Sunday, April 25, 2010

Observations on Labor in India

On the farm we're staying at the owner Devinder--Papaji (Papa G) for short--got his hands on some avocado trees and wants to plant them.

Exhibit A

It's not a big thing--the container is maybe only a foot and half tall. But Papa G wants us to dig a big fucking hole for the avocado:

Exhibit B

A little unnecessary perhaps but Papa G knows what Papa G wants. Two feet down we hit soft granite bedrock. Most people I know would dig a different hole or grab a stick of dynamite. Papa G grabbed his pickaxe and set to work--with short pauses to tell me how he once dug through 10 feet of this stuff when he was younger and stronger and about how this sort of work requires great patience. Indeed.

Ruminating on this, I had a revelation. There are a fuckload of people in India so labor is much cheaper than capital. It's cheaper to hire a dozen guys with shovels and pickaxes for a week than it is to hire a bulldozer for a day. Some other examples: Road crews we've seen shoveling out ditches have two guys to each shovel. One guy pushes it into the ground and another pulls it up with a rope... Paige and I were collecting dead leaves as mulch in Devinder's orchard and rather than sending us out with rakes--there are no rakes on the farm...--we and a bunch of other people used ghetto stick "brooms" to collect the leaves. When you gots to employ a billion people, you can find a lot of ways to stretch the work.

Honestly, the inefficiency and lack of adequate tools infuriates me. Half the time I'm given a job in the morning and I'll spend until noon coming up with a better tool or method to do it (which infuriates Paige :-D).

Given that, I'm incredibly impressed with the workers here. They are enthusiastic and work far harder than I can--and they have shit for tools and live off rice and lentils! Their patience even when progress is crawlingly slow is... impressive. Ants are lazy by comparison. Tour guides'll tell ya: "monks took 100 years to carve this temple out of a single rock with nothing but hammers and chisels." You'll never see something like that in the States.

Sidenote: this unthinking enthusiasm is why it's a bad idea to outsource software programming to India, but that's another rant.

On balance the slow pace is a good thing--even if it annoys me at times.


  1. A rake probably costs 500 to 1000 rupees, you can get 5 guys a day for that much money.And the rake needs storage, care against rust etc. Its easy to see why India is still so un-mechanised. This is also true in other poor countries of the world. And people work hard because their work that day is what puts food on the table THAT DAY.

    As a side-note, are you thinking of adopting that calf ?


  2. Andy, keep up the observations and thought processes. It is going to take a lot of understanding and patience in our world to make practical changes that benefit everyone. I am certain if you continue to think like that you will come up with ways to help develop tools that are affordable and will help laborers while not taking away jobs, even as meager as they are.

    And if you bring the calf back, you can keep it in our yard (maybe I should ask permission first).