Livelihood Concerns

Surviving on jugaad with help from Sai Baba 400 km from home

The collapse of their livelihoods has forced these Andhra families to travel to Tamil Nadu in search of a living for two months every year.

The camp looked intriguing. About a dozen tents – no more than plastic sheets covered by old sarees – standing in the midst of a strange amalgam of jury-rigged vehicles one day in March.

One of the vehicles was still recognisable as a cycle rickshaw, despite its reinforced axle, thickened frame and motorcycle wheels. The rest were cycle carts – the kind vegetable vendors pull around in India's streets – with motorcycle engines welded onto the frame. The open cart had been replaced by a large metal box with faded posters of the Sai Baba of Shirdi, a Muslim spiritual leader who became immensely popular with Hindus in the 19th century and is still revered today.

Each of the carts housed a shrine of Sai Baba. And yet the group, camping along the road to Pichavaram, a fishing village in coastal Tamil Nadu, were not devotees travelling around the country spreading his gospel.

They were not even Tamilians. They were from a village near Nellore in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and had been on the road for two months.

Thokala Yedukondalu, a young man in the group, said they had left their village on these vehicles after the harvest festival of Sankranti in January. The families, many spanning three generations, travelled first to Chennai, then Pondicherry and Chidambaram in central Tamil Nadu, camping at each place for a few days. Every morning, the men headed from the camps to the nearby villages on their carts to collect alms in the name of Sai Baba. “We make enough money to eat and pay for petrol,” said Yedukondalu.

(Photo credit: M Rajshekhar.)
(Photo credit: M Rajshekhar.)

How long had they been doing this, I asked. Four years, said one of the men. And what had prompted them to undertake the long journey? Given my decrepit Telugu, I could not fully understand their response. All that I could follow was that their traditional livelihood in the early part of the year involved drum-beating and bulls, and in recent years, the number of cattle in the village had come down.

The government had failed to come to their aid. “Naidu is not doing anything for us," said an old woman, referring to Chandrababu Naidu, the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh.

As its traditional livelihood crumbled, for two months every year, this community had jury-rigged itself a new livelihood.

The story of this community is not unique. Travel around India and you find Biharis in Chennai, Manipuris in Thanjavur, Odias in Andhra, Tamilians in Odisha. The country is on the move. The migration cycle is tied up to the availability of work.

Every year, by the end of March, the group heads back to their village, said Yedukondalu. Till the farming season starts, they make bricks and work as coolies.

Then, they work on the farm till the harvest. Come Sankranti in January, and they are southbound again.

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Some of the worst decisions made in history

From the boardroom to the battlefield, bad decisions have been a recipe for disaster

On New Year’s Day, 1962, Dick Rowe, the official talent scout for Decca Records, went to office, little realising that this was to become one of the most notorious days in music history. He and producer Mike Smith had to audition bands and decide if any were good enough to be signed on to the record label. At 11:00 am, either Rowe or Smith, history is not sure who, listened a group of 4 boys who had driven for over 10 hours through a snowstorm from Liverpool, play 15 songs. After a long day spent listening to other bands, the Rowe-Smith duo signed on a local group that would be more cost effective. The band they rejected went on to become one of the greatest acts in musical history – The Beatles. However, in 1962, they were allegedly dismissed with the statement “Guitar groups are on the way out”.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Decca’s decision is a classic example of deciding based on biases and poor information. History is full of examples of poor decisions that have had far reaching and often disastrous consequences.

In the world of business, where decisions are usually made after much analysis, bad decisions have wiped out successful giants. Take the example of Kodak – a company that made a devastating wrong decision despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Everyone knows that Kodak couldn’t survive as digital photography replaced film. What is so ironic that Alanis Morissette could have sung about it, is that the digital camera was first invented by an engineer at Kodak as early as 1975. In 1981, an extensive study commissioned by Kodak showed that digital was likely to replace Kodak’s film camera business in about 10 years. Astonishingly, Kodak did not use this time to capitalise on their invention of digital cameras – rather they focused on making their film cameras even better. In 1996, they released a combined camera – the Advantix, which let users preview their shots digitally to decide which ones to print. Quite understandably, no one wanted to spend on printing when they could view, store and share photos digitally. The Advantix failed, but the company’s unwillingness to shift focus to digital technology continued. Kodak went from a 90% market share in US camera sales in 1976 to less than 10% in 2012, when it filed for bankruptcy. It sold off many of its biggest businesses and patents and is now a shell of its former self.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Few military blunders are as monumental as Napoleon’s decision to invade Russia. The military genius had conquered most of modern day Europe. However, Britain remained out of his grasp and so, he imposed a trade blockade against the island nation. But the Russia’s Czar Alexander I refused to comply due to its effect on Russian trade. To teach the Russians a lesson, Napolean assembled his Grand Armée – one of the largest forces to ever march on war. Estimates put it between 450,000 to 680,000 soldiers. Napoleon had been so successful because his army could live off the land i.e. forage and scavenge extensively to survive. This was successful in agriculture-rich and densely populated central Europe. The vast, barren lands of Russia were a different story altogether. The Russian army kept retreating further and further inland burning crops, cities and other resources in their wake to keep these from falling into French hands. A game of cat and mouse ensued with the French losing soldiers to disease, starvation and exhaustion. The first standoff between armies was the bloody Battle of Borodino which resulted in almost 70,000 casualties. Seven days later Napoleon marched into a Moscow that was a mere shell, burned and stripped of any supplies. No Russian delegation came to formally surrender. Faced with no provisions, diminished troops and a Russian force that refused to play by the rules, Napolean began the long retreat, back to France. His miseries hadn’t ended - his troops were attacked by fresh Russian forces and had to deal with the onset of an early winter. According to some, only 22,000 French troops made it back to France after the disastrous campaign.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to sports, few long time Indian cricket fans can remember the AustralAsia Cup final of 1986 without wincing. The stakes were extremely high – Pakistan had never won a major cricket tournament, the atmosphere at the Sharjah stadium was electric, the India-Pakistan rivalry at its height. Pakistan had one wicket in hand, with four runs required off one ball. And then the unthinkable happened – Chetan Sharma decided to bowl a Yorker. This is an extremely difficult ball to bowl, many of the best bowlers shy away from it especially in high pressure situations. A badly timed Yorker can morph into a full toss ball that can be easily played by the batsman. For Sharma who was then just 18 years old, this was an ambitious plan that went wrong. The ball emerged as a low full toss which Miandad smashed for a six, taking Pakistan to victory. Almost 30 years later, this ball is still the first thing Chetan Sharma is asked about when anyone meets him.

So, what leads to bad decisions? While these examples show the role of personal biases, inertia, imperfect information and overconfidence, bad advice can also lead to bad decisions. One of the worst things you can do when making an important decision is to make it on instinct or merely on someone’s suggestion, without arming yourself with the right information. That’s why Aegon Life puts the power in your hands, so you have all you need when choosing something as important as life insurance. The Aegon Life portal has enough information to help someone unfamiliar with insurance become an expert. So empower yourself with information today and avoid decisions based on bad advice. For more information on the iDecide campaign, see here.

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