I chanced upon this article 'The Politics of Shoe Shine' in NY Times. Roger Cohen points out that the reasons why you couldn't get your shoes polished by someone in
Sounds unconvincing at first, but as you read on you begin to nod along.
The Sarkozy revolution in
, of still uncertain outcome, was essentially about the French realization that a country where it was often more profitable not to work than to work was a country with a problem. France
High tax rate and generous unemployment benefits and other entitlements are the main factors that nudge people to shape their country into one where you can get your shoes shined and ones where you just can't.
The shoe-shine rule goes something like this: if you can't find one, you are probably in a society with a developed sense of egalitarianism and social solidarity, high taxation, a broad safety net, universal health care, extensive entitlements and high unemployment.
That sounds like France/Germany alright.
If you can get them shined, you're probably in a place with low unemployment and little of the above social security, a place where capitalism is crueller and more vital, a place not unlike
But what about back home in
So why is it that you can get your shoes polished in Mumbai and not in Bangalooru? Where are the boot polish walas in Bangalooru?
Both the cities are over-populated. People migrate to these cities from all Indian states in search of work. So what's the tipping point?
From my experience, I feel that it's far easier to get people to do menial labour in Mumbai. Within days of moving into Mumbai, I had four women pleading me to let them be my housemaid. Some even gave me the offer of a try-free-for-a-week before hiring! In
I think the answer to this conundrum is in two factors - supply and willingness. Sure, Bangalore gets its share of immigrants - but mostly white collar workers. Whereas Mumbai gets a lot more people from the lower income group, who are ready to
- cook for you,
- take care of your baby,
- mow your lawn (oops sorry, who has a lawn in Mumbai except maybe the Ambanis!),
- drive you around,
- deliver hot breakfast, lunch and dinner right to your doorstop everyday for an amount that wouldn’t get you from Koramangala to M. G. Road in an autorickshaw in Bangalooru,
- deliver eggs and fresh bread everday,
- clean your loos,
- deliver your grocery and vegetable shopping at the touch of a phone call,
- take your dog for a walk while you watch the soaps,
- clean the window panes of your car at the traffic signal,
- give you a smooth shave and even a massage in the street.
And of course, shine your shoes maybe?
You don’t have to be rich to afford all this in Mumbai. Case in point – my maid in Mumbai had her own maid to clean her house! There are so many people willing to work in Mumbai that even if a part of the society wouldn’t want to do this work, there’s always another sizeable group who would welcome it as an opportunity to make their living.
The second factor is willingness (for want of a better word). Most of the shoe shiners you would see in Mumbai are boys aged anywhere between 5 - 20 years. There are apparently 600 shoe-shine boys at 28 suburban railways stations in the city. In
Agreed that there are people who beg for a living in Mumbai as well, but is it the egalitarianism of people in Mumbai that would have them stoop to shine shoes rather than stretch their hands out to beg?
Unrelated, but shocking