A couple of weeks ago, my family and I happened to visit a friend’s home in Alibaug. Mumbai residents know of this ‘beach’ which you can get to from Gateway of India in South Mumbai via a half hour boat ride, or a 3.5 hour convoluted drive. In fact, the public ferries were super-busy on new year’s eve bringing Mumbai revelers to Alibaug to ring in the new year. The harbor at Alibaug was dotted with private boats of all sizes and of varying degrees of opulence.
But my reflection here is of a different nature. En route to the rather nice houses and resorts, one passes through quite a bit of poverty. (Sadly) it is not shocking to those accustomed to developing countries, but to my social scientist eyes, such things always register . There was one intersection where bullock-carts approached a narrow neck of land from two sides, and our car from the third, leading to stalled traffic while folks reversed. It’s quite something to see a bullock cart reverse, if you try to visualize the cart-driver yanking back the bullock coaxing it to walk backwards!
Why is there so much poverty right around affluence? There are many places where one sees such cheek-by-jowl juxtaposition. I found myself similarly uncomfortable driving through crime infested neighborhoods of Kingston en route to resorts on Jamaica island some time back. One doesn’t have to pass through the crime-areas, but I was curious to see what the unsanitized-for-tourists part of the island looked like.
One hypothesis is that the luxury is made possible by the availability of cheap surrounding labor in these cases. A tough one to swallow! In fact, there is precedent for this idea, going back to the 1960s when some economists had posited a theory of so-called segmented labor markets. Loosely speaking, there are two (or more) segments of workforce, and, as in Kipling’s Ballad of East and West, ‘never the twain shall meet.’
Image courtesy: Wikipedia