Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Capitalism, Cost-cutting, and the Subaltern

     There was a time a seat of a bus sat two and a half comfortably. When pressed there was always space for a child or two to squeeze into the space between the seated passengers and the seat in front. Many of us who used public transport to commute to work or schools on regular basis have fond memories of a particular bus, a conductor, or a driver. Those were the good old CTB days. Today’s passenger transport business with its constant threats to go on strikes over the silliest of reasons seems to be driven solely by the desire to squeeze the last cent out of its clients with no regard for their safety, comfort, or dignity. Many conductors seem to take perverse pleasure in belittling the very people who provide them with a livelihood while drivers played Russian roulette with the lives of those under their not so tender care. 

     Not to be outdone by the routine thuggery of the bus unions, owners, drivers, and conductors, producers of passenger vehicles such as TATA have risen to the occasion by producing vehicles which have become increasingly smaller - a fact to which the all-seeing eyes of the government authorities seem to be blind. Such small spaces in public transport allow perverts and Neanderthals of both sexes among us to prey on women, children, and those with physical infirmities almost every day with nary a voice raised against their perversity and strong-arm tactics. Anyone foolhardy enough to raise his/her voice against an atrocity committed against his/her person or dignity is immediately advised by the perpetrator to get hold of a private means of transport if s/he did not like being fondled/rubbed up against and/or propositioned to while some of his/her fellow commuters whose only objective is to get to their destinations without any added hassle gave the victim baleful looks. Now, with the advent of the smart-phones the non-involvement types on buses would cut themselves off from the nitty gritty stuff on board by just plugging in their earphones or logging on to the FB, Twitter, Snapchat and what not and upload their wrath on the unfairness of life in general until it is time to get off. The result of the ever increasing levels of sadism, antipathy, and apathy on public transport is that commuting has become a distasteful business, especially for those of us who are smaller and/or weaker.

     The same trend has invaded public buildings as well. School buildings, for example, used to have spacious well-ventilated classrooms. Both corridors and stairs were built to accommodate large numbers. Today the student population accommodated by schools has multiplied several times over; however, buildings themselves have shrunk in their size. Even the size of desks and chairs has not escaped this new tendency to shrink. Consequently, in a modern classroom with more than forty young people per class each young person is packed into spaces of less than three square feet for an extent of eight 40-minute periods per day, five days a week, for more than two hundred days per year. It is my belief that even those incarcerated for committing heinous crimes enjoy more space per person than this. Walls of school buildings too have dwarfed noticeably compared to those of older buildings resulting in ventilation and heat related problems within classrooms. In addition, roofs of classrooms do not extend to offer shade to the interior of the classrooms as they used to from the blistering mid day sun; nor do they protect the captive population under their questionable shelter from the gusty monsoon rains. The cheap aluminum shutters introduced recently as an answer to the twin assaults of the sun and the rain cut off what little light and ventilation in the classrooms and create a dark hot malodorous environment entirely unfitting for the teaching-learning process. Corridors and stairs, too, have shrunk drastically making it almost impossible for two people to pass without brushing against each other. This has bred discourtesy towards one’s elders and disregard for the safely of those who are younger among students. 
      In conclusion, shrinking public spaces seem to encourage social Darwinism in most us. Those who are stronger push aside those who are weaker resulting in a society of angry people. The end result would be the deterioration of the very social fabric our nation has spent thousands of years weaving into its present shape. Ultimately the question that needs answering is that whether whatever profits made by cutting corners in the construction of public spaces are worth their long-term consequences.

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