Saturday, September 24, 2011

When does a gardener teach us about development?

It was 19th September, 2011. The place was a tram station in Geneva. We (which included Nitya, George and myself ) were waiting for a tram to reach WTO (World Trade Organisation). All of us had reached Geneva on that day and had to reach WTO immediately for a session at WTO Public Forum. But, I didnot know on the way to WTO, I would understand the concept of development, the exact definition of which has always been unclear to me.

While we were waiting for a tram to come, suddenly like from nowhere a well built person with short head phones walked across and introduced himself to us. He was wearing a black leather jacket and looked smart in the outfit.

His sudden appearance in the station and his self initiated introduction to us was not very usual. I had a feeling that his appearance was something like the famous apple falling down incident which made Newton discover the concept of gravity. Well, here none of us discovered any concept related to physics. Neither was he an apple. But through the short introduction I came to know something. And that something was nothing short of Newton discovering gravity with the falling apple.

Here was a man who like an apple arrived suddenly and made me realise the concept of development. This person who was well above 60 was a gardener and is living a life with his grandchildren and following his aspirations to travel around the world. He suggested that he is very fond of India and thats why he introduced himself to us after realising that we might be from India. He has been enthralled with the travel to South and South East Asia, land of Buddha at an age of mid 60s (which emerged from the appearance though I didnot ask the age) and is happy to live the life this way.

Question which arose in my mind, is why he has been able to do so. How many gardeners in India will be able to do that! I guess, the answer to this question might not be too optimistic. So this man put us in front of a mirror where we could see what does development mean and how can we call a country developed!

Essentially, it is a state of a country, where every individual even the ones who are belonging to any job or working occupation (it can be blue, white, gardener or anybody) gets the freedom to follow his aspiration and live through his/her aspirations without facing challenges in a social system. The mirror to which I got exposed also taught me that there is a long history through which this state of affairs of development can be reached in a country. And in that journey, several factors like culture, institutions, policies, people, governance mechanisms and so many other unmentioned ones will play a major role.

Will every gardener at far off corners of our country be able to follow their aspirations in the same way as him? I was asking this question to myself. And the more I was asking, it was becoming clear - what development means to a human being and to a nation. I guess, this was till date, the best development economics training session that I have attended. And it was a session that was offered by a gardener in Geneva, Switzerland.