January 16, 2008

Am sitting here in the OOS of A…and in St Louis, one of the things that hits me is the definition of poverty.

Poverty,everywhere, (I thought) is measured by the lack of regular, disposable income and of belongings, of possessions. And so it becomes very difficult for an Indian visiting these shores, no matter how many times…. to understand poverty in America.

My daughter lives not far from a “poor” neighbourhood, where she goes regularly to the YMCA for gym and aerobics classes. Today, I went along, and on the way, she told me that this is a low-cost YMCA, meant for the poorer sections of this area.

I have been here in the past; and there are…. a heated indoor swimming pool, two magnificient gyms, a very large building where several classes, activities are conducted, and a completely heated/air-conditioned (depending on the season) building.

And the members….each of them apparently has a car, a mobile, they have clothes for aerobics or swimming or tae-kwan-do….

If I, who have been here so many times, find it so difficult to believe, how can anyone who is visiting for the first time believe that one is looking at the face of poverty here? In India, a person leading a lifestyle that includes facilities like this would be part of the privileged upper crust.

But..these black folks (er, I don’t know if that is the right term, politically …please do let me know…African/American? Coloured?…I just don’t know.) ARE poor. The accent is very difficult indeed to follow, but now I do, and I hear conversations…of welfare payments, of difficulties finding, and keeping, jobs….

I hear enough to realize that most of these folks ARE poor, and that it is the state and the YMCA which are extending these facilities to them at low, low rates.

So then…what is my definition of poverty now? When I think of the farmer in the Orissa village, struck by famine, selling his cows to the local middleman and selling his soul to the local moneylender, I cannot help feeling that it might be far better to be “poor” in the USA, than it is to be “poor”…really, really,nothing-at-all-poor…in, say, India, or Bangladesh, or an African country….

There are,of course, other forms of poverty…intellectual, emotional, and a whole host of it….India, for example, suffers from a huge design poverty. Everything is so badly designed….a footpath, for example, could be a few inches high at one place, a foot tall in another, making access so difficult. The corners of pavements could, so easily, be sloped into the road, making wheelchair and perambulator access so much easier….that’s just to give one example….

Oh well..it’s 3.30 am here and I suppose I should not be pontificating about poverty, it’s just that I am still unable to define this to myself now. Perhaps I should say that poverty is differently designated in affluent and poor societies, but that begs the question!