Living high above the poverty line

I’ve now been living in Hyderabad, India, for about 3 weeks and am starting to get accustomed to my daily schedule and the opportunities presented to me here. The main purpose of my being here is for an extended stay business trip with Mutual Mobile as the project manager for developing a new office in the city for around 100 team members. More on that in a separate post as things develop.

Generally speaking, I have seen three things in this city: The Trident Hotel, Charminar, and the Golkonda Fort.

For the sake of brevity, I will just write about the hotel in this post. You can find my other posts from Hyderabad here.

I typically wouldn’t write about a hotel, but The Trident Hotel is my new home, so it is worth a mention. Trident is a brand new 7-star hotel in the High Tech City area of Hyderabad. The staff here are incredibly good at what they do and they don’t skip a beat to make me feel like royalty. They have even provided me with a complimentary personal trainer, Raj, who meets me 6-mornings a week in the fitness center.

I have made friends with the several key staff members here who have taken me out and shown me a good time, but I still have cultivated the phrase, “I don’t need a house of servants, I need a house of friends!” The hospitality is great for a few days, but I live here now and I don’t need everyone putting me on a pedestal all the time. It is very isolating. I have started to explain this to a few people and they seem to understand where I am coming from. Only time will tell if they adjust the way they interact with me or not.

Beneath my feet, the poverty runs wild

There is a strange situation I am faced with every day, and I haven’t yet figured out what I can or want to do about it. Each morning, I wake up around 6am to the dawn of a new day. I promptly order a 2-shot cappuccino (This your fault, Ed Ireson!) and some whole wheat toast from in-room dining and then start checking on emails that I received during the night from Austin.

When the coffee arrives, I move to a chair that faces out the windows and overlooks this huge park called Shilparamam. So here I am, 19-floors above this beautiful scene, watching the sunrise, drinking my pretentious coffee, and my only worry is to make sure I get to the fitness center on time to meet with Raj for the day’s workout. Then, at my feet, this is what I see:

Indian man bathes in public park while living in poverty

I don’t know that this structure on the left is a home, but on the right is a courtyard with some running water piped in and a laundry line. You will notice the man bathing; he is usually joined by a few friends, but today he is alone, as am I. We are so close to each other but our lives are worlds apart. He bathes under a trickling stream of water, exposed to the open air in the shadows of my glass palace where I have all the comforts modern times can offer.

I am no stranger to poverty. My time in Brazil and Kyrgyzstan showed me intense poverty and at times I lived right in it. Though this is a peaceful scene, I am reminded of a quote by Gandhi, “Poverty is the worst form of violence;” perhaps only because this is India and I am just cliche like that. I am deeply moved by the dichotomy of this situation but I also feel powerless to do anything about it. I can’t even measure my own feelings about the situation.

My struggle in this scene is to decide, “how do I feel about this,” and “what can I do about it?” I am very interested in being part of effecting widespread change in people’s lives, but I am much more of an institutionalist than I am a one-on-one interaction type. My time working for the Louisiana Capital Area Red Cross ingrained a sense of institutional impacts being more my forte than being the one pouring the soup in the kitchen.

So what do I do?

I can ignore it, but that gets no one anywhere. I can go down there and talk to the man, but about what? If I go there, what can I offer? Does my going there make any positive impact on him? Maybe he will just be bothered by me, or become more conscious of the fact that hundreds of people can watch him bathe every day. Either way, it seems like my interacting with him will be more about making me feel good about me and less about making a positive impact on him and his life.

Maybe I lack the creativity to see an obvious course of action here but I hope something comes to me. I am open to suggestions; if you have any, please write them in the comments below.