They own nothing. ZERO.

kol
A woman sleeps on a sidewalk in central Kolkata. Extreme poverty afflicts millions in India.

 

A few weeks ago, when President Barack Obama visited India, I wrote a piece for CNN about how my homeland was poised to become a global power in the next few decades. The most recent World Bank forecast says growth in India is likely to outdo China’s.

But then came a sobering reminder of the widespread poverty in India.

The latest Census data says that 43 million households have zero assets to their name. That means about 215 million people own nothing. The Census listed cars, computers and televisions. But it also listed simple things like radios, bicycles and cell phones. Nothing. Zero.

As such, these people are largely excluded from society, marginalized by extreme poverty.

India’s extreme poor are often left out of the discussion on growth and a more fruitful future. But any measure of progress has to be diminished by these shameful numbers.

Recently, the Aam Admi  (Common Man) Party won a surprising and resounding victory in the Delhi elections, putting anti-corruption champion Arvind Kejriwal back in the chief minister’s slot. Aam Admi’s core support comes from the urban poor.

Whether or not you agree with Aam Admi, the win in Delhi, though largely symbolic, is a strong indicator that “inclusion: might just be the “it” concept in Indian politics in the years ahead. Politicians who forget about the millions without assets, the millions without clout, may have disappointments in store. India has to lift all boats. A global power cannot be a nation in which so many people own absolutely nothing.

Read my story about Obama and India on CNN.com.

Reinvention

The alarm sounded at 6:15 a.m., heralding the start of a momentous day. After a 8-month hiatus from the working world, Kevin returned to an office today.

My journalist friends would say he went to “the dark side,” a term for public relations work. He’s a flak, they would say. But after seeing so many of my talented and qualified friends struggle to find jobs, I am relieved that Kevin found one; that he was able to reinvent himself after 30-plus years at newspapers.
I felt particularly lucky after seeing “Up in the Air” last night. The movie revolves around a man whose job is to travel the country and fire people. Jobs lost, lives changed forever.
In America, we are going through the worst recession since the Great Depression. The economy will bounce back soon, one hopes, but so many professions are being reshaped in this rapidly evolving world we inhabit. The slow death of newspapers, for one, touched my life in ways I never imagined. I always assumed I would retire as a daily newspaper reporter. So did Kevin.
On my trip home to India a month ago, I noticed a different sort of change. The street life I knew from childhood — the hawkers and sellers — are threatened by a new lifestyle, a new middle class that has enough disposable income to spend at fancy malls and restaurants.
In the next few blogs, I plan to highlight a few of these professions that are dying off. Some may feel familiar; others not so much. Some are essential; others quirky. All involve people, like ourselves, who must now think of reinventing their lives.