# 28 The Wholeness at the Heart of Life, Bhaichaara and Death, Savings.
The Whole at the Heart of Life
A budding painter, Mariam Paré was hit by a stray bullet when she had stopped her car at a red light. In an instant, she became a quadriplegic for life. Merely 20, she grieved for a life lost, for a talent aborted by the violence of randomness.
“There’s no way to explain what it’s like to completely start over from ground zero….all my life, I had been praised for my artistic abilities.”
As she recovered from the accident, Mariam was introduced to the idea of painting with her mouth, which gave her a new goal: to paint as well as she once could with her hands. She believes that took 8 to 9 years. But you never go back to where you began, you go to a place informed by the years. This work dwells on the ambiguous nature of limbs, and could only have come from someone who could transfer her creative impulse from hands rendered useless to a mouth that became exquisitely expressive.
Aging is like an accident in slow motion.
“I have a very serious illness”, a 95-year old uncle once told me, “It’s called old age.”
I’m losing my teeth, one rotting molar at a time, my knees creak, and when I try to swim underwater to the other end of the pool, my breath holds out, but I can hear a click in my left shoulder. On Sundays, the open water of an abandoned quarry knows no laps by which to take the measure of my lungs. When I take a deep breath, it is to sink slowly, and savour the warmth and silence of muddy water. When I ripple to the surface, I lie back and enjoy the scudding clouds and the birdsong, or swim to the reeds, to stand on the sandy bottom.
Last month, a friend recruited me to a triathlon team for the Goa half Ironman. If I meet the cut-off timing for the 1.9 km swim, my young team-mates will cycle 90 km, and run 21 km, respectively. I don’t know how much longer I will swim races, but when I fade, there will be lakes to float in.
We are never whole. Only as whole as we choose to make ourselves.
And when we are ragged,
We will dance a ragged dance,
But dance we will.
Bhaichaara and Road Deaths
I wear a cheap plastic stopwatch, to time everything from my resting heart rate (RHR) to time spent on the bike, or in the pool. On Friday, at 6:30 a.m., I parked my cycle at a South Delhi crossing, and put it to a new use - notching up the number of traffic violations. In 2 minutes, I counted 11 traffic violations - 5 vehicles coming up the wrong side of the street, and 6 deciding that they didn’t need to wait for the traffic light to turn green.
Perhaps 0630 is not a good time to sample violations, because people feel that lights don’t matter when traffic is thin. But when I passed the same crossing two hours later, office traffic was in full flow, and I saw just as many motor-cyclists turn out of a side-road, nip twenty yards against the flow of the traffic, then cut across the dual-channels of Aurobindo Marg, to take their place in the legitimacy of the left lane.
Based on my scant evidence, I ran a little thought experiment. We have about 25,000 km of roads in Delhi. Except for the Ring Road and other arterial roads, I estimate the average distance between intersections is 1 km. Since most crossings would be 4-way, there are 4 km. of roads per crossing, for about 6,000 intersections in Delhi. If the Aurobindo crossing is representative, during the 2 minutes I had parked my cycle, 66,000 traffic violations had taken place across Delhi. That’s 20 lakh violations an hour, or 2.5 million during a 12-hour day.
It actually gets a lot worse, if you include bikes and cars weaving through lanes (what lanes?), pedestrians refusing to use foot overbridges, or buses stopped across two lanes, despite the big boxes painted at each designated bus stop. The AAP government has spent a great deal of money posting signs on the back of buses, preaching that they follow lanes - “We hope you do, too ....”, but I have seen no signs of a change in driver behaviour.
Our highways are even more scary; the 50 km stretch of highway between the Ganga bridge at Garh Mukteshwar and Moradabad has been called the death zone, for the number of road accidents that take place when tractors, 2-wheelers and even cars come off rural roads and drive on the wrong side of the road, to save a couple of minutes. “Wrong-side driving” is one of India’s contributions to the English language, as this news report on another UP highway attests.
The results are bloody. With 150,000 annual deaths on Indian roads, we lead the world, and contribute 11% of global fatalities. When you divide these deaths by the number of motor vehicles we have, India notches up 130 fatalities per 100,000, which makes our traffic almost 10 times as deadly as Europe, and 4 times worse than the Americas. Even in Asia, we are ahead of the average, at 100.
A great deal has been written about our attitude to risk, our sense of fatalism, and our defiance of the law. I have little original to contribute to that debate, so I’ll share a little story from another crossing in South Delhi, another cycle, about 5 years ago. I was late heading home, and the traffic was mounting. A traffic policeman was watching the crossing, and I was watching him, as three motor-cyclists performed a 20-yard “wrong-side driving” dash under his nose, scooted across the light, and joined the traffic heading north, into the city.
I wheeled my cycle up to him, and asked -
“Did you see that?”
“Those motor-cycles, on the wrong side..”
“And you don’t think you should do something?”
“Sir, subah-subah kissi ka din kyon kharaab karnaa? Aakhir, bhai-chaara bhi kuch cheez hoti hai.”
(Translation: Sir, Who wants to get someone else’s day off to a bad start? I mean, we are all fellow-men in this together.”)
Gross National Savings
India’s savings rate has dropped during the pandemic, from 31.7% of our Income* in FY 18, to 27.8% in FY 21. The bulk of this shift came because of increased government spending, as it tried to compensate for a loss of economic activity in the private sector.
However, our lowered savings rate is part of a longer-term trend - in FY 13, we saved 33.1% of national income. This drop is disturbing, as economic growth requires investment. The bulk of investment, in turn, comes from domestic savings, and foreign investment is typically a small part of the growth capital of a nation. India did see a spurt of global money funding the Jio expansion, but since then, foreign investment directly into business (FDI) has been scarce.
The other substantial component of foreign investment into the Indian economy has been into our stock markets - FII, or Foreign Indirect Investment. As I wrote last week, in NL 27, FII has been in retreat mode this year, and is unlikely to turn positive till global monetary policy stabilises.
The growth impulse in India is not yet strong. Manufacturers reported a 70% capacity utilisation in the latest RBI survey, a recovery to pre-COVID levels, but not yet high enough to trigger a large surge of fresh capacity. When the demand scenario does shift, businesses may have to deal with a problem that we have not seen during two decades of easy money - a high cost of borrowing.
* Expressed as a percentage of GNDI - Gross National Domestic Income