The rains finally let up in Chennai, and today, except for the occasional stubborn puddle or whiff of sewage from a pipe that overflowed, it feels like they never happened. And even though Bombay is on the front of every newspaper, I don’t feel the weight of that incident on the people of this city. Certainly, there is no fear, not even much conversation about it. Could it be that Tamilians feel that anywhere north of Bangalore is part of “North India,” and, therefore, not part of the local consciousness? Or perhaps that the struggles of daily life here are so engrossing for the majority of the population that there is no time to fret?
In all the attention on Bombay and the weather in Tamil Nadu, one important event was almost entirely forgotten. The former Prime Minister of India V. P. Singh died on Thursday afternoon after a prolonged illness. He is best remembered for radically expanding India’s caste-based affirmative action program during his eleven months in power. But I remember Singh for something much more recent. During the spate of slum evictions in Delhi between 2003 and 2006, Singh was the only political leader who consistently spoke out in favor of the slumdwellers. Even as the Delhi government bulldozed thousands of homes along the Yamuna River, Singh allowed the newly homeless to camp on the grounds of the house that he was given as an ex-Prime Minister. I think he was one of the last of that breed of gentlemen politicians who truly believed that an independent India would create a more socially just society.