Monday, September 23, 2013

Prof. Venky Ramakrishnan on Bicycles


The Nobel laureate has penned an opinion piece for The Telegraph (Kolkata) about the benefits of bicycles -- to the cyclists, to the cities, to the environment.

It's great to see him committing some sociology, and even quoting Arundhati Roy:

I suspect that the indifference or even contempt towards cyclists has its roots in the increasing segregation of the well-off from the rest of India.

The prosperous classes have effectively seceded from the masses, as pointed out by Arundhati Roy. They live in their own private bubbles, never encountering public spaces let alone the public.

They go from their home into their car from which they leave their gated compound, only to emerge in an equally private space, whether it is their place of work or their club, a restaurant or a friend’s home. They never encounter the general public except as people to serve them as domestic servants, waiters, shop attendants, etc.

They only observe the streets through the windows of an air-conditioned car, or perhaps from a speeding motorcycle. If advertisements are to be believed, they don’t even look like the masses, but rather like tanned Westerners. They certainly do not bicycle. And given the poor infrastructure and the condition of the streets, who can blame them?

By abandoning the larger society, the well-off in India are impoverishing themselves. They may live in luxurious, well-equipped homes, but their world has shrunk dramatically into a self-made prison.

3 Comments:

  1. Raj said...

    I am not sure what the purpose of this article is: blame the very rich for lack of bicycle culture in India or to tell everyone that quality of his life is better than the very rich in India. After claiming that very rich in India don't even meet other non-rich people, he has not provided any details on how the very rich (<2% probably) life style influence others not to ride bicycles. Of course he may think advertisement are facts - surprising quality for a scientist. Going by this article, he should stick to committing science rather than sociology.

  2. Vijay said...

    Thanks for this post, Abi.

    Raj: Here's what I got from the Telegraph link in Abi’s post, as distinct from Abi's excerpt from the article alone.

    1.” By abandoning the larger society, the well-off in India are impoverishing themselves. They may live in luxurious, well-equipped homes, but their world has shrunk dramatically into a self-made prison.”

    2." Indian cities continue to expand at a tremendous rate. To provide a decent environment for the millions who inhabit them, governments will not only have to learn from the experience of the West but also not make the same mistakes. Promoting cycling and other energy-efficient and clean transportation should be an essential ingredient of city plans, whereas making cycling more difficult is a giant step backwards"

    I see in the first point an answer, from Venki, to your query about how the rich have abandoned open spaces. In the second point he suggests what should be done.

    Delhi, where I live now on weekdays, is slowly, but surely, becoming more cycle friendly. A light foldable cycle that allows cycling, and when folded can be easily taken in cars, autorickshaws, buses etc, will be terrific. I have seen these in the West. A desi version will be good. The IISc has commuter 'Namma' cycles: Kudos to them. And look what Bihar's doing:
    http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/can-the-ride-take-them-further/article5180138.ece?homepage=true

    My personal favourite future public transport is the cycle-rickshaw, with the very very important proviso that the cyclist must be a customer, and the owner be allowed to cycle only if all passengers are handicapped, children or senior-citizens. The owner therefore is a caretaker, has a job, and operates the tricycle ocassionally. :-))

    Cheers
    Vijay

  3. ajitjadhav said...

    @Vijay:

    I don't know how to exactly express myself, but your last paragraph is, say, simply wonderful. It punctures the pretence just right.

    --Ajit
    [E&OE]