Kalam's kaleidoscpoe

Intellectualising poverty

Published: Sunday 31 December 2006

-- vishwa is a plumber. He likes to go about his job in a no-nonsense manner. Mending pipes, fixing toilets, urinals, drains, hosepipes and sundry other valves and fittings does not quite encourage one to have cerebral pretensions. But Vishwa's stock has gone up amongst his friends of late.

The president A P J Abdul Kalam has recently suggested to prime minister Manmohan Singh to include 'mental' jobs under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (nrega). In a letter to the prime minister, the president has asked that nrega should be used to enhance the intellectual capacity of rural people instead of creating only a few structures through manual works. And plumbing is one of the mental jobs that the president has in mind.

Naturally, Vishwa's friends are elated for him. The president is known to hold engineers in high esteem. That he is an ardent votary of another kind of engineering is common knowledge. A few years ago he had talked of a massive engineering project to link India's rivers. Everyone knows how hot riverlinking has become after that.

Vishwa's friends hope that something similar will happen to their humble vocation. After all everyone is looking up to nrega. The prime minister might have politely refused the president's ideas. But that might only be a temporary setback. Before the president's suggestions, some industry associations had asked that the nrega could not do without mental jobs. Of course they had the rarefied calling of the software industry. But it's good that tinkerers like Vishwa are getting their due now.

But Vishwa also has a different kind of skill: he likes to tinker around with water harvesting structures. It's a skill he learnt from his grandafther in his village. Of course, Vishwa's friends and even his children don't have much use for that skill. It's a calling that's even less fashionable than plumbing.

If you need to fix, you must fix big. And now the president does not want him wasting time on such futile pursuits. What nonsense. We might need plumbers for riverlinking.

Vishwa, however, does not understand what the fuss is all about. He still goes about his chores with characteristic nonchalance and forbearance. How stupid is he.


Cover Story: 'Impotent plan'
[April 30, 2006]

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