"The hardship takes a toll, you know."

Series 2 Episode 2

In the Field Series 2. Ep 2. “The hardship takes a toll, you know.”

Approx run time: 41 minutes.

Note: In the Field is produced for the ear and designed to be heard, not read. Readers are encouraged to listen to the show to get the full experience. The transcripts are meant as support documents and may not include inclusions from the day of recording and may contain errors. The audio version is the final version of the show.


Priyanka Nair (PN): Yeah, but so from here we do Ulsoor and then Fraser Town market, drop him, rather Fraser Town, Ulsoor, Indiranagar, and then I hit Old Madras Road, KR Puram, and then Outer Ring Road.

Radhika Viswanathan (RV): And how long does it take you?

PN: Umm on a good day 45 minutes otherwise 2 hours, Even if i leave at 7.15

Samyuktha Varma (SV): What time do you head back?

PN: If I leave at around 3.45 then I’m normally home before five, but anytime after that I’m like atleast two hours minimum…

RV: More than two centuries ago, the world began to experience the first industrial revolution, when machines and water and steam began to mechanise our way of life, think back to steamboats and spinning jennies. Soon after came electricity and power propelling us into an age of mass production,  where work could happen through the night.  And then came, the big one of our age, the IT and electronics wave that suddenly made our world smaller and was driven far more by skills than physical labour. And now, we’re facing a digital revolution, that is changing not only the way we work, but the way we think, interact and express ourselves.

SV: And each of these revolutions, produced in its own image a worker, who toiled under the yoke of feudally organised systems or lived with the black lungs of Dickensian industrial life, was one amongst many in the assembly line, or ran the rat race (best described by Dolly Parton’s 9-5),   to today’s worker, the coffee shop regular who works in the gig economy. In India, all of these so-called stages manage to co-exist, even in 2019. So what is worklife in India. And is it a development a problem?

RV: Welcome to In the Field.  I’m Radhika Viswanathan and I’m Samyuktha Varma. And for this episode, we joined our friend Priyanka on her daily commute, from one end of town where she lives, to the other, where she works.

Section 1

PN: So were stuck in KR Puram which is the best part of Bangalore (laugh), if you ever wanna learn to drive just get through this and you’ll be fine! Haha!

I’m serious this is your best place to learn to drive. you have things coming at you, you have like if possible six lanes here you squeeze through whatever you can get , yeah it is like a fish market of sorts, you just get through where ever you can and this is not the worst, when you hit KR Puram, this is just the beginning.

SV: The commute to work is perhaps one of the greatest points of tension in a worker’s life - it is at once quotidian, mundane. And aggravating. It falls right between work and life, on it’s increasingly hazy border.

Michael Hobbes, a journalist, wrote an article some years ago that caught our eye. While on assignment in Dhaka and being subjected to the city’s notoriously debilitating traffic jams and complete gridlock, he asked local people, What is the one thing you want improved in your city? The answer was traffic management. Dhaka is not exceptional, this traffic problem is so bad and seemingly getting worse, in all of the developing world’s big cities - from Accra to Jakarta, and of in our otherwise perfect hometown, Bangalore.  Major Indian cities are consistently amongst the world’s most congested places. And Bangalore’s latest city masterplan estimates that nearly 12m citizens will lose 600m man hours on the roads every year, thanks to congestion.

RV: Traffic is part of our city’s identity now. There an annoyingly funny Whatsapp forward that I once received, and it said that Bangalore Tourism was organising a 4 day 3 night package tour to four of the city’s iconic spots:  Silk Board, BTM, Marathahalli and KR Puram-Tin Factory. The four dreaded gridlocks in the city.

RV: Traffic got so bad a few years ago, that many of the big IT giants threatened to pull out of Bangalore and move elsewhere, to our rival, Hyderabad, because their employee commutes felt eternal. We make global investment decisions, they shouted! The productivity loss of our employees runs into the millions! Do something, or we’re out. Hobbes asks in his essay: It might not be as sexy as building schools or curing malaria, but alleviating traffic congestion is one of the defining development challenges of our time. We agree.

So, why is India’s urban traffic so bad? And is it all due to congestion?

Prottoy Aman Akbar (PAA): So my name is Prottoy Aman Akbar, I’m from Bangladesh, But I came to the us about ten years ago and I’ve been here for a while. Right now I’m a PhD student in Economics, so I mostly study issues related to cities in particular about how transportation infrastructure affects congestion.

RV: Prottoy is a transport economist and his work questions the commonly shared perception that as cities grow, they get congested, and see vehicles added in droves every day. To unpack this congestion conundrum, Prottoy and his colleagues looked at all of the largest Indian cities, ones with over 300 thousand people, and they studied the extent to which they could measure the monetary equivalent of the loss of time on the road – basically an efficiency angle. Did it vary depending on when people chose to commute?           

SV: Here’s how Prottoy explained it to us laypeople. It gets a bit economixy, but bear with us. Imagine a single travel commute at a particular time as a commodity, as something you would buy in a shop. And your choice to purchase it or not would depend on its price tag. So your 9 am commute would cost x. and your 3am commute would cost y and studying all the x and ys  you’d get a picture of traffic conditions and mobility at different times of the day.

PAA: So what we call mobility is basically kind of how fast you can travel. Mobility is the price of travel. and then if we could kind of break up mobility into two components, we can observe congestion , we can observe how this price varies across travel times, lets call that congested mobility -so the part of mobility that is coming from congestion, and then everything once we take that aside, any variation in mobility we can call that uncongested mobility.

SV: They mapped 22 million trips across 154 large Indian cities and found that cities that are slow are typically slow at all times, so a slow city would be also be slow at 3am and not just at times when it’s bound to be congested, and this is the gist of it.

PAA: Of course there are some differences, we find large cities congestion does matter more but one of the highlights of this paper is that what we call un-congested mobility is an even more important part of the story now especially now outside of large cities.

RV: Uncongested mobility is more associated with the road network itself, and so if you were trying to improve mobility in these slow cities, we would have to invest more in better road infrastructure or traffic enforcement for example. But as Prottoy points out better mobility does not necessarily lie with policies to reduce congestion. And this is becoming really important outside of the large cities.

SV: A deeper understanding of the interactions between urbanization, mobility and congestion in India and developing countries will help improve investments in transport and city competitiveness. But how do we decide where investments should go? And how do we include more people in this process?

Shaheen Shasa (SS): There’s is a lot of money going into transport infrastructure in Bangalore. um but it is not going into what helps the average um citizen… so my name is Shaheen. I’ve been living in Bangalore for about 18 years. I’m a member of Bangalore Bus Prayaanikara Vedike.

Hansika Singh (HS): I'm Hansika and im one of the more recent members of Bus Prayaanikara Vedike.

SS: The Vedike is a collective of Individuals and organizations who are interested in the issue of bus based public transport. 

RV: The BBPV, the Bengaluru Bus Prayaanikara Vedike, or the Bangalore Bus Passengers Forum, was formed in 2013, and fell out of citizen led civic action group for urban issues, to work solely on bus based public transport. 

SV: Citizen groups like the BBPV are consistently disillusioned by how decisions are regularly taken ab initio, without taking into consideration existing infrastructure, or building from it. And one reason for this is the fragmented institutional ensemble that works on this stuff:

HS: Specifically in Bangalore, you have around ten different agencies working on different aspects of transport and there isn’t much coordination between these agencies, a lot of research has gone into how these agencies work as siloes and within a BBMP -

SV: The Bangalore city corporation

HS: For example, you have a traffic engineering cell that just looks doing at signages and you have different divisions for roadworks right and they dont speak to each other. BMTC is a separate entity-  

SV: The Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation

HS: you have something called the directorate of urban land transport of Karnataka,  then you have Bangalore Development Authority so even if you start looking at ok on a given stretch of road how many agencies are looking at the aspect of mobility there are multiple and there are really no coordination between them,

RV: Is this the same in most big cities in India?

HS: Pretty much .

RV: Transport planning and infrastructure is fraught with complexities: urban transport infrastructure can do a lot of good, like improve land value in neighbourhoods, but it is also mired in local politics, there’s poor insight into the data behind many pricing and fare decisions. And often the outcomes of policy decisions on infrastructure simply shifts congestion from one place to the other.

SV: But the big problem is that we’re not looking closely enough at is,  who are our city’s commuters? What can they afford? And Where do they want to travel to. In Bangalore, it’s a small set of commuters that use private vehicles.

HS: 8% use four wheelers and 18% use two wheelers, so bus, walking and bicycling, if you account for this together, this is about 50% of the people who are commuting for work in the city.

RV: BBPV believes the conversation at the policy levels is always skewed in favor of the private commuter, penalising the majority of commuters who use public transport or non motorised means. And this is a pretty serious bone of contention for them, if Bangalore city has more than 5.8 million bus commuters riding the BMTC’s 6000 buses, buses are the backbone of the city’s transport system. And they will continue to be that important - even if new modes of transport are introduced. And as BBPV points out to us, decadal investments in the public transport bus fleet have been steadily dropping, while the number of cars on the road continues to increase.

HS: And yet every time, if you have this conversation in the middle class about adding more buses it’s like Oh My God the bus just adds to congestion it’ll just congest the roads more …and yet we always blame people and blame citizens for the congestion but we forget these socio economic factors right, half of the city is taking the public service, walking, using zero carbon, low carbon modes, and yet we are sitting on top of so much pollution.

RV: Transport investments constitute the largest component of lending of many global development institutions -  money needed for the big elevated roads, and the metros - something many, many cities want.

PAA: But I think I have noticed in general there is a sort of consensus amongst other urban researchers that generally with very large investments in transport infrastructure and things like that are typically not very cost effective but then again these mostly based on studies in the developed world.

SV: But how do we evaluate what a city needs? Where do we begin? Rahul Srivastava is a co-founder of Urbz, an experimental urban action research collective based in Mumbai and they study participatory approaches to planning and design. Their approach is anthropological, observing the city, and most importantly, understanding how residents use and create cities. He’s been writing about the Mumbai Metro and its impact on neighbourhoods:

Rahul Srivastava (RS): Given that context to have the metro is important because it is a public transport but at the same time, our studies have shown the fact that they will affect different neighbourhoods differently ...they do make commuting more expensive, they do at the same time, people like it because they feel like its part you know it’s part of an aspiring thing for a neighbourhood that we have a metro … and yet we are not being simplistic here and saying this is good or bad, this is the way things are. and we would really like a city to as a whole be more [there you go] and we would like cities to be more attentive to the needs of local economies.

RV: Another, perhaps overlooked aspect of mobility is that it does impact on social capital very strongly because a person’s ability to be mobile can change their life, it opens networks, creates opportunities, and can make cities far more inclusive. Think of the early waves of city migration, that was enabled by the vast rail network built by the British. Think of how Mumbai’s rail network is so integral to its economic vibrancy. And BBPV shapes their narrative as a rights based one, because very few people have the choice to opt out of using public transport.

HS: Comfort, affordability, safety, those are the three things you talk about…so BBPV , we frame it as a right to mobility, something that enables your other rights your right to work your right to a meaningful social life, your right to education.

RS: Generally in India you know, whether it is about transport and mobility or any large scale planning initiative which governments take there is, we don’t really have a history of participation, we don’t really have a history of getting local people engaged in what’s happening, they dont really know how to make those choices, right?

Sometimes of course citizens initiatives will come together like in the case of the metro citizens did make their voices heard in terms of the routes, where you should have, where you could not cut trees, but on the other hand by and large, not only with mobility and transport but for many aspects of governance, where do we actually see active you know involvement particularly in the cities. In villages, yes, you do  see a greater level of give and take and people having  discussions and debates etc but with cities, it's always seen more as a kind of technocractic role and people dont really have much say in those matters

SS: When we ran a lot of the fare campaigns what we saw was you know people are very people don't have a hope that things will change. that's what we sensed, they said what you are saying is all right, but you know there is no point, they are not going to listen to you. This is the this was the common refrain that we heard from the commuters themselves. They are sceptical of any possibility of change happening that they just sort of you know accept the fare hike and don’t um sort of you know it doesn't become a voting issue…

SV: Back on our trip, as one of city’s 8% car  commuters, we had been driving for over a half hour, and had moved a handful of kilometres.

PN: I love driving and for some strange reason, in traffic hahaha ha so the guys at work keep telling me I don’t like driving, I like traffic! That’s what I like apparently (laughing)!

SV: Why do we take commuting for granted? Prottoy tells us that transport economics is still an emerging area of study. And at home, everyone we speak to, speaks with a sense of solemn resignation, whether they live in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore or pretty much any other big city. Galvanising people around the issue of transport in general is such a difficult task, despite the fact that it is huge part of our lives.

One of the glaring gaps that emerged while researching this episode was the dearth of data - whether its data on the communities, or investments infrastructure, and mapping, and getting the right data is critical to transport economics. Urban economics in general too. A lot of this data is expensive, and often cities don’t have the research ability to conduct these extensive surveys. But we do live in the age of apps, and even google maps has of late been quite useful to economists looking for large datasets.

PN: Ah so I think its easier if you kind of get used to the fact that there’s going to be traffic and there’s nothing you can do about it, so one you either learn to deal with it or find better ways, the local transport is not that great if you really like taking a bus and walking its fine but there are going to be challenges If you’re ok with that then that becomes a part of your life. 

Section 2

RV: We’re in Mumbai, in Sakinaka, at the bottom of a hill full of warehouses, recycling and small industrial units nestled choc a bloc between a real warren of lanes. Look up and you’ll feel as if the hill will collapse on you, which it has at times during the monsoon. On our way in, our cab had to backtrack nearly a full kilometre because the map indicated a broad road, but in reality it was a winding maze, full of industrial activity - trucks loading and unloading goods, small units spilling onto the street, and actually our cab was the disrupter, creating the road block and stopping the work.

We walked around the neighbourhood with Kiran, who works with Aajeevika Bureau, a fantastic NGO that works on labour and migration. Aajeevika Bureau runs a small outreach centre at the heart of L ward for the migrant workers of Sakinaka, most of whom come from Uttar Pradesh. In the early days Aajeevika bureau noticed that local agricultural work gave way to labour migration, and it struck them that they were migrating simply as a livelihood strategy.

Krishnaji (KS): When we saw the data it struck us, that labour and migration were the main sources of work, that they were not migrating because of an environmental calamity or anything but migrating simply for work, it was a livelihood strategy.

SV: And, as Krishnavatar Sharma, Aajeevika’s co founder told us, their goal was to make this migration a productive, positive experience for migrants, rather than the problem that we know that it is.

KS: So how do we make this migration especially for poor families, a positive opportunity so that their conditions that they face, that the migration becomes a positive opportunity rather than a problem as it is today.

SV: Making labour and migration a positive opportunity is critical work, because In India, nealy 93% of casual workers are unorganised and work in the informal sector. Aajeevika tells us that of these, around 35-40% are migrants, and many of them join the workforce very young, and work in difficult conditions. In Sakinaka, most of the labourforce work in small industrial units building or repairing printers, scanners, fridges, and other such equipment, and recycling, there’s an extensive recycling subindustry taking apart everything from plastic to keyboards, computers and even solid waste. The value of the migrant worker in industrial development and even in urban development is almost always unseen and invisible.

KS: You’ll see today that mostly the youth who leave these villages are 13-14 years old and from our experience we know that in this market, the kind of hard work, the kind of conditions they work and live in, the kind of nutrition they have, they are forced to retire early. so people enter the market at 14-15, and they return home during their peak earning years, around 25-40 years because the life in the city, the hardship takes a toll, you know.

SV: Their workforce years begin early at 14 or 15 and they return home during what should be their peak earning years, anywhere between 35 and 40, because the kind of hard work they do, the conditions they live in, their poor nutrition, all force them to retire early.

KS: The hardship takes a toll, you know.

SV: Migrant workers, like the ones in Sakinaka often lead split lives.

KS: Because slowly as migrant workers come to the city, they also realise that the city is not their permanent destination.

SV: Work in the city and live life back in the village.Because living here, bringing one’s family and earning at the same time is so hard, that what we we end up seeing seasonal migration. They see their time in the city as transitory.

KS: Because living here, bringing ones family and earning is so hard, that its mostly seasonal migration where their economic life is in the city and their social life is back home in their villages.

RV: Reetika Revathy Subramanian is a researcher with Aajeevika.

Reetika Subramanian (RRS): If you ask them why do you want to be in Bombay, why do you watch bhojpuri films here,  it’s the fact that they don’t want to make it big here it’s a transit point a lot of them say we want to earn here and it’s a job and that’s why we are ok living on site work over time, work for 16h a day if necessary and then we want to go back home, that’s where everything rests for us. we want to start a shop there we want to start a business there.

RV: Much of Aajeevika Bureau’s work is in trying to establish some system of employee welfare in conditions where worker-employer relations are most fragile and easily broken. Working with people in precarious employment like this is about finding ways to assure protection from shocks. And these could be anything from big macro economic shifts to medical bills from a sudden illness. Migrant workers are even more vulnerable.

And Aajeevika works at this cross section. They assist with establishing identities for migrant labour, and find ways to better bargaining power through things like legal education. An important piece of this is to formalise the labourer’s daily life by giving them ways to account for their daily work and the contractual obligations of the employer. They delicately mediate wage disputes in ways that protect the labourer, and don’t cause conflict.

RV: Welfare is perhaps the first step to wellbeing. It’s what helps establish the dignity of labour, and creates the conditions for a good working environment. Most often the concept of work life is defined by these things; but the culture of the workplace, the culture of the industry, and the culture we live in really matter. It’s the combination of all these cultures that drive aspiration in the worker. Because aspiration is a critical capacity that gives us the pathways to identify and achieve our goals. It’s an idea that Arjun Appadurai, professor at New York University is well known for.  When people are held back by social structures, with little agency or opportunity, or when they function in a survival mode only, they lack the capacity to aspire.

KS: Aspirations depends of where their source area is, people from tribal areas like Odisha in them there is no aspiration to come and see how they can build their skills in the city. What else can they do in their life, because the kind of distress they come from, the conditions they work in, a person's desires and soul is destroyed, because they don’t have time, they work for 12h, such hard work,  after that what dream will they have? That now what else do I want to do What is there for sure is that they tell us reduce our working hours because the wellbeing is linked to that - bringing down working hours, and that they get their fair wage for their work, these two things are very critical. and then the job, they want to keep their job, keep earning because with their survival they have to think of their family's survival.

RV: To sum up Sharmaji, when people from distressed backgrounds are forced to migrate and work in hard conditions, their desire and soul is destroyed. After, that what dreams can they have? Their dreams may stretch as far as wanting a fair wage, reduced working hours, because their wellbeing is linked to these two. And maybe all they can  aspire to is keeping their job, because their survival depends on it, is as .

Kiran: here mostly the workers download movies, so a worker watches two movies a day, laugh, in ten rupees two movies are downloaded, so when he works or at night

RRS: One interesting aspect we found out in Mumbai in the course of our work was also the aspiration associated with mobile phones as well as films, and we did a random survey here and we identified that seven out of ten migrant workers own smart phones and that is more important than the way you look and especially when you go back home it’s also a status symbol and a fact that you’ve arrived in Mumbai.

SV: On a day to day to day basis there are only a few forms of reprieve for the migrants of Sakinaka. This split life is lonely and sometimes hard to reconcile, especially in the big city with everything it promises. Working long hours, with little spare money, there are few places people can go to unwind. Their smart phone becomes their only source of any entertainment, and relief.

And one industry that has been thriving extensively now with smartphones becoming more and more accessible are these mobile phone industries, they work in this whole download system and I think that is also something where in there is this sense of escape, living within your factories itself,

Kiran: The craze today is for chinese food, so the worker in thirty rupees can eat full, chicken fried rice!

RV: Work is changing, we know that, but its implications on work and life now can’t be separated. Last year, 4 of the big multilateral development Banks published a report on the Future of Work, the World Bank’s 2019 World Development Report focused on the changing nature of work. All talk about the future of automation and innovation, skills and education, the expansion of the digital economy, platforms and the gig economy, changing employer employee relationships, and why we need to transition to a “just work” framework. But there’s a big issue that surrounds the problems being raised by changing work and that is inequality.

SV: As Technology widens the gap between the old skills and the new skills, the ILO talks about the problem of a “flawed social contract”. Their response to the World Bank World Development stated that small proposals to introduce “fairness” to work practices will not lead to the big structural changes that are still necessary to reduce inequality and poverty and share growth more equitably. We’re in an age where the gaps between the rich and the poor are shocking. To fix these things we need to reimagine what work is, and there isn’t a better time to do that, than right now.

Section 3

Ryan Bennett (RB): Big cities can be some of the loneliest places,

RV: Ryan Bennett is the Cee Wee O of Wework India, the real estate juggernaut that is changing the elite workspace. In its early years not so long ago Wework began by turning underutilised spaces into office space; they quickly realised that while their largely self employed, entrepreneurial cohort needed the space, they also came for the community.

RB: And that's really the progression that we've seen and something that we really try to focus on because people find immense value in that. 

You know if you look at that over the past 10-20 years I think that's drastically changed, I think if you even go back to the assembly line days you know the 1950s and 60s and going into the 80s, everyone was focussed on getting this job they would have for life and it really didn't matter if you liked that job it gave you a retirement package and it gave you benefits and work was looked at as just something you had to get through, to get through the day.

SV: Increasingly innovation and creativity are becoming the fulcrum of work, and as they place different - and new - demands on the work itself, we are going to be forced to figure out how to nurture these twins aspects in every worker. As technology makes some jobs redundant and we can’t yet imagine what others will come to fore, what we do know right now is that we’re in an entrepreneurial innovation driven mode of work.

The digital revolution, the fourth industrial revolution is transforming the nature of work and life; in fact work now is life, and work has to be more fulfilling because it is all encompassing, and this means that the individual needs a lot more from work to sustain themselves.

With this onus on the individual to find and create meaning in work, what Ryan calls “finding your life’s work”, it’s becoming more important to protect the thing inside that keeps people dreaming and aspiring. There’s no dearth of interest in this in our country. And you only have to look at the management and business section of any bookstore to see that.

RB: You know there's an amazing stat that says that 85% of millennials would take a paycut to work on something that they are more passionate about and that's a really powerful statement if you think about it.

RB: ... and what you really see within these walls are people who you know just want to feel very connected to what they do um, because whatever you do, unfortunately or fortunately, your job doesn't stop at 6 o clock. you're on your phone at 7 or 8 or 9 and if your life and your job are going to be that integrated together, you better be doing something your passionate about. because otherwise it's not going to work. So I think if you factor in all those different pieces together you've seen a dramatic shift towards people really wanting to focus on doing what they love more so than maybe what their parents want them to do or what you know the previous generations have done.

RV: But there is a method in the madness. We are making conscious choices of where to work, where to live, and all these individual choices are never random. But they’re still very understudied, because of data challenges, and also because these things are not very well understood, even theoretically. We Work’s approach is to understand what makes its members happy and productive by using a bunch of different types of metrics.

RB: So real estate for example, right … really using a lot of just heat mapping and studying the markets to understand like where it traffic best where is it worst, where are all the MNCs and getting a building that would work for them, where are the startup environments in and really just doing a high level strategy on where our buildings need to be on the real estate side.

RV: They’re constantly trying to measure the comfort level and use of their spaces and they go as far as to use censors within their offices to see which rooms and configurations work better. The other big thing We Work is known for are their events - a carefully curated roster of talks, workshops, experiences for their members.

SV: In the short term worklife is greatly enhanced in a conducive happy environment. It’s why Google built amazing campuses in the heyday of the IT boom that ensured that workers never actually had to leave for any reason at all.

RB: So whether it is working super early in the morning or whether it is working really late at night being able to come into an environment that feels so comfortable and really feels like a second home, so they they don’t need to leave and they dont feel like they are missing their apartment because they are just as comfortable sitting here, getting work done or even spending leisure time here.

You know we have, if you come here on a Thursday night, we have a table tennis that will be packed until midnight. right? and some of it is because they love the community but some of it is also because they are probably waiting for traffic to die down, so really trying to give a full experience for our members that makes them feel like they never need to leave.

RV: A shift in thinking in the human resource wellbeing is underway in developed countries. From a simple health and safety framework, to a more comprehensive one one that includes mental and physical wellbeing, diet, exercise and safety. Some of this has even come from the government, where the UK expanded the portfolio of the Minister for sport and civil society to include loneliness.

RB: And you know the one thing that we think about all day long is, better together. right, and especially in large cities. So really starting to bring in partners that can help us to fight not only loneliness but like burn out because that s a big challenge as well. You know a lot of people are really working these 16-18 hours a day and they start to struggle with that.

SV: How do we get to a point where we can experience the best possible version of this shift - where the worker has more power in deciding how to distribute time, and this becomes what flexibility means, rather than becoming a part of a system where work happens all the time?

Even the ILO cautions that this move to flexibility can make work harder to juggle with other life commitments and can make some work even more insecure. Adam Grant, pyschologist and professor at Wharton often talks about how a work life balance is unrealistic. There will be times in your life when you will work more and be less at home, and there will be other times when you’ll spend more time in other pursuits or with family. He speaks instead of finding a work life rhythm, where all the aspects of our life, work, home, friends, wax and wane over time.

PN: I wish my work was that way , no it isn’t , see like work life is kind of consumed, I don’t have a life apart from work, there’s a time when I say yeah, I’m going on a holiday after my release, I mean I time my holidays after something that I shouldn’t be doing, it’s not a fair thing to do right, you should have a life, I mean that’s the only way you’re gonna survive but I think that’s how we've all become, we’ve tuned our life so much around work that we don’t do anything else apart from that and I go back I take calls at around nine thirty-ten because you have different people in different time zones so yeah it kind of sucks.

RV: In the end, this is work life. This promise of transformatory workplaces with friends, networks, communities and stimulations at conveniently located places that reduce your commute and enhance your comfort, is still in the realm of the very few. The reality is that work life in India for the labourer, or a nurse, or even an IT coder brings its own version of spirit breaking hardship.

The Aajeevika workers and the WeWorkers are two ends of the spectrum - and for all in the middle, the full range of issues persist -  from needing basic welfare to wellbeing.

The thing with India is that we have a huge population, the demographic numbers to allow a huge percentage of our workers to be grist for the mill. And that is harsh. But it is also the harsh reality of how our economy functions.

And loneliness, mental burnout, and physical stress are serious issues, and if you want to think of it this way, they will have economic consequences.

SV: Look around you. Or think to your own life. How many of you listeners have experienced burn out, have tried to escape the hamster wheel, in a small or a big way. If economic progress is going to be led by ingenuity, and by creativity,  then we have to preserve our work life before it snuffs out the source of this intangible power and douses our capacity to aspire. If there is any creativity emerging, it has come in spite of all this. Cities are centres of production, that we know, but when will they be centres of creativity. The means to get there are as important as the outcome.

 RV: And this brings us to the end of the show.



Thanks to Apoorva Verma, Amrita Sharma, Hansika Singh, Kiran, Krishnavtar Sharma ji, Nishi Palnitkar, Priyanka Nair, Prottoy Aman Akbar, Rahul Srivastava, Reetika Revathy Subramanian, Ryan Bennett, Sanjay Patel and Shaheen Shasa.

Photo: Samyuktha Varma.

Sounds: Sound Producer is Santhos Nataraja. Theme song by Hollis Coats. This episode was mixed and recorded at Third Eye Studios.

 Show and art design by Bhushanraj.

In the Field is supported by Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies.