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Saturday, June 05, 2010

A guilty conscience, helpless...

All kinds of people without whom we couldn't do stay invisible all around us. Not just ordinary people like us, but even very wise and worldly-wise people, as well as political personages across the entire spectrum of ideologies from left to right, seem to be unaware or unconcerned about their existence and their plight, or stop at paying lip-service to their interests, or pass over by promising them their dues when the messianic time dawns - which, of course, never happens! I am thinking of traffic policemen (every time I go out in this blazing heat, and with the airconditioner in the car going full speed), and about maidservants who work seven days a week for a pittance, and vendors who hawk fresh vegetables and fish from door to door, and railway gangmen and men who work in underground mines and beside open furnaces, and waiters at cheap roadside eateries, and the men they call 'khalasis' who travel with truck drivers across the country... and I can only count my blessings, and feel slightly ashamed, though I have never been able to figure out exactly why. You could certainly think of many more. Together these people number in the hundreds of million, and nobody does a thing to better their condition, and little has improved in their lives under either so-called communist dispensations or during times of rapid capitalist expansion. 

I suddenly remembered a book titled The Long March of Everyman (I have forgotten the name of the author), a British publication of the 1960s, I think, which recounted in glowing terms how conditions have improved vastly for the proverbial 'common man' - at least in the most 'developed' western countries - over the last 200 years. Well, maybe so, maybe not: given the kind of socio-economic data about the plight of the underprivileged in most advanced western economies right now that I have with me, I am no longer too sure. And when I turn my eyes to look at India, it makes me weep. Particularly because my own social class is so drunk on the ongoing 'success story' of this country...

I have never believed in revolutions (in any case, these days the word is most commonly applied to new lines of cosmetics). But it would make me happy if our government could soon find the political and financial wherewithal to make the Right to a minimum livelihood effective for all (while simultaneously ensuring strict birth control, of course), and pass the bill in parliament that mandates decent pay and perks for domestic workers, and ensure that every traffic policeman has a sunshade over his head, and cool water near at hand, and not more than four-hour stretches on his feet. If that makes me sound like a bleeding heart, it's much, much better than having a stone where one's heart should be. I have never thought that bombs and bullets really solve problems, but when I see scrawny and ragged children fighting over scraps of leftovers thrown into garbage vats after lavish wedding feasts (and some people holding endless seminars in five-star comfort to discuss the issue, and others demanding that we be more sympathetic to the 'sufferings' of the obese), I feel only murderous rage. It's getting worse as I grow old.

[I was thinking of what to write on World Environment Day. I am convinced beyond argument that the natural environment cannot stay healthy when the social environment has become so sick.]


Shilpi said...

Been staring at this post and it's been there is the head for the day, and it's something that apart from ranting about I've done nothing else all these years.

I'd probably add public toilet cleaners, garbage collectors, construction workers, and road workers...

I've never known what to do about the shame or the guilt or the anger. Maybe if I'd been a genuine activist it may have assuaged my guilt some.

What would it take to implement the little list that you've put in place? It wouldn't take revolutions or bombs and bullets - but I wonder whether even the traffic policemen are going to get shades over their heads and some cool water...or whether the domestic workers are ever going to receive any sort of minimum wage. As for implementing strict birth control - I can't see that happening in even the coming twenty years if we survive that long...and the children will fight for scraps of food.

Less said about those seminars and conferences and weddings the better.

Good grief. I may as well end this comment here although I would have blabbered a lot more had I been having a conversation with you.

Take care.

Sunup said...


The sad part is that there exists a very rare minority who would share your views/feelings. I will narrate an incident that happened some months back -- a friend's experience. A couple of street dogs were hounding a poor rag picker kid and were on the verge of attacking him. No one around paid any attention and were least bothered. This friend had pity on the boy (a rare trait in humans towards their fellow humans nowadays) and started pelting stones on the dogs and shooing them away. Immediately, the so called civilized humans standing around swung into action. Some girls started abusing and screaming at this guy for pelting stones at the dogs (I suppose they were among part of this new fad -- animal lovers/environmentalists/limelight huggers). No one had anything to say or comment on the plight of the boy, nor were they bothered about it. I am sure this incident would have copy/replica incidents anywhere around the world today. Not that I am an animal hater -- but one should feel for their fellow humans too. This friend had to make a hasty retreat from there, considering all the hatred around him, but what he told me later made sense. When you finally reach your end and reminiscence your past (provided you get an opportunity to do so), it's not the riches you've made or the degrees you've earned that you would remember or be remembered for, but such acts of kindness or love (even a wee bit of feelings) towards your fellow beings.


Shilpi said...

The incident that you've narrated here is a bizarre one. Your friend did what was right under the circumstances - no doubt about that - yet I seriously doubt whether those people abusing your friend care for either humans or animals, Sunup.

I don't know whether there are similar incidents occurring around the world although certainly, there are misguided and rather silly people around not to mention downright cruel people who believe they are kind and sympathetic - but it is a fact that we have been callous, cruel, brutal and apathetic in our actions and attitudes towards both animals and human beings (leave alone nature).

And not always is it a matter of protecting human beings from animals - as I'm sure you must have noticed - more than most of the times it is and has been the other way round!
Think of all the ways in which we abuse, mistreat and kill animals and think of how many times animals turn against us and when and why that happens.

Most of the great and compassionate minds (and some of them were long gone before environmentalism became a fashionable word) have believed in one way or the other that for a civilisation to be civilised it must take into account both human and animal concerns. Caring for one does not preclude caring for the other.

Amit parag said...

There was a time once when aristocrats (the set comprising of all those people who had this birthright of being called lords and look at people with contempt) ruled over the middle class with cold disdain. Now that the bourgeois has grown in stature in social and economic terms, it looks over the still very lower class( the class must be considered of those who do not have good income, by middle class standards) with indifference. Except feeling sad at this apathetic nature towards them, what else can one say? A simple courteous word, a joke with them is still enough to bring a smile on their faces.
On another, yet a bit similar, thought: doesn't one feel grieved when he/she thinks about the great generals who have to sent their soldiers on some suicide missions with the faint hope that they might succeed? I am talking about the Roosevelts and Churchills in the days of World War for instance, when Roosevelt was told of his pilots' awry positions who were sent to nearly-harakiri missions to attempt some sort of retribution to the Japanese after the bombing at Pearl Harbor, replies," They are flying on empty tanks and not knowing where they are going". And with a sigh, he goes on to do other things. That sigh said a lot.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

One sure sign of greatness is that one agonizes over the travails of the little people. Gandhi harped again and again on the need to think of the 'last man'... antyodaya. So did Vivekananda and Tagore. So, indeed, did the greatest of our teachers in far olden times. Think of the basic tenets of all the great religions: control of greed, rein on vanity and encouragement to charity were always very high on their list.

One reason why I shall always say the Manmohan Singh zamaana ruined India is that (following the path pioneered by Deng Xiao Bing in China and Ronald Reagan in the US), they proclaimed that greed is not only good but necessary for what they called development. The results are there for all to see: from the floundering debt-ridden and corruption-blighted economies of the west to China's recently-achieved status of the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases to poverty-provoked armed insurgency all over India. Now it seems Dr. Singh, egged on by Mme Gandhi who is, I guess, only worried about electoral debacles, is being relucantly forced to start talking about the interests of the aam aadmi again.

My only lament is that such is the way the world works that even when the greed of the already-privileged leads to disaster, it is the underprivileged who suffer the most...

Thank you for commenting here, Shilpi, Sunup and Amit. Far too few care: that is the problem with us.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sir,

On 5th June there was a seminar on depletion of potable water in Grand Hotel. I was excited about attending this one as it was a first of its kind for me. I had gone there with lots of expectations and with every hope that it would really create some awareness. Now of course I know better. The speakers were so banal that they seemed bored with their own voices. They spoke so unconvincingly that even a class 2 student would have thought that they were a bunch of idiots. But what really made me loathe them was their hypocrisy. There was a good supply of packaged drinking water and at the end of the entire speech circus I saw those bottles here, there and everywhere…

I also saw students holding up “No horns. No sound pollution please” signs near Park street. And despite their (what seemed like sincere) efforts, the cars went honking their horns (I mean isn’t educated and good and successful people who go about in cars?!) and ignoring the group of students as if they were post boxes.

I may add here that I also didn’t give much thought to the environment before and am ashamed to say, was pretty at home with it. Reading your blogs has made me think differently about environment among all the other things.
Thank you.

Archishman Sarkar said...


I do not know how many people do it, but every day I am thankful and grateful to God for the life of the comparative luxury that I live in. I never have to worry about where my next meal is coming from! I have seen people's plight, their utter strive to live (we strive for a better rank in WBJEE) and that is the precise reason why I have never complained about anything that my parents have given to me, even if it is a potoler torkari and roti being served after my excruciating swimming trainings. I understand how very lucky I am.

I would like to point this fact out to every person out their who makes a fuss about the size of the rotis or the torkaris served by their parents. Had they "seen" these impoverished people they would have understood how very lucky they are. Half of them are busy comparing their T-Shirt brands and X-Box game collections. Yes I pity the impoverished people, the garbage collector, the khalasi and every one of those profession, but I pity these X, Y Z, whatever generation they call themselves, much much more.

Walking down the western side of Durgapur, is all that it takes for me to realize how fortunate I am to to be able to sit at my study table, completely sheltered from the world outside, writing essays, hoping to get admitted at colleges million leagues across the sea. Almost half the children in India cannot even dream of sitting in a classroom. This is what inspires to wake up every morning, be it the Environmental day or my birthday or any normal day, and get on with life, no matter how hard it may seem at any stage.

It was very good of you, Sir, to bring out this topic. It was a wonderful read.


sanjukta said...

Dear Sir,
Did you really think that India would ever solve these problems? I mean, haven’t you seen that some changes are inevitable while some impossible? I know that you will always hope that the world around you gets better but what keeps this hope alive?
It is true that corrupt people (from ordinary people like us to the politicians) worsen the present situation even more. Then there are some people who are unconcerned. But the question is even those who are concerned what do they do to let the change happen?
Some rich people do donate money for the development of the unprivileged. But it is, in most of the cases, merely for the sake of his/her image. Moreover, the donation is too small as compared to their profits and to the number of people who need the money.
One day when these people grow too tired of their sufferings and aim guns at ‘our’ heads, we say that it is unfair. We leave these people for dead but when the old proverb “Tit for Tat” proves itself true, we grumble.
We can not do anything unless everyone gives a second thought to these matters and does something helpful. But all we do is to sit around and say “what can I do?”
With regards from,
Sanjukta Saha.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Well, that's not really true, Sanjukta. Some people do try to make things better, in their own little ways, in their own little spheres. What is needed is more of them, and fewer of the other kind, who think the earth is theirs to loot and despoil...

Suvro Chatterjee said...

... and I must add that I know some ex-students who are now writing very feelingly and learnedly about how our poor oppressed tribals suffer, and yet they neither saw anything wrong in the utterly callous and brutal way their parents used to treat their domestic servants when they were my pupils (if they ever had the eyes to notice) nor will ever deign to admit that at least now they are ashamed to have been brought up by such parents, having learnt just where the root of all the evil lies!