At the stoplight she came and looked me in the eye. She tapped on my window and pointed to her mouth. A girl no older than my youngest nephew, yet tall and skinny. I shook my head no as years of traveling here has taught me not to encourage begging. She tapped again. No. Again. No. Again. No. I stared back at my smart phone. Riding in an uber (more on that later) and was like wtf? Why must I make this decision? As the light turned I pulled out 100 rupees (about a buck fifty) and gave it to her as she dodged traffic to get back. Was she part of a begging ring? Is that her life? Is it a scam? I’m not the first person nor the last to be put in that conundrum. But for some reason when in another, poorer culture it seems more vivid. What part of that life did she choose? Or did her karma choose it for her?
So Mumbai is big and crowded and dirty. Since I arrived at midnight, I stayed at the airport Holiday Inn. At 60 bucks easily the most expensive hotel I think I’ve ever stayed in in India. I booked on Orbitz.
A friend of a friend said to use Uber to get around. Prices are set. No ripoff. Now I have my issues with Uber aside from the dickhead founder. Yes it provides some work. Yes it can break the monopolistic hold taxis have on some communities. However, what it really does is exploit inefficiencies in a market, pass a small amount of the savings to a person, and aggregate the majority of those inefficiencies outside the community to a small group of shareholders. Is my 2 dollar savings worth sucking that money out of the community? Ask yourself. More on accumulation at a later date. Likely my rant on Buddhist economics.
So the second Uber of my life was to get downtown today. Of course I booked another $50 hotel as I normally would just show up but there is some holiday here and I didn’t want to walking around this huge downtown with my sweaty pack and no clue. As the dude pulled up I checked the first few digits of his license. I jump in. Uber? I ask. Yes. He says. As we drive he points to where we are going on his ubiquitous smart phone attached to the dash. That doesn’t look right. His English is bad. Hmmm. My cell phone rings. It’s the CORRECT Uber driver at my hotel. He asks me to cancel. My current driver dumps me on the side of the road (shakes me down for 100 rupees) and I summon another Uber at 50% more, all the while succumbing to the sweaty crotch I was so desperate to avoid in the 90 degree heat with 95% humidity.
It seems India is more dialed in tech wise than we are as their economy has grown up this way. However, it seems to enhance the digital divide and make that first big step out of poverty a much more giant leap. I doubt that little girl punched her 100 rupees into her account or converted it to Bitcoin……