Stumbling on Sonianomics in the land of angrezi dreams

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SummaryChief Minister Ashok Gehlot will tell you about scheme after populist scheme. But you cannot escape the wave of aspiration and ambition in Rajasthan that’s forcing even Rahul Gandhi to do a significant rewrite

Writings on the Wall is a metaphor that emerged from travels across India, particularly but not necessarily during election campaigns (for earlier Writings, see goo.gl/SbxcjC). Writings on the Wall, because as you drive across the countryside, your eyes open, it’s what is written on the walls that tells you the story of what is changing, and what isn’t. What is on top of people’s minds and what’s been junked. It tells you that change in this new India never slackens, or fails to surprise you. Particularly how logically our people have moved from grievance to aspiration, and now ambition and assertion.

You want to know what I mean, come to Borunda, a village deep in Rajasthan’s desert wilderness. You heard — and read — that name for sure, but would not have any recollection. Because the news story for which it became an unfortunate dateline is remembered more in the name of its tragic central character, Bhanwari Devi, the auxiliary nurse and midwife whose alleged kidnapping and murder in 2011 touched off political ripples in the state, even leading to the sacking of a cabinet minister. A hundred kilometres short of Jodhpur, on the spectacularly calm 250 km drive from Pushkar, mostly through wilderness and a landscape that switches rapidly between desolate desert shrubbery and still young and green mustard, channa (horse gram) and wheat, Borunda is not exactly a dhani, as a tiny, distant settlement would be called in the Thar. It is a bit bigger, but just about. Borunda High Street is about 300 metres, lined with shops, some in concrete and some wooden kiosks, on either side. It’s called Sadar Bazaar, no less.

People have the usual complaints. Too little electricity, teachers bunk schools and doctors the hospital. Roads can never be good enough, everybody is so corrupt and prices ever so high. But the biggest problem is the shortage of drinking water. That you would expect in the Thar.

But what you may not have expected is signboards on not one but two shops in the same little bazaar, repairing all kinds of electrical gadgets including, specifically, Aquaguard. Now if a few hundred Indian families in the middle of nowhere, in the fastnesses of one of the poorest arid zones in India, short of electricity, jobs, opportunity, money and drinking water, have meanwhile made the leap to domestic, modern water purifiers, will you not call it change? A

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