In a recent article in one of India’s daily newspapers, Aravind Adiga (who wrote the Booker price winning novel The White Tiger), recalls how he once took an auto rickshaw to Lodi Gardens in New Delhi. When he arrived, the driver asked him if he would buy him a ticket for the garden, as he thought it looked so beautiful. The writer, surprised, explained to him that no ticket is required. The beautiful gardens are free for anyone to enter. But when he got out, he noticed the rickshaw driver driving away. Apparently he did not feel comfortable to go in.
The story seemed plausible enough to me, as I’d heard something similar not too long ago from a friend of mine. She had befriended her office’s driver and had great troubles thinking of places to meet him after work. He would not go to bars, cafe’s, restaurants, etc especially not with a girl. “What about Lodi Gardens?” I had asked. Its nice, free, public, and I thought, for everyone. But not for drivers, she had to explain to me. Not because there is a sign ‘forbidden for drivers’, but because he himself felt its not the kind of place he should go.
It still confuses me a little bit. What does this mean? Are the social structures in India so strong, that even money would not make a difference? That even if something is free, and public for everyone, people feel too uncomfortable to include themselves? That even if someone from a lower class would make some money in life, and would be able to afford certain things he himself would choose not to? And is this different in the Netherlands?
Another book I read lately, mentions a farmer’s son who goes out to university as the first in his family, but despite the expensive education and great pressure put on him by his family, he ends up farming next to his brothers.
For The White Tiger’s main character, the first step out of poverty is to enter a mall, and to find out that no body kicks him out. Sure, he finally becomes rich by means of murder and corruption, and I am the last to believe that the poor of India have themselves to blame. But it does seem to fit into this idea, that the mental step might be at least as big as the financial or intellectual one – whichever comes first.