Disparity is something that has always bothered me. I sometimes question myself on the subject. Why is it ok that I have, and others have not?
I want to talk about two countries, that may seem quite different from the outside, but where I noticed some striking similarities.
I visited India about 4 years ago as part of my MBA international business experience, and I visited South Africa shortly afterwards to visit a friend that I met on my MBA.
Both were intriguing countries for me. What struck me about both countries was the extreme disparities between the rich and the poor, or the haves and have-nots, and the class system.
In India, I stayed within the Business school grounds in Bangalore for the first few days. We visited many high-tech companies, and I was struck by the professionalism of the people we met, but almost a bit embarrassed by the respect they had for our group, because we were ‘Western’. We visited a temple in Mysore one day, and it was here that I got to see how ‘ordinary’ people lived. I was deemed to be a tourist attraction, because I was pale skinned, and many Indian boys were queueing up to have their photo taken with me ( a feat that has not unfortunately travelled across the ocean to London:-)). I felt uncomfortable having to ignore the people who were approaching me to buy flowers etc, and it seemed a far cry from the people I had met working for Infosys, only a couple of hours earlier. I think I experienced disparity and almost oxymoronic interactions every day in India. The most challenging for me was when we moved to Mumbai and were staying in a “Western” hotel. In the morning we visited a charity that worked with street children in the slums, and got to see all the good work that the charity was doing, and then in the afternoon, when we were sightseeing in Mumbai, we saw the same children begging, and I found it really difficult to comprehend that the children we had just been working with and helping, we then were supposed to ignore in a different context. That memory always stays with me. Why is context so challenging?
And South Africa was no different. I was lucky enough to stay with a friend in a very affluent part of Johannesburg, but when we went to the family’s farm, North of Johannesburg, we were greeted by maids, who took care of the household, and it just didn’t sit right with me, that just because a person was a born a certain colour, it meant that their opportunities were limited, and they were viewed as a lower class. And I felt the same when I went to Cape Town. Such a beautiful city. In fact, Cape town is one of my favourite places in the world, but as soon as I left the airport, I drove past one of the biggest slums that I have ever seen. But the disparity in South Africa, seemed so much more hidden; secretive almost, not like in India, where everything is so evident. It was almost as if the poverty in South Africa had been pushed underground. In India, it was very obvious, but the Indian middle class psyche seemed to have dismissed it. However, the tension in both countries was obvious. It was more ominous and somehow felt more suppressed in South Africa, but I felt like at any moment it could erupt. And I didn’t feel particularly safe.
But disparity exists everywhere I suppose. Go to Kings Cross station in London, and you are surrounded by beggars and people living on the streets, crying out for help. Most of us are desensitised to it and ignore it, maybe because we think it’s such a big problem, so how can we possibly help?
Responding to these problems in a positive way is the key for me. In an ideal world, I’d like to see all human beings living as equals, but we all need to unite in that belief and develop programmes and purpose driven businesses to really make it happen. Maybe I’m naive. I am aware of corruption that exists in developing countries, and even in developed ones, although we may give it a different name, but surely it is our duty as human beings to do something about it. Disparity does not sit well with me. Please help me, and others like me, to aspire towards parity for all human beings on this earth.