Harold Jaffe’s Dispatches from India – November 13, 2015


As India launches an $18 billion plan to expand the information
“revolution” to its provinces, many of the problems it faces are
holdovers from the past–electricity shortages, congested cities, an
exponentially increasing population, resurgence of infectious
diseases–and monkeys.

The clash between the old world and the new has come sharply into
focus in the massively overcrowded 3,000-year-old holy city of
Varanasi, the constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Thousands of opportunistic monkeys live in its temples and along
the city’s rooftops.
They are fed and venerated by worshippers of Sri Hanuman, the
monkey god and devotee of Lord Rama.

The monkeys will eat just about anything, but they feast on the fiber-
optic cables strung along the banks of the Ganges.

Chief communications engineer A.P. Srivastava said his team had
to replace riverside cables twice after the monkeys ate them less
than ten weeks after they were installed.

Because Varanasi, with nearly 200 million humans, is impossibly
crowded; laying underground cable is out of the question.

The electronic zealot Prime Minister selected Varanasi as the first of
an eventual 2,500 locations singled out for street-level Wi-Fi.
It has not worked.
And a shortage of electricity means daily power cuts, frequently for
hours at a time.

Boatman Sandeep Majhi makes a living ferrying pilgrims and
bereaved families who scatter ashes in the river after performing
cremations on the burning ghats.

Sandeep Majhi recently purchased his first smartphone–the PM
advocates smart phones for every Indian adult–which he uses to
promote his boat business on Facebook.

Majhi said that the PM needs to pay equal attention to the municipal
services in a city which remains dependent on a 500-year-old, leaky
drainage system for its sewage.

Free Wi-Fi is good for tourists but I think officials should think about
cleaning the ghats, Majhi said, gesturing to the badly eroded stone
steps down to the Ganges.

PM Modi’s government pledged to lay 700,000 kms of broadband
cable to connect India’s 250,000 village clusters within three years,
build 100 new “Smart Cities” by 2020, and shift more public services
like education and health to electronic platforms to improve access
and accountability.

Digitalizing India’s chaotic cities has proved to be more than

India’s urban population is forecast to swell to twice its size by 2031,
which would surely overwhelm an already inadequate infrastructure.

Many of the new digital projects are fundamentally directed at
improving existing civic amenities, such as time traffic information to
help people better plan their journeys, or systems that allow
individuals to monitor water leakages or waste management then
inform local authorities.

Nonetheless, the monkeys are “old school,” without smart phones,
and infinitely prefer to eat fiber-optic cables to monkey staples like

There has been talk in political circles of culling the monkeys,
reducing their number by half or more.
But they are prolific creatures.
Nor would their religious advocates stand for it.

The most common monkey seen in Northern India is the aggressive
Rhesus Macaque.
The male is heavier in build than the female and can be
distinguished by its reddish fur on the loins and on the rump.
The male can reach a height of around 2 feet and weigh almost 10
kg with females around 1 to 1 ½ feet and weighing up to 6 kg.

Rhesus macaques often move in troops of 20 or more and can be
seen almost everywhere there is food to cadge.
Their specialty food is fiber-optic cables.


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