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Tilak Rishi, born in India, has been working as a career corporate executive, after doing his MBA. Passionately pursuing his hobby for writing, he also remained a regular contributor to newspapers in India and the U.S. Many true happenings and characters he came across in life, including interaction with former president Bill Clinton, inspired Paradise Lost and Found, his first novel. A family saga, it starts from Kashmir, when this paradise on earth is lost for the tourists who thronged in thousands every year to enjoy its scenic splendor. Terrorists have turned it into one of the most dangerous places in the world. The family is not only a witness to the loss of this paradise, but also to another tragedy of much bigger magnitude. In the aftermath of the partition of India, along with millions uprooted from their homes in Pakistan, the family leaves behind all that it has in Lahore. Starting from a scratch on the difficult path to progress, it still has many joyful moments when along the way it makes a difference in many a life. The survival-to-success story climaxes in California where the family finds the paradise that was lost in Kashmir.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Aravali Vihar Alwar Shows The Way!

Monday, October 7 is the World Habitat Day. The UN has declared the first Monday of October every year to be observes as such. This is a time to recognize the basic need for adequate shelter in a world where it is lacking for so many. It is also a day to draw attention to the continuing need for affordable housing and inspiring action to address the need.

The United Nations marks the day with ceremonies and messages praising the work of the world body and its partners but the celebration is blighted by campaigners' callous ignoring to ease the plight of a billion people that continue to live in slums. They don't have water, schools, sanitation or healthcare. Not only the effort to improve their living condition is lacking, instead mass evictions of people from slums is a common sight -- not just in developing countries but also in developed societies. France drew the European Union's ire after it banished Roma communities but the Roma also faced evictions elsewhere in Europe. India ejected slum dwellers from the Commonwealth Games venues. Evictions of slum dwellers in Nigeria have affected more than 200,000 people. From France to Zimbabwe to Cambodia, governments are destroying homes of some of the poorest people in their countries. Those whose homes are destroyed are failed by the law, they get no compensation and have no place to live. Such measures taken to “reduce slum populations' drive people further into poverty. It is time for world leaders to move beyond the rhetoric and take urgent action to protect the rights of people living in slums, especially in some of the worst concentrations of slums -- in Brazil, India, China and Africa.
Analysts say popular cinema that romanticized slums had engendered a new kind of voyeuristic tourism. Tourists now regularly visit slums in Mumbai, scene of Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire. Recent media coverage of slums and academic studies on the phenomenon have led to the coinage of a new term, "poorism," analysts said. Regular poorism travel tours now attract travelers to Brazil, Ethiopia and India. After the 2005 hurricane Katrina, Louisiana became a major site for poorism tours, leaving residents who were fighting for economic recovery with little choice but to accept poorism tourists as a means of income.

World Habitat Day was created with the hope that more people, particularly the Administrations worldwide, would become aware of the need for adequate homes. It is a global awareness day to reflect on the state of our towns and cities and to remind us of responsibility for the future of our own habitats. In this context, I would like to record with appreciation the remarkable work done by the Rajasthan Housing Board in building new neighborhoods in small towns and cities where economically backward can boast to reside and socialize with their rich neighbors across the street. The idea is to inculcate pride in the under privileged of residing and mingling with the more prosperous, and at the same time to encourage the elite to get their feet on the ground by living alongside the less privileged. Aravali Vihar in Alwar, Rajasthan, is such an area where we moved to after surrendering our government accommodation in New Delhi on retirement. It was then a newly developed area where the Housing Board had built houses for three different categories – High income Group (HIG), Middle Income Group (MIG) and Low Income Group (LIG) and allotted to these groups on easy monthly installments. The salient feature of the scheme was that the houses in these three categories were spread over in the area in such a way that all the three groups co-existed as close neighbors and naturally socialized with each other, without any notions of economic disparity deviating their neighborly feelings of friendliness. This, indeed, was a very fine idea to discourage attitudes of class distinctions, which was successfully put to practice while implementing the Aravali Vihar Scheme.
Footnote: Though there was no difficulty in the way of the three economically different groups getting along well, I observed an amusing side effect of the exercise on the street vendors who went from street to street selling fresh vegetables and fruits to the residents right in front of their homes. One day sitting in our outer lawn we heard the vendor carrying mangoes in his cart loudly announcing mangoes at Rs. 50 per kg in the street near our house, but as soon as he came out of the street on the road in front of our house, the price instantly rose to Rs. 60 per kg for the same mangoes. On being confronted on this difference in cost, he tried to explain it as his kind gesture to cut the price for those who could not afford the high price. When we told about the vendor to a friend from the street, he agreed all vendors do this and offered to buy mangoes on our behalf next time to enable us to save on the price. Same thing happened with the area's cable operator. He charged us Rs. 300 for the monthly charge whereas our friend was paying Rs. 200 for the same service. When we asked the operator about this difference, he said my customers in the street cannot afford more than Rs. 200 and I cannot afford to forego their business.

All said, speaking seriously on the World Habitat Day, cities and small towns should try to create classless communities in their expansion plans, and Aravali Vihar, Alwar shows the way.


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