Saturday, June 25, 2022

She sells shampoo sachets on the sea shore

Why should only the rich enjoy material comforts?  Don't the poor too have a right to enjoy comforts as long as they can afford them?  If the materials cannot be afforded, then why not provide them with a scaled down version?

If you know me well, you know that I am setting you up for something that is not really black and white.  Not really cut and dried, if you think that the phrase "black and white" does not pass the JEDI test.  But then if you claim that "cut" is violent, then, well, I am out of idioms in this context.  So, I will get to the point instead ;)

A couple of decades ago, as India's consumer population began to explode, multinational corporations drooling over the profits to be realized from selling goods to the rapidly growing middle class faced a challenge: Millions of Indians wanted those products but lacked the cash to buy them.  

It was like when I was on a tight budget as an undergraduate student.  It was not uncommon for us students, and many other patrons at the tea stalls, to ask for a "one by two" in which a glass of tea (yes, literally served in a glass) would be split between two glasses.  Hence the "one by two."

That was possible because it was tea that we drank right there.  But, if one wanted to buy shampoo and lacked the cash to pay for it, it is not as if the shop owner can pour a few tablespoons of shampoo to the customer's jar, right? 

(An aside: A reminder that the word shampoo entered the English language from the Indian subcontinent during the colonial era and is derived from the Sanskrit root chapati (चपति), which means to press, knead, soothe.)

Perhaps at this point you are thinking, "if they cannot afford to buy shampoo, then why do they want to buy it?  Why not stick to using native products like shikakai?"  Indeed, there are better alternatives.  But, as long as we buy and use shampoo and soaps, we lack any standing to tell others that they do not need shampoo and soaps, correct?  Recall the story that is attributed to Gandhi about him advising a young boy not to eat too much sugar?

Multinational corporations correctly understood that young men and young women even in villages and small towns wanted to buy their products and would--but, only if they were in small and affordable packages.

The sachet retail revolution happened.

(Yes, you can substitute in place of India any other country that is nowhere as affluent as the US or, heck, even Portugal.  And instead of shampoo, you can think of many, many other products.  As I noted in this recent post, even in grandmas' villages, dal and spices and oils come in prepackaged quantities in sachets.)

Sachets after use become lightweight plastic waste that cannot be recycled.  Further, in countries that do not have trash collection services, used sachets can be found all around.  In urban areas, one can easily imagine them jamming up the storm water drains too.

So, do the poor too have a right to enjoy comforts as long as they can afford them? 

If the poor buy sachets that they can afford, and if the sachets are contributors to pollution, then should we ban sachets and make the products beyond the reach of the poor?  Should we fault governments for not providing for trash collection services even as they spend gazillions on their military?  Should multinational corporations be held responsible for (a) marketing such products, or (b) selling such products that add to pollution, or (c) all of the above? 

In this lengthy report, Reuters brings together all these issues and more for you also to think about how you might approach this problem that ultimately affects us all, irrespective of where we live.

I will end with this about which I have written a lot, like even just over a month ago.  Consumption is practically what the modern economy is all about, once we get beyond basic survival.  We buy things that we want, or we don't need, and sometimes we even buy stuff that we neither want nor need.  We have grown addicted to stuff, and getting rid of this addiction is impossible it seems. The sachet is a symptom of consumption; it is not the problem. 

Let me know where the Consumers Anonymous meets; I have lots to sort out myself.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Hold on to your hat

I decided to go for a walk before the sun and its heat started blasting away. 

A big, cool wind was blowing keeping the temperature down.  One day of heat and I already know that I don't miss it all that much, which is strange for a guy whose first 23 years of life were in a hot and humid part of peninsular India.

"That's a good hat for a day like this" commented a middle-aged woman about my hat.  

She was outfitted in the appropriate walking gear that included a visor-cap on her head.  I think of that kind of visor cap, which is essentially only to keep the glare away, as a practical American solution even if not really all that fashionable. ;)

I was wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat, which keeps the glare away, and protects my bald(ing) head.  The hat was so inexpensive that I do not understand how they make money selling it.  It is made with pure straw, except for the sweatband inside.  It was manufactured in China.  It is sold through a hipster outfit in Brooklyn, NY.  It was delivered to my home in a huge cardboard box because of the shape of the wide-brimmed hat. Yet, it cost me next to nothing. 

Even though I dealt with economic geography throughout my career, that I cannot explain! ;)

"How you doin'?" I asked as I proceeded on my walk.

"Great.  Am waiting for my walking buddy.  I think she is waiting in the other parking place."

"Have a good one."

Of course a woman has a walking buddy.  Hear me out; it is more than a mere gender difference.  It is not about how women are chatty or that men seek solitude.  Nope.

I suspect that the behavior has been perfected over thousands of years.  Girls, and women of any age, know enough about testosterone-filled men that they have a buddy whether it is walking for pleasure or to go to the bathroom.

It is not that all men feel safe by themselves.  Need I remind you of the fate of a solo jogger or a solo birder, who both were young black men?

The only person who really feels safe when out and about is a white man.  The rest of us have varying levels of feeling comfortable being alone in the woods or in the back roads, and almost always we don't engage in these by ourselves.  It is not without reason that we love the sarcasm that sums it all: God, grant me the confidence of a mediocre white dude.

Soon after the former guy was elected to serve as our President, I, a brown immigrant male, began to experience angst every time I saw pickup trucks with huge flags.  Or worse, with the flag of the loser in the Civil War. 

Over dinner, I shared this feeling with the women around the table, and added that I might never get to places like Montana and Wyoming, or even the back roads right here in Oregon.

One of them didn't miss a beat.  She said, "welcome to being a woman."

Lost in such thoughts, I overshot the mark where I had planned to turn around and head back.  But, it was a good day to have walked a tad longer.

A few minutes into my return path, I saw at a distance the woman in the visor walking in the direction towards me along with another woman.  Soon we were within hearing range.  I knew that the American small talk would happen, and I was ready.

"There is the good hat guy again."

With the right index finger pointing to the other woman, I said "so, you finally found your walking buddy."

The other woman laughed.

We went our respective ways.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Visible and yet invisible

Soon after reading the news item that an Indian-American woman had been appointed to lead Oregon State University, I wrote an email welcoming her to the state.  I wrote there that "it absolutely gladdens my heart that a fellow Indian-American will lead and manage the state's largest university."

Within minutes a reply from her appeared in my inbox.  Truly busy people do have time for everything because they know how to manage really well the same 24 hours that all of us have.

With Oregon Institute of Technology having an Indian-American president, it would have been three public universities with my fellow immigrants at the lead, if only the presidential appointment had not derailed at my former employer. 

When my old university appointed an Indian-American as its president, I tweeted about it, with sarcastic humor, of course:

That appointment was short-lived.  I suspect that the newly hired man smelled something rotten and withdrew.

The public often equates Indian-Americans with tech-support, convenience stores, and motels, and often forgets that even the Vice President is one of us.  The public doesn't always connect the dots when their health care specialists or professors and even entertainers are Indian-Americans.  I suppose we have flown under the radar because there is no history of white supremacists ill-treating us, unlike the history with other non-whites: Blacks, Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans, Filipinos, Koreans, Vietnamese, Cambodians, ... 

Our arrival here in America was made possible by all those other non-white groups, especially Blacks and Chinese.

The story begins in 1965:

Inspired by the Civil Rights revolution in American society, the 1965 Immigration Act explicitly abolished the discriminatory national origins quotas that had regulated entrance into the country since the 1920s. It explicitly prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence in the U.S. government’s decisions to issue immigrant visas. Instead, the law established a new system preference system based on professional status and family reunification.

America was now legally welcoming non-white immigration.  A radical departure from the previous centuries!

When Congress and President Lyndon Johnson enacted that sweeping immigration reform, they didn't really think that brown people would rush to America.  But, hey, what's good for white migration is good for brown migration too, right?

In the 1990s, Silicon technology was altering the global economic landscape at warped speeds, and the population from India flooded in; a lot more would have come here if not for the restricted number of work visas.

But, a new kind of problem has popped up.  Congress restricts the number of Indian immigrants who can become permanent residents in America.

The U.S. offers roughly a hundred and forty thousand employment-based green cards a year, a quota that covers both the person sponsored by an employer and their family members. But, by law, no more than seven per cent of nationals from a particular country are supposed to receive employment-based green cards each year. The caps were established to support diversity within the immigrant pool. Immigrants from Mexico, China, and the Philippines also far exceed their country limits, and have longer wait times because of the backlog. But because of the sheer number of Indians applying for employment-based green cards—as of September, 2021, eighty-two per cent of the petitions in the employment-based backlog were filed by Indians—their wait times are longer than that of any other immigrant group.

Many are, therefore, on work visas forever.  It is a “bonded labor situation” because the visa holders in the backlog are allowed to renew their visas in perpetuity, while their permanent residency is delayed.

That itself is a lesser problem compared to the ones faced by the children of the "bonded labor" visa workers.  If the children were not born here but came here with their parents, then into adulthood they lose their standing as dependents to be legally in this country.  "Once in college, they are usually ineligible for either in-state tuition or federal financial aid, and required to pay the fees of an international student."

This group of children, who came here legally, call themselves "Documented Dreamers or Visa Dreamers."  It is not a handful; "there are more than a quarter of a million young adults."

Indian-Americans flying under the radar means that the Documented Dreamers problem is also invisible.

This is merely one of the many problems in the highly messed up immigration system.  Every politician knows about the urgency for a comprehensive immigration reform.  But, any talk of immigration riles up the white supremacist base of the GQP.

I wonder if the political climate in America will ever change for the better in order to have rational and constructive discussions and policies on the issues that impact our collective future: Immigration, climate change, structural racism, ...