Praveen Gautam is a guide who escorts pilgrims on the temples crowding the warrens running through Vrindavan. Gautam was spotted outside the town’s newest temple, Prem Mandir, where he was waiting to solicit a believer and thought I was one. His biggest regret is that he missed learning English because he thinks that is the only gateway to success. He says his work is “seasonal” and has hit a bad patch. Gautam feels that after many temples of Uttarakhand were razed in last year’s calamity, religious places “scare” away devotees
Name: Praveen Gautam, 27
Profession: Tourist guide or “panda”
Education: Class X
Family: Father, an electrician, and mother, a homemaker
Place: Vrindavan, 180km south of Delhi
Decade Decoder is an occasional election feature that seeks to bring out through a question-and-answer session whether lives have changed for the better or the worse in the past 10 years
Do you earn more or less, compared with 2004?
My employment is seasonal. During peak seasons in Deepawali, Holi and Janmashtami, I make Rs 1,000 a day. These days, even pilgrims from the middle and lower middle classes are willing to hire guides and pay them decently. Lately, business is bad. After last year’s floods devastated Badrinath, Kedarnath and Rishikesh, pilgrims are scared to come to temple towns. Now I make only about Rs 500 a day
Do you have a second job?
No, I don’t
Do you save more or less, compared with 2004?
In 2004, I was working in a home garment shop doing embroidery that I am good at. My monthly earning was Rs 1,500. I did not save anything then and I do not save anything much now because everything is costly
What things does your house now have that it did not in 2004?
In 2004, my house was empty. In 2008, we bought a black-and-white TV set. Three years ago, we acquired a colour TV
How did you commute then, how do you travel now?
Then I used a bicycle. In 2011, I bought a motorbike with my earnings. Papa contributed a little
How did you travel then, how do you travel now?
Then I travelled by bus or train. Now I use the same modes
Have you travelled abroad?
Travelled abroad? That’s a funny question. My last outstation travel was four years ago to Karauli in Rajasthan. I stayed at a “dharamshala” and visited the Kaila Devi temple
Where do you buy your grocery from, malls or the corner store?
Vrindavan has no malls. We buy our grocery from the same old local kirana shop. I have only seen a mall on TV
Do you shop round the year or only before a festival?
I buy new clothes before Holi and Diwali
Do you own an AC? Did you own one in 2004?
No, we have a fan and a cooler at home
Do your children go to school?
I am unmarried. The day I have an assured monthly income of Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000 and think I can give my wife a decent life, I will marry
Is there any difference in the food you can afford now and what you could 10 years ago?
I eat the same, simple vegetarian food I grew up on. I can afford to buy Maggi noodles, Pepsi etc occasionally but these things don’t tempt me
Have you got an Aadhaar card?
I have applied for an Aadhaar card because it is supposed to be the best proof of citizenship. I haven’t got it so I don’t know how it can help
Do you encounter more corruption or less in your daily life?
By God’s grace, I have never had to pay a bribe. But there is so much corruption in our local municipality that the drains are never cleaned, the garbage is never collected. We know all this will happen if we bribe the ‘safai karamcharis’ (official janitors) but we don’t have that kind of money
What was the last movie you saw and when?
I am not interested in movies. In my free time, I watch religious channels on TV like Aastha
When was the last time you ate outside the home with your family?
We don’t eat out at all. We follow a strict saatvik diet (food that supposedly calms the mind and cleanses the body) that is not served in hotels
Do you have a cellphone?
It is a simple, basic phone, just like the first one I had years ago
What do you do with the cellphone?
Mainly chat with my friends. Sometimes, my clients leave their numbers so I keep in touch to find out when they will return to Vrindavan
Do you run out of money to buy food towards the end of the month?
Thakur ki kripa se aisa kucch nahi hua (By God’s grace, we never faced such a crunch). In any case, we have a strong extended family who will help us out if any such crisis comes our way
Do you have more or less pairs of clothes compared with 2004?
More, of course, because I earn better and also I need to dress better to impress my clients
Do you have a bank account?
No, I don’t have one. My father used to have one but that got emptied out when my sister was married two years ago
Describe the biggest changes in your life since 2004
What changes? My town’s roads have become wider, there are road dividers and many new temples that could potentially bring in more money to us
What is your biggest regret in the past 10 years?
That I didn’t go to an English medium school. English creates job opportunities. If I had learnt English, I could have taken up work in Delhi or another city. Hindi has confined me to Vrindavan for a lifetime
What is your biggest achievement in the past 10 years?
No big achievement, life just goes on somehow
Are you happier or sadder now?
Happier, I guess, because I share the household expenses with my father and he is less burdened.