Wednesday, October 19, 2005

What is this life...

If full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?

People Like Us, with hectic 'urban professional' lives will nod sagely in agreement with that old school poem.

But, there's a tribe whose profession it is now, to simply stand and stare. I often pass a bunch of them on my way to work, standing on the Eastern Express Highway.

Thin, dark, wiry and sweating profusely - despite the 'free' caps on their heads - these are yet another by-product of our labour-surplus economy: Human Billboards.

OK, so what these young fellows actually do is hold up a placard - a dozen of them standing at 5 metre intervals. Mumbai's radio channels, which are currently fighting for supremacy in the morning listenership segment, seem to be the biggest patrons of this new 'medium'.

Yesterday it was 'Radio City' trying to attract car listenership to its morning program where Sunidhi Chauhan was apparently singing live. A couple of weeks ago it was 'Radio Mirchi' exhorting us to tune in to Bollywood stars like Kareena and Preity hosting their morning show.

I feel sorry for those 'human billboards', many of their placards drooping in direct proportion to the mercury rising as the day progresses. On the other hand, in the books of a slum-kid it's probably good money for 'doing nothing'. That kid could be standing crushing stones in a quarry, expending hard physical labour, and still earning far less.

No doubt there is a middleman who 'supplies' these boys and makes the lion's share of it though!

Stareway to Heaven
However, what's more intriguing to me is the rise and rise of these 'stand and stare' jobs. If you are a lower middle class type, with sub-optimal educational qualifications, your 'dream job' today would probably be with a security agency.

Don a uniform, a dull vacant, stare and stand in air conditioned comfort at the local mall. I'm not saying the job isn't necessary - at Vashi's Centre One it's amazing how many people are still wary of climbing onto escalators or doing so for the first time!

It's just that the job seems so boring, pointless and routine... But that, I guess is what 90% of jobs in this world are about.

So stand, and stare. No boughs, or sheep and cows, but I'll occasionally stare back from my car window - if that's any consolation.


  1. i remember there was this shop in one of the malls here ( in Dubai) where they kept human mannequins! these people were supposed to stand absolutely still for a period of two hours!!

    what's the point????

  2. What else is a job supposed to be for? Now that may not sound in sync with what most urban people with their highly overpriced education think, but the fact is people work for earning their bread. The adventure, the challenge, the interest are things that one finds while working . . That's not the purpose the purpose is to make some moolah and take it home so that you can feed yourself and your dependents. We hardly realise how important a difference do these people make to our lives, the house keeping guys for example: One day our bai disappears and our lives go upside down. When I was studying you know i used to think what use are these fire alarms and these expensive safety systems we put and advise. . we spend fortunes on them. . now they have a purpose that can not be denied but I used to think that way, are these security guys different, I mean superficially one may think that they are but if you look at closely isnt installing gadgets the same as employing a vast army of employees ? We can not stand another human you know . . We are happier with a silly check that does not allow us in without the swipe in card but a man who recognises no we don't want that. We have been thinking we are making our lives comfortable and doing things creatively but we find that more of us are searching for that abstract thing called peace . . and we have people selling nirvanas and selling gadgets to MEDITATE. . huh. . intelligent marketing and great business sense someone would say. . . What are we doing as a society ? Our problem is that we work for adventure for fun for interest. . for challenge, some work for finding an identity .ha ha ha. . . do we work for working? ? and what we see is all kind of things . . . people doing all kind of things to be on the fourth column on page x of a natinal daily. . we have gauravs talking about iipms and arindam choudhuris talking back to ibms . . and people resigning. . the problem again is that none of them is doing it for earning bread. . we mold the whole thing into a question of the right to free speech and we very conveninetly forget that all freedom has to have a greater responsibility. . just like we may be free to ride on the road and that does not mean ride as we like. . free speech . . huh. . i don't know what it means . . we are thrilled by the number of comments on our blogs and the index that judges our creative talent is the controversies that our statements create . . we are driven by the attributes. . thats what the problem is. . All jobs would be boring if we look for adventure and point and interest in them. . these are not things that the jobs have in them by themselves. . these are effects that workers can bring about by commitment to the job. . every job has that opportunity. . but not when you do it for these atributes. . when you do it with a commitment to the job you find others see all those attributes in that job. .

  3. I guess Amit is right to a certain extent , but.......................

  4. A pathetic state of child labour indeed...

    I guess, it would be appropriate to title it as 'sit and stare' for the computerized offices majorly IT industry where you are paid to do just that...:) what more, you also get 'stand and stare' by the bosses who make you uncomfortable by breathing down your neck...
    As for Center One is concerned, yes you can see the first timers to the emerging malls of India tottering on an elevator or an escalator which reminds me the first time I had to take them myself! It sure is funny!

  5. Leisure - WH Davies, a wonderful poem. And some 'stand and stare' job, the next big thing to a sinecure :) I want to join one such thing and make a small fortune :D Pardon this lazy Indian, for he not maketh the right effort to survive :(

  6. In their race to "win", people have forgotten human values and humanity,itself.Banning such radio channels(which employ child labour directly or indirectly) might help.
    Would slow the pace at which the world is raging to get to some unknown destination called "success"....

    But I still think we can do much more than just stare back out of our car windows...
    The question is how many of us are willing to do that?

  7. Look at the brighter side. These same kids could be the ones begging on the streets, taking drugs around the corner or even worse - in desperation of money resort to crime. This job maybe boring but I think to a poor man who needs to earn his daily living even to buy ONE meal a day anything which can give him money is worth it. So why not this one.

    And besides, the joy of having a job which you truly enjoy is surely limited a very few, I believe.

  8. Oh well, if they had hired me for the job, I would have provided a lot of billboard space - but I guess there is more than enough demand for losers like me in the media crazy world.

  9. I shud say,a problem of plenty.91,92.5,93.5,98.3 etc. r simply JAMming mumbai

    Same case with newspapers.Hopefully ToI or some newspaper wud resort to such publicity tactics in future.:)

    A different story out here in chennai.Sun TV advertises on television,requesting viewers to listen to its radio channel.

  10. "...these are yet another by-product of our labour-surplus economy: Human Billboards."

    Why not jobs deficient economy? I gather this isn't a discussion about economy. But isn't that the real problem? If these people could find better jobs they wouldn't be doing this. (I am not in India, so I haven't seen them).

    On the other hand if they are small kids then the stations should be punished for exploitation and child labor.

  11. Thank you.. thank you so much for this blog..

  12. Yes. I saw those during my visit to Bombay this summer. I actually thought it was a better way to employ these kids. Its the same argument about sweat-shops in India-- but would you rather have the kids beg/do drugs or be abused by drunken parents or work 10 hrs a day in a sweat-shop?

    I guess none of the options are favorable, but's like a circle. there is no one answer to this question

  13. rashmi,
    did i meet you in bombay last year? this in regards with AIESEC- the organization I was working for?

  14. Not all human billboards are exploited 'child labour'. Many are doing it by choice - and at least in their mid to late teens.

    Yesterday a colleague saw a bunch of women in full ghunghat standing at Mahim causeway to promote a new show on Zee TV (can't recall the name). There's even a pic of it in HT Mumbai. So I guess business is thriving and there is 'equality' of employment opportunity. Altho as the 'women' were not visible under the ghunghat who knows what lay beneath :)

  15. Not all human billboards are exploited 'child labour'. Many are doing it by choice - and at least in their mid to late teens.

    Yesterday a colleague saw a bunch of women in full ghunghat standing at Mahim causeway to promote a new show on Zee TV (can't recall the name). There's even a pic of it in HT Mumbai. So I guess business is thriving and there is 'equality' of employment opportunity. Altho as the 'women' were not visible under the ghunghat who knows what lay beneath :)

  16. I am a computer professional, and sadly I don't do anything better than sit and stare at my monitor. The only difference being, I sit and make more. But we all should respect the fact that someone or the other has to do these odd jobs. If nobody wants to clean the toiltes, how will our toiltes remain clean? If nobody wants to be hamaalis, how will we move our stuff? But we all seem to have a common goal, fill our stomach.

  17. I suppose, most of these 'Human Billboards' are definitely doing it by choice. In fact they are happy that they could find an easy employment instead of doing other minial jobs and getting exploited out there. We educated ones in the society have a habbit of asking people not to do a particular job since we feel they are exploited but do these people have a choice. I have myself seen young kids who wash dishes by choice in Dhabas since they at least earn something there.

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