In these pandemic times it sometimes feels that one is inundated with WhatsApp forwards, blogs, ope-eds of people who are wrestling with their conscience at the sight of the poor, hungry & destitute, trudging across the country to their homes in far off villages.
Their prose, poetry, anger not only holds up a mirror to themselves but they also want you to share and bear the pain and burden of their guilt.
They jab at words – weep, cry, shame, soul-wrenching – hoping it will pierce your heart, awaken what they believe to be your slumbering emotions towards the less fortunate, into one big chest-beating fest.
And you have to confess it is so easy to get drawn in and forward yet one more lament of grief, thus continuing the cycle of self-flagellation.
However, for a moment do break away from this comforting cocoon of group atonement and ask –
-aren’t these the very people who lived for as long as you can remember in those slums just across your manicured gardens which suck in as much water as their annual requirement?
-the ones who cleaned your homes, which you created from glossy interior design magazines, while they stood in queues for filthy public toilets ?
-or those that laid the Moroccan tiles in your patio for which you, master at workmanship, ‘negotiated’ a rate that you believed to be ‘reasonable’ ?
-or you didn’t want them using your elevators because then it smelled of perspiration?
-the same people you demanded report to work dot on time or face penalization as that’s what people do worldwide …forgetting that most people ‘worldwide’ have a firm roof, water supply, electricity, reliable public transport?
-the ones you roomed in your home with just enough space for a single bed and stuffed the rest with your washing machine, extra suitcases, heaters and old newspapers?
– in whose presence you spoke as if they were not there?
-whose slums you wanted removed without demanding an alternative, respectable living space with basic human amenities?
-who worked in the fit-out in the flat above but you wanted them to sit out in the summer sun at lunch hour because their presence upstairs disturbed your afternoon siesta?
-who got ‘spoilt’ & weren’t ‘grateful’ enough?
-who booked a low cost airline ticket home for the first time and you wondered if you were paying them too much?
-who lugged up four floors a deep four-door refrigerator on their back and also the bespoke bar, because you hadn’t wanted the builder to eat into your square foot area by putting in a larger lift shaft?
-the ones you niggled with for sums of money that would cost you a haircut, pedicure or a packet of cigarettes.
As one article so recently exhorted us…
It said ~Actually, this piece is not just about me- it’s also about you, dear reader. Look into that cracked mirror. Do you feel any shame, just a little , for what we have become, for the lost soul of a once great nation? ~
But dear reader, sorry to burst the bubble of these characters who play their roles in self-created Grecian tragedies a bit too slickly –
‘THEY’ have ALWAYS been there! Criminally, as far back as we can see.
They have existed despite us wilfully not hearing them, feeling for them or seeing them.
Yes, all this while they were merely an inconvenient statistic that interrupted Prime Time News when they lost their children to dysentery, malaria, perished in jhuggi fires, or short circuited in overcrowded, inhuman sweatshops stitching Calvin Klein jeans that we paid an arm & leg for when we went shopping overseas.
Believe me if it was not Covid-19, it would have been an earthquake, a cyclone, or any other calamity that would have brought forth the catastrophic scale of Dickensian misery waiting to explode.
That, unfortunately some have only noticed, now.
Ironically, many of those indulging in these sad soliloquys are people of privilege, having enjoyed positions of power, with access to the highest echelons in this country.
For them to suddenly see the reality of their Idea of India, must be indeed, heart wrenching.
So for once, dear reader ask them to put aside that useless self-defeating emotion, shame, that which has been force fed to us over seven decades and take the problem beyond I, Me, Myself.
Because in such extraordinary times more hands on the deck would serve better than snivelling noses…How can we luxuriate in shame and handwringing when there is so much to do?
It would be indeed, interesting to know why do those who ask us to feel shame not encourage us instead to take a cue from ordinary folk, who have never held positions of power, nor possessed much wealth, but have stepped up to help in whichever way they can, showing us that the giving spirit in this country is alive and kicking as never before?
Why don’t we, dear reader, also request these esteemed philosophical sorts instead to inform other ‘esteemed’ members of civil society to stop drafting useless 7-point letters and shut up, because their days of influence are over?
The sooner they recognise their rootlessness, the less time wasted for society at large.
Why don’t they use their old connections instead and push the civil servants of this country to draft simple, clear public notices that serve citizenry?
Also dear reader, why not ask these chest beaters to use their influence and hold local elected representatives responsible for their petty political games. Warning them that electoral wrath awaits them at elections.
May we also suggest to those who suffer from the Switch On Switch Off Guilt Syndrome to not put away that cracked mirror too soon.
Because pandemic or not, that sub-Saharan wretchedness exists just beyond our doorsteps and will come knocking to remind us again and again till we take responsibility.
And yes, apologies! Apologies, for being the harbinger of bad news – there is no beauty in poverty.
And last but not least, dear reader, lets demand they get a grip on themselves, wipe those glycerin tears and contribute positively, constructively or else history will remember them as our Desi Marie Antoinettes … and we know only too well, her story didn’t end pretty.
~Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man made and can be removed by the actions of human beings~ Nelson Mandela