Under the over

September 2009. Yateen Jambhale (23) rubbed the sleep out of his eyes as he opened the door to his bungalow in Jambhuwaldi, a hamlet named after his family, 200 km south of Mumbai under a viaduct on the Pune-Bangalore highway.

Yateen’s is a story that is being played out in several villages across India, a testimony to a truism – infrastructure changes lives.

Till a few years ago, Yateen’s family depended on agriculture. They grew mainly wheat on the 10 acres they owned. But, they were far from secure – their fortunes depended on the vagaries of the monsoon and India’s notoriously poor agro support. Think distant markets, corrupt middlemen, low prices (it’s the middlemen who make all the money in agriculture; while farmers get little for their produce, grain and other food prices are skyrocketing; inflation for June stood at 9.44%) and poor storage.

The re-laid highway and viaduct changed the Jambhales’ lives. Builders paid them good money to rent a patch of their land, where they mix concrete and transport it to their sites in nearby Pune. Cell phone companies pay them rent after erecting towers on their land to ensure unbroken connectivity on the highway.

The family has now erected two bungalows and started a water tanker business, which is flourishing.

When I met Yateen, on a reporting tour across parts of Maharashtra just before the state elections, he told me he was the first graduate in his village. The next step, he said, was an MBA in human resources. When I asked him where, he casually said: “Wales.”

My look of surprise was met by a dismissive one. “What’s the big deal?” the youth clad in branded T-shirt and track pants seemed to say. Based on the family’s earnings, banks were willing to lend him money. “I’m only waiting for my visa,” he said.

Yesterday, Yateen contacted me through my blog. “I’ve completed my MBA…” he wrote. He’s now working in London for a textiles firm as a trainee manager.

Yateen’s dream has been realised. His journey from tranquil Jambhulwadi to bustling London, via the Pune-Bangalore highway, is complete.