A couple of days after landing in Chennai, I walked--bag in hand--to the guava vendor at the street corner. He said it was forty rupees for a half-kilo.
"Forty?" I was genuinely surprised because I think it was only thirty a year ago.
"Usually it is fifty, sir. Because you are a regular customer it is forty."
The guy was trying to humor this customer!
Two days ago, I walked over there to restock. He was not there. No guavas. I came home empty-handed. As if the cosmos were watching out for me, my sister came home with a bag of "farm-fresh" guavas.
I wonder about that vendor. His livelihood is from selling guavas. If he is sick and is unable to work, then he loses the day's income.
That's is no different from the story of the tailor whose business is nothing but a foot-pedaled sewing machine and needles and threads on the sidewalk. He has been gone for a few days now because of an appendectomy. The guy is now financially set back that much more.
Or, take the case of the maid, er, domestic help, at my parents' home. An older woman, she has been off and on this past week because she is not feeling well. Even though I have no idea about the local protocols, I told her that she need not come to work if she is not well. My father joined me. "At some age, you need to retire and let your sons and daughter take care of you" he said.
She snorted. "Like they will take care of me. If I don't earn my livelihood, I won't get any food."
I think about these real people as I consider the celebratory news on the global increase in life expectancy:
Global life expectancy for men and women has increased by about six years over the past two decades, according to one of the most comprehensive studies of global health done so far. The rise in global life expectancy is mainly the result of dramatic advances in health care.In the old country:
In richer countries longer lifespans are spurred by a big drop in deaths related to heart disease, while poorer countries have seen big declines in the death of children from ailments such as pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria.
In India, which is on track to become the world’s most populous country in less than two decades, life expectancy at birth rose from 57.3 years to 64.2 years for males, and from 58.2 years to 68.5 years for females, according to the Lancet study.Which is wonderful, indeed. But, who takes care of the living? In the bad old days, when average life expectancy at birth was a low number, one really did not need to worry about the burdens of old age; there was no need when even living until forty was a big deal. But, increasingly the worries of the old maid will be the stories all over the world. As a species, and like other animals, we would have died much younger. We have artificially lengthened our life spans and created hassles along the way. I love the fact that we have been able to conquer many ailments that killed us by the millions. But, am I in the minority to be concerned about the individual and collective responsibility over the tail end of our unnaturally long lives?
"I won't come tomorrow because I am going to the doctor" the maid said as she was leaving. "But, I will be back the day after that."
All I could do was helplessly nod my head.
Later today, I hope to see the guava vendor.