Dmerdard vs lemmerdeur

Written by Shombit Sengupta | Shombit Sengupta | Updated: Sep 30 2012, 06:30am hrs
Mails flooding my inbox on Poverty is a passive religion. All agreed that charity isnt the solution for dearth. Some readers, however, felt the samosa seller and my early poverty examples in last fortnights article cannot cover the massive scale of deprivation our country suffers from. Im not theorising with poor people, I take responsibility for my message. To chuck poverty out you dont need brilliance or high intellectual capability, you just need to be demerdard. This regularly used French colloquialism refers to a person drowned in merde (shit) who gets rid of it by his own effort. Its the first word I learnt in France. Conversely, theres lemmerdeur, the person who enjoys troubling others and makes them merde.

Examples are signposts, small in number, but they show the way. Civilisation didnt happen overnight; but cumulatively over time. A thousand examples can change a million peoples lives. That million can inspire 10 million more, and they another 100 million. Somehow the poor in India are not generating enough momentum to become demerdard. Let me narrate a childhood recollection of my father distributing milk and blankets in our refugee colony when Bengal was flooded in 1960. As a mass leader, the Sarbohara Mukti Parishad (freedom for people whove lost everything) hed formed was given charge of distributing foreign donations for flood relief. After two to three days he discovered recipients were selling off the items, not consuming them. He became furious because nutrition was very low among colony children for which milk was necessary. So he liquefied the milk powder, obliged people to bring containers, and removed the blankets plastic covers so they didnt look new. A little revolt erupted, but they convinced the poor. This small experience of abusing charity is also an example of both sides being lemmerdeur to each other, my father for not allowing them to sell and the poor people for depriving their children of milk.

Self-urge is what it takes to be demerdard, even the poorest can exit poverty. A two-acre farmers son told me he works 10 km outside his village to earn money, so he wanted to hire farm labour to relieve his old father. But daily wages have sky-rocketed so he cant afford it. Even in metros its risen from R50 to R250, sometimes R500. The wage hike and labour scarcity in different pockets of the country opens up scope for anyone who takes initiative to be demerdard. Housemaids in cities have become wise. With an hourly rate they earn well working in several homes. Politicians havent ever taken initiative to teach poor people how to jettison poverty. Gandhiji changed his dress to look like a poor Indian; was that the right direction he gave, inspiring people to reduce their needs and live poorly

FDI circus: Instead of unnecessarily politicising FDI, shouldnt Indian politicians help eradicate the countrys complacency and improve execution excellence of both the working and executive classes FDI investment is invaluable for the global expertise and experience it brings to enhance peoples capability and competency. On-the-spot benchmarking can happen easily to meet the know-how challenges of globally reputed companies. India should respect, welcome and deploy the gains from FDI rather than politicians being lemmerdeur by ensuring poor people become poorer, remain with outdated skills and dont ever protest. Politicians love this situation to retain their vote banks. As productivity excellence from manual work of the working class, if the poor receive skills training they can become competent workers. Thats a big scope to kill poverty.

Indias political divide has no relevance to FDI: Manifestoes of all parties, whether extreme left, left, centrist democrats, conservative right, extreme right, independents or religious political organisations, have a common theme, that they represent Indias 80% poor, no other significant political stance. Of course this is just to win an election. So the masses vote for individual leaders who become powerful. This situation will never change until poor peoples political illiteracy vanishes and they chase their rights. Today we see jumbled arguments on TV about how politicians are siding with the poor by opposing FDI, a few intellectuals enjoy that, but do the poor understand or care

How small retail entrepreneurs will benefit from FDI: Let me reiterate how FDI in retail can benefit entrepreneurs (reference my article http://www.indianexpress. com/news/why-should-the-consumer-sacrifice/894283/0) who know no book-keeping. Most Indian kirana stores are run unprofessionally with no system to manage inventory or track sales, revenue and profit. Suppose monthly revenue is R4-5 lakhs, they make R2535,000 with 6-7% net profit. Money is made on loose items like rice, pulses, oil and fresh vegetables, not on packaged products with MRP price stamped. Manufacturers that give better margins are accommodated, but theres no telling when that stock will sell. Manual accounting is done annually based on estimates, not actuals. Within a small space they block money stocking 300-400 types of inventory, making the store a veritable stockyard that loses freshness, so rats and cockroaches easily infest them.

Take Asian examples: When global multi-brand retails entered China, local retailers quickly learnt from them about supply chain discipline and sourcing processes, grew from 1.9 to 2.5+ million in less than ten years and still dominate the market. Consumers, too, have benefited from choice and quality. In ten years of Indonesia allowing 100% FDI, small traders continue to retain 90% of business. Foreign fast food chains have entered India, havent our local food outlets since improved in hygiene and service Similarly, our kirana retailers will professionalise once theyre exposed to new ways.

The poor cannot be helped with strikes and political fights. Train them to acquire competence and capability at their working level. Thatll change their working style, make them demerdard. Then they may even produce outstanding India-made products that can travel anywhere in the world. Join me in the advocacy for demerdard for the poor, theres a different life out there for them to chase. The formula is to teach how to become demerdard, nothing else.

Shombit Sengupta is an international creative business strategy consultant to top management. Reach him at