By Amar Yumnam
What milk should be? Milk should be milk. There is no such thing as ‘pure milk’ and ‘impure milk’. Indians are so used to contaminating milk with water and what not for so long that advertising for ‘pure milk’ is an acceptable social norm. We were made conscious of this way back in the 1980s while we were students in Bombay. The story relates to an Indian opening a grocery in London with a display as ‘Pure Milk Available’ which amazed the Londoners who had never heard of that before. In fact, the Londoners thought the Indian was a cheater and they avoided the shop. But we have a problem here. While the Londoners could avoid the Indian shop, inside India none, at least the common person, has got that option. The longevity of this ‘pure milk’ norm has been such that it gets reflected in government policies and private sector services. The application of this norm is found to be maximum in the North East, and I am sure at least of Manipur. The systemic weakness of this country and the overall unreliability is such that even in the second decade of the twenty-first century rumours of salt can cause panic and havoc.
I am suddenly reminded of this ‘pure milk’ norm of the Indian approach by the recent news of the BSNL stepping in to improve and provide reliable wireless network service in and around the Shija Hospital in Langol. I only wish the public sector agency, BSNL, does not supply ‘pure milk’ in mobile services in Langol for once to begin with. The general people’s experience with BSNL has all along been of the ‘pure milk’ quality and not of milk at all. This applies to all the mobile services of BSNL whether national or international. I have seen quite a few non-North East Indian friends having very functional international roaming connection of this public sector service provider. I also went for one with all the additional documentation required for this international roaming connection, and, since I had enough papers for my international exposure to qualify, the BSNL did give one. The first experience was with milk but all the subsequent one has turned out to be ‘pure milk’. Since the second one was ‘pure Indian milk’, it did not serve any purpose outside the country. When complained after coming back to the country and her North East, I was advised to inform them before I leave for abroad so that I enjoy milk from the BSNL for sure while still abroad. Fair enough. But even after I did comply with the advice, the supply from the BSNL has remained ‘pure milk’ in all the subsequent four trips abroad. Since the limit has been reached, I started feeling that the private sector service providers may be better and reliable for sure; the international and the Indian experience too has been one of private sector being more efficient than the public sector.
Before I come with my latest experience with the Airtel, I would like to briefly mention the association about ‘pure milk’ with the Aircel. I did briefly try a post-paid connection of Aircel with supposedly all kinds of roaming facilities. But the beauty of post-paid connection of Aircel is that the moment the bill reaches the deposit, the limit has been reached and all calls would be blocked; post-paid is no different from pre-paid. The principle is: the North Easterners should not be allowed to have milk as much as they feel like; promise them but do not make it genuinely available.
Now let me come to Airtel. The strength of Airtel is that they really make you belief that they have only milk and no ‘pure milk’ in their stock. The promptness is responding to emails, queries and complaints is such that, in the initial experiences, everyone would be ensured and convinced of milk and not ‘pure milk’. They are really good in making promises and definitely not in delivery. In my very first experience to enjoy their milk while still abroad I have been shocked to learn that they are also ‘pure milk’ suppliers and ipso facto their milk cannot be consumed abroad. This is despite my documentation and more than fulfilment of the conditions for enjoying milk anywhere under the sun with their promised supplies.
So ultimately the North Easterners are to be supplied only with ‘pure milk’ and these people should not be allowed to enjoy the uninterrupted privilege of consuming milk. This applies to all whether the service comes from the public sector (BSNL in the present case) or the private sector agency (Aircel and Airtel in the present case). Remember, even in policy matters, we have been living with the Look East Policy as ‘pure milk’ from the Indian government for more than a decade and telephonic delivery by the courier services of the items arrived from outside.
This treatment of the land and people with ‘pure milk’ for long periods has made the people of Manipur also compulsively imbibe this culture. The efforts of the provincial government to have the necessary structures and institutions to improve the global network and connectivity have not yet yielded the expected results. So we are going to have a ‘pure milk’ international flight to Imphal; a chartered flight is being advertised as international flight; Imphal is going to experience ‘pure milk’ global connectivity soon.
Time has come for us to call a spade a spade and assert enough is enough. We need two things without any more delay. First, the people of Manipur should no longer go for and tolerate ‘pure milk’ from any government or private sector agency in whatever product we go for. Second, the provincial government should by now have the courage and assert for the right to milk and not ‘pure milk’ from any source, be it central government or the multinationals of India. Going for milk is the only way to ensure our collective future.