Merry Christmas! Yes, the big day is upon us. Oddly enough, that is exactly what it is called on the Indian subcontinent. It was the Bara Din (Big Day) for the British overlords and the name stuck. It has taken a while but British military customs like a Christmas Eve Ball at the Gymkhana have all but disappeared. The word ‘Gymkhana’ itself combines the English word ‘gym’ with the Urdu word ‘khana’ meaning place.
The frenzied shopping to find gifts for everyone including invited guests is all but done. Now it’s time for meal preparations. Starting with Thanksgiving, turkeys don’t seem to get a break. Prices fall to entice buyers after that holiday, then rise again for Christmas unless producers have overestimated the demand. Then it’s turkey this and turkey that and turkey up to our ears.
What a contrast this world is to another where 795 million people or 1 in 9 go to bed hungry. So says the United Nations World Food Program. Lucky for some, it all depends on the lottery of birth — the place and the economic circumstances of the family.
Christmas may be a one-day holiday in the U.S. but that is not so in many other countries. Places influenced by Britain also have Boxing Day, the day after Christmas. Named not for pugilism but for the boxing of gifts by the feudal lords for tenants and by the rich for the people who served them in one way or another through the year. Those customs might have disappeared but not the holiday.
Britain and the Commonwealth may take two days off but in parts of Europe, it is a week’s break. If you are not prepared, you might get a rude shock as shops and supermarkets also close in many places. In Germany, the average break is 11.4 days. That is because people add some vacation days (25 allowed per year) to the single-day Christmas holiday.
There are some surprises in the number of hours worked and per capita GDP for European countries. Comparing Britain, France and Germany, here is what one discovers. Hours worked are followed in parentheses by per capita GDP in U.S. dollars are as follows: Britain 1367 ($47.3K), France 1402 ($42.3K), Germany 1332 ($48.4K).
Among these developed nations, clearly hours worked does not correspond to higher GDP. Britain and Germany both work less than France yet produce higher per capita GDP. The answer must lie in the technology employed, automated machines and robots for example, to achieve high productivity and also the extent to which, as in Britain, white collar jobs have replaced factory jobs — the shift to services like consulting.
Answers for poor workers on the Indian subcontinent are not easy. Their plight has been noted by many to no avail. The alternatives for landless people are limited — they take what is available and accessible. Spiralling debt entraps them in Pakistan, and in India they are kept as virtual slaves.
In both countries, the brick kilns employ children despite the fact that it is illegal to employ anyone under 14 in India and also in Pakistan. There are more than 125,000 kilns in India and over 20,000 in Pakistan making the law difficult to enforce. And the owners have the money to grease palms.
Yes, from the rich roasting turkeys to the poor carrying bricks all day, our world is one of contrasts.