Initially a friend of Swapanda's agreed to sell his 15 year old SUV for Rs 2,50,000 and the deal was almost done. But the friend for some reason baulked at the last moment and then we had to go to the internet to find some cars. There was one car that was available for Rs 2,00,000 only but by the time we got in touch with the seller it had been sold!! The others were beyond our financial reach. So then we set off across Indore exploring the various second hand car dealers. Once again most of the cars on sale were out of our financial reach or were in very bad condition. Then at the last car dealer that we went to we found a beautiful red Tata Safari car of 2008 vintage that had a price tag of Rs 2,50,000 which was dirt cheap as it should have been around 6 lakhs at least for that kind of vintage. Swapanda on seeing it immediately plumped for it despite my saying that there must be some serious problem with the car if it was selling so cheap. Enquiries revealed that we would be the seventh buyers of the car in seven years!! We took the car around for a test drive and found that there were indeed various problems. Nevertheless, Swapanda said that surely it could be repaired at some expense over time and even then it would be a bargain. Here is a photo of the car which will reveal why Swapanda is so enamoured of it!! Of course it is a repaint of the original!!!
My Maruti 800 mechanic, Iqbal, is a self made man. He has studied only up to class seven and has learnt the skills of automobile repair hands on once he gave up studies after reaching adolescence since he was making much headway in them. I had reached him earlier after having had a bad and expensive experience of getting my Maruti repaired at the authorised service centre. True to the KMCS spirit, I had bought the Maruti 800 car of 1998 vintage in 2011, second hand, for just Rs 50,000. We bought it mainly to cart the various props that we need for conducting Reproductive Health camps for poor urban women. With a carrier on top, the car is able to cart all the stuff we need as shown below with Subhadra at the steering.
The Safari on one occasion when we were riding it from Indore to Kakrana broke down once again. We were near a place called Manpur some 50 kilometers from Indore and it was early in the morning so instead of calling up Iqbal we sought out a mechanic in Manpur itself. There was some problem with the axle and also with the clutch plate which had become worn. The mechanic, Govinda, opened everything up and then ordered the parts from Indore by bus and fixed up the car and we were on our way again after a few hours. After we reached Kakrana, the car once again began stopping suddenly while running. It was not until the day we were returning to Indore that it became clear to us that this was happening because there was a leak in the water cooling system which was heating up the engine. We couldn't locate the leak and somehow brought it to Kukshi town some 50 kms from Kakrana by continually refilling the water in the cooling system. A mechanic in Kukshi tried to find out where the leak was but couldn't. He said that the parts of the Safari are available only in Indore and so if we left the car with him then it would take a lot of time and so it was better that we just filled water continuously and took the car to Indore!! So we did that over a distance of 100 kms and reached Manpur and Govinda's garage once again!!! Thereafter, Govinda took over and opened up the whole engine which had become damaged due to overheating, found the minute leak in one of the cooling pipes and did a complete overhaul of the whole car. So we have ended up spending about another Rs 1,00,000 on the Safari but now it is in top shape. Other owners before this had not shown the patience that we did and had disposed of the car in quick succession. Indeed one friend of Swapanda's, a scientist like him, after driving the car the day after it was bought had suggested that we give it back even if it meant incurring a substantial loss because he thought there was no future for it!! Swapanda gave him a dressing down saying that as a scientist he should welcome challenges instead of steering clear of them!!!
Iqbal and Govinda are only two of many such skilled people in this country who have not received any formal training but have learnt on the job and have learnt well. They do a good job and do it cheaply and much better than the authorised service centres which charge the earth for their sub standard services. This is the case in all sectors of the economy. Thus, it is these informal training processes in the vast informal sector that have to be supported instead of setting up institutions which churn out ostensibly skilled people but are actually white elephants that gorge resources without adequate productive output. Iqbal and Govinda make out a living through struggle as their existence is a contingent one as is that of many millions more in the informal sector. Govinda is a high scholl pass out but instead of pursuing higher studies in the hope of getting a job in the formal sector he decided to learn automobile repairing in a garage. He is very tech savvy and when Swapanda showed him the videos that he had downloaded from the internet regarding the assembly of automobile engines he cleaned out all the music from the micro SD card on his mobile phone and filled it up with the videos!! Iqbal works alone in his garage. When asked why he doesn't employ some help he says that daily wages have now become Rs 300 in Indore and he cannot afford to pay that much to a help. His son is in high school and wants to study further instead of join Iqbal in his garage because he feels that a secure job in the formal sector is both more paying and more prestigious than working in a garage. Thus, if the Government were to provide Iqbal with the money as a training fee then he would be more productive and also train another person or even his son at a much cheaper cost and more effectively than in the many institutions that the Government is setting up under its skilling initiative. Working with the hand as a technician should command respect in society as only then will the youth be freed from their hankering for secure white collar jobs that are anyway becoming scarce and are not that well paying anymore. Our country does not lack in skilled people, it only lacks in respect for these millions of informally skilled people. Instead the crony capitalists who skim off public resources at will without providing sustainable development opportunities are the ones who command respect and that is why despite all the economic growth in recent years, poverty and hunger continue to dog most of the people.