. Having heard about the term… hitting the nail right at the head, I think your post if read by the PC, would have driven the last nail all the way to seal the coffin of their incompetency, insensitivity and impotency for good. Keep hitting…


    1. It makes my blood boil when we talk about all kinds disadvantaged groups when the most disadvantaged of them all is being ignored and their miseries glossed over by the privileged classes and our rulers.


  4. I am loving your cynicism very much. My heart burns from reading this, Zephyr – and it so looks like things will only get shuffled around, never change.

    Funny thought – you wrote about the woman trying to hide the tear from her saree. Lee jeans sells torn jeans for thousands of rupees. How fair is that?. Reminds me of the sweet ad where the daughter places her new “torn” jeans on the bed and goes off to bathe, and her mom diligently comes in, sees the jeans and stitches it all up. Don’t remember the brand though.

    Those in power are mostly a bunch of buffoons. Most days I hate reading the news. Sigh. I mean, we’ve got politicians who think it is a crime to be pulled up for raping a friend’s wife.

    Thank you for showing me this link 🙂


    1. That was cynicism born out of frustration and helplessness. I am glad you liked it. Comments from the likes of you keep me going.

      I remember the torn jeans too. I had bought one for my son in the early 90s when they came with patches. then they must have graduated to torn jeans 🙂


  5. Frankly, I was shocked and angered to see the joke that PC doled out in the name of redefining poverty lines. I can only see this as a ploy to keep most people deserving of state help out of the ambit of it. I can only say that they need a reality and more importantly a conscience check. You are right about the deep divide widening. When and how will any progress hold any meaning for an average aam aadmi?


    1. You are right. My maid,the watchman, the presswala — they all guffaw whenever they hear of any scheme supposed to help the poor, The maid is still running from pillar to post trying to get a BPL card. Conscience check? What is it?


  6. Planning Commission obviously has been insensitive. They could have kept at least the minimum wages as the limit for determining poverty.


    1. Like I replied to Arti’s comment, they are not bothered about ground reality or sensitivity. It is their security and arrogance that speaks.


  7. Rs. 32 is some serious joke?!?!! These people need to take off their century old glasses and see the world in reality!


    1. They can’t see any reality, they don’t need to. their salaries run into six figures and still they get subsidized food in the canteen!


  8. Great post- the situation that prompted it is disgraceful though. Our economic planners are certainly magicians to be able to erase poverty so easily!

    One panelist on a talk show yesterday had an interesting idea. He advised the govt to make basic necessities like foodgrains cheaply available through the Public distn system to EVERYONE, regardless of income.

    Well-off folks would not buy their provisions there anyway, being used to better-quality stuff! So anyone who was really in need could get provisions there. Must say that I like the idea.


    1. When that was being done in the 90s before it was changed to the present system, the ration not availed of by the well to do was being sold in black to the BPL! That is the depth of corruption in this country, Manju!


  9. It looks like the ‘Garibi Hatao’ andolan is being taken very seriously indeed!, even if it just means changing the very definition of poverty!


    1. exactly! How ingenious of the PC to be able to do that without taking any pains whatsoever!


  10. I was appalled when I read the new BPL qualifying status by our PC ! Lack of sensitivity of the PC towards the plight of the poor is disturbing ! Brilliantly articulated article !


    1. The plight of the poor is appalling and anyone with half a heart and no mind can see it if they only opened half an eye. It is a brilliant stroke by which the PC has reduced the number of BPL people in the country.


  11. Saru Singhal · · Reply

    It all started with a figure…And,our economists can’t deal with it…


    1. It is precisely because they don’t have to deal with it that the whole joke started. The poor who have to deal with it are helpless…


  12. Whats troubling is not that some smart alec in planning commission though of this idea, but that the likes of Montek Singh and Kirit Parikhs of the world allowed such recommendation to go through. I have personally had a chance to meet these two – the chairman and deputy chairman of PC once. I was thoroughly impressed with their knowledge and business skills. I think they are all that – they have just stopped being human.


    1. They are brilliant minds and I used to hold Montek Singh in such esteem too. But didn’t we all do that with MMS? What is happening to all the bright minds of this country? Sacrificed on the altar of sycophancy? You have said it all in the gem: they have just stopped being human.


  13. I think I had a smile on my face reading through this. Like the one I get sometimes now a days while watching/reading news. Or was it a smirk?


    1. I think it is more like a grimace, don’t you?


  14. Very thought provoking and disturbing at the same time!The insensitivity of the state and lack in governance is alarming. Mera Bharat Mahan!


    1. The government and our leaders at large have completely lost it where governance is concerned. They just are clueless about the galloping inflation and are unwilling to shut down the parallel economy or bring back the money in foreign banks which a few individuals are enjoying. I am still hopeful that by some stroke of miracle our country will indeed become Mahan one day.


  15. If I am not mistaken it was Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman Planning Commission who with a single stroke of his pen alleviated the poor in our country.

    Rs 32/ a day is a cruel joke at the expense of the garib admi. A great way for the state to absolve itself of all it’s responsibilities towards its underprivileged class.

    But I am sure not all H’s are as bad as you project them to be 🙂


    1. It was Montek who ‘disappeared’ the poor, and took off on a jaunt with the PM. We have to be thankful that we can at least afford to eat vegetables. My presswala’s daughter hesitantly asked me, ‘Aunty thodi subzi hogi?’ The poor girl! wonder how many days since her mother cooked any.

      I never said the Hs are bad, did I? I have classified everyone starting with us to the Ambanis in the Hs and all of us are guilty of one thing or the other in the list, aren’t we?


  16. Cruel insensitive joke by the PC…Rs 32 per day was like salt on the inflamed wounds. It was simply to improve the statistics on paper…”See we reduced poverty?.
    Your comparisons are though provoking.


    1. At the rate inflation is going through the roof, we will all be reduced to the state of HNs soon enough and then only the Ambanis, our MPs and MLAs and members of elite bodies like the Planning Commission will only qualify for the term Haves. the departments are so completely divorced from reality and each other.


  17. Good article..but a very sad pathetic situation..God help our country(who else can?)


    1. The last I heard, even God is unwilling to get entangled in the machinations of our government. The aam janta is completely on its own now and at the mercy of our clueless and corrupt ministers 😦


  18. Ahh ! Economists, economics and figures. And heartless finance ministers like PC. He will probably now issue a statement that he was misquoted, misprinted, misunderstood and he actually meant Rs.132 or Rs.320.


    1. LOL that is perfectly possible from our good old Chiddu. But it is Pranab who is the FM now and wonder what he will have to say 🙂


    2. Or 32 Paise, because that would mean that there are no poor in India.

      After all it’s all about Incredible India Shining so much that she blinds anyone who dares to give a closer look her realities.

      Yay!!! Poverty has been eradicated!


      1. You should be in the PC! Boy, would they love to have someone who can garibi hatao entirely!


  19. Zephyr, I am aghast at the tunnel vision of the PC. In a travesty of sorts, they have reduced an otherwise complex matrix to a ping pong of two. Following are some of the many, many other species that come to my mind:

    Beggars:One notch above the ‘have nots’ – You dare not drop anything less than a 5 rupee coin for fear of it being flung back in your sick face. Don’t you stay around trying to eavesdrop on their plans to upgrade to a touchscreen smartphone….

    Bank Officers:One notch above the Beggars — (And if you could stop the uproar, I am willing to include the Insurance Officers and the lot!) Even the peons and clerks of Sarkari Daftars are better compensated. No, I do not have Suvidha Shulk on my mind! The other PC (of the Chidambaram fame) has ensured that even the reimbursements towards medical expenses are taxed. Plus you get transferred every 2 to 3 years and take more loans to pay fresh capitation fee for your children’s education….

    Bigger Have NotsOne notch below (or is it above?) the Have Nots —those who can’t even afford a Merc, a Condo or a private jet…


    1. Good addition to the list of HNs. I couldn’t stop smiling ruefully at the plight of the bank officers and the ‘bigger Have-nots who can;t afford a private jet.Poor old rich men 🙂


  20. a cruel joke played by the PC indeed


    1. yes indeed.


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