We in India expect the government to do everything for us that we cannot do ourselves – from getting rid of garbage daily to caring for the army of the poor to building roads and keeping them safe from predators. I don’t blame common Indians entirely for it: they are simply living up to a long tradition of public powerlessness and whining, which has come down to us from the Mughals and the British mai-baap style of government through the long era of Nehruvian socialism…
But people ought to be more active about caring for one another without relying upon and blaming government too much. People are only as powerless as they think. Much of their inactivity also actually springs from apathy, indolence and plain callousness: few parents teach anything like public responsibility in this country (if I am not blind, why should I or my children bother to get involved with caring for the blind?) Which is one reason that there is so much avoidable suffering in this country, and most of us clever people repeatedly fall victim to our own cleverness at times of distress and helplessness, when we can hardly expect people (just like ourselves!) to come forward and lend a helping hand.
I was reading about how George Clooney and fellow Hollywood actors and producers have been busy raising very sizeable funds in the name of the Motion Picture and Television Fund Foundation in aid of indigent actors and assorted technicians in the trade: people who are not rich, and who are now ill or handicapped or on the verge of retirement with an uncertain future looming ahead. The Fund was set up in 1921 by none other than Charlie Chaplin (so my own newspaper informed me yesterday) – a man of genius who rose to great fame and fortune by his own efforts, but never forgot his very humble beginnings. People sticking together with less fortunate members of their communities is one of the nicest things we humans can do for one another: I always say one charitable man is worth ten philosophers and a hundred technicians.
Of course I am aware that it is not an exclusively American phenomenon. There are numerous individuals and organizations working for the common weal in India too: some locally focused, some nationwide in scope, some very well known, some obscure, looking after all kinds of underprivileged groups and interests, from rural women and children and the old, handicapped and ill to traditional craftsmen, artists and musicians, environmental concerns and vanishing wildlife, slum dwellers and disgruntled consumers, all sorts. And I am not saying for a moment that they don’t do invaluable work. My point is, I have heard so many people who work at such things lamenting that they are chronically short of both money and manpower.
Which is indeed a tragedy, seeing that there are not only literally millions of people around who can spare a few hundred, or even thousand rupees for good causes (the total would run into hundreds of crores!), but tens of millions whose real problem is that they have too little work to do – and so they are always partying or gossiping, dressing up or chatting on Facebook, shopping like drunks or lamenting that they don’t have money enough to shop as much as they’d like to, or falling victim to mental disease born of boredom, loneliness, and a very low sense of self-worth – depression and drug abuse and crime and domestic violence and behaving like hoodlums on the roads in the name of political activism. We never seem to have a dearth of such people in this country, but good, constructive work of any sort – NO NO! In fact, virtually all schools turn SUPW into a farce to be sniggered at, and in college, bodies like the NSS go abegging for volunteers. This, despite the fact that the few of my friends and ex-students who have actually worked for some social cause, usually with this or that NGO, have all averred that it was one of the most rewarding experiences in their lives.
I have long reconciled myself to the fact that as a teacher in this land and age, my power to bring about change for the better is pitifully limited. But I never lose sight of the saying that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. If I can motivate fifty people in my entire lifetime into joining or otherwise helping some sort of social cause, I shall consider myself a successful man. And readers, I should very much like to know about the kind of such activities you might have been involved in, and the kind of experience you had. Even if they were not always very pleasant (as it wasn’t for my own daughter: see this post).