Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Bushmen of Jalandhar

The movie “The Gods must be crazy” starts with a scene set in the Kalahari desert, where Bushmen live a blessed life without any knowledge or wants of the ‘civilised’ world beyond and limiting themselves to their primitive tools and implements. Into this world, an empty Coca Cola bottle is dropped from a plane above. Initially this is viewed as another gift from the Gods, but soon it becomes a ‘property’ to be owned and this leads to clashes and violence among this hitherto peaceful tribe.

In the Boing Boing Blog, Lisa Katayama seems to suffer from severe pangs of conscience and wants to know if she had unwittingly dropped a “Coke bottle” in the midst of a bunch of poor kids in a town ‘called’ Jalandher and sullied their technology-free lives with the temptation of electronics.

“A few years ago, I went on a trip to northern India to see the Dalai Lama. I traveled with a lawyer, a politician, a publicist, and a translator. One of the places we visited on the way up from Delhi was called Jalandhar — it's in the Punjab region and is home to a lot of sweatshops.

While we were there, we met a bunch of kids who lived with no electricity but told us that, when they grew up, they all wanted to be computer scientists. So we whipped out our cameras and iPods — the closest things we had on hand to real computers — and showed them how technology works. We figured they would enjoy it, and thought it could be a valuable experience that would stay etched in their minds as something to aspire to as they continued their studies.

Later, I found out that one of my travel mates thought what we had done was cruel. We had seduced these poor kids with luxuries they will probably never be able to afford, and sullied their pure, technology-free lives with the temptation of electronics.

So who's right? Did we ruin these kids for life or give them hopes for a better future? Does it not matter? Is there even a right answer to this question? What do you guys think?

Poor Lisa Katayama. Can some of you go across to the Boing Boing post and put her conscience at rest please?


Dilip Muralidaran said...

I respectfully disagree with your friend. What makes him/her think that these kids should never be shown expensive things they (currently) cannot get access to in their lives.

Why should this not be an inspiration that moves the kids to get proper education, become the scientists whom they want to be and live happy lives?

Raj said...

Dilip, actually I was trying to be sarcastic. This lady seems to think that the poor kids of Jalandhar- not exactly a small village - have never seen electronic goods, and it required someone from America to come over and show them that. The difference between India and the Kalahari is that all the gadgets are available here and most people have seen them and are aware of their existence, even if they haven't handled one or can't afford to own one. With or without Lisa showing them her iPod, the issue of disparity and affordability remains.

sankar said...

Development is a classic double edged weapon; if you don't, you are overwehlmned and if you do, it results in global warming. Lisa maybe accused of being politically incorrect and presumptuous, but her doubts cannot be scoffed at.
The story of the Goan fisherman and the Arthur Anderson consultant comes to mind.

Raj said...

Sankar, come on. Jalandhar is not exactly a village in the wilderness. I am sure that long before Lisa made her visit to the town, the kids had seen enough gadgetry. They may not be able to afford them, that's another matter.