Being in a car stuck in traffic is not easy. In addition to the stubborn red signal, there is one more thing that makes me lose my cool – a begging child at the window or worse, a begging mom with her child clinging on to her. Earlier it used to be just a matter of checking if I had some coins. But these days it is a matter of strength. I will tell you why.
A year back, I happened to watch a Tamil movie titled ‘Naan Kadavul.’ This movie and a few others which I watched following it opened my eyes into how begging is an organized activity in India. Yes! there is usually a leader who gathers disfigured people and children and sell them out to local ‘gundas’ who control joints in urban areas. Places of religious interests are also covered in a similar way. I was shocked to realize some of these beggars have a price tag of a few lakhs of rupees on them, depending on how disfigured they are (or how much sympathy they evoked). I found this fact sickening. It may be true that this may not be happening everywhere. But once I started looking out for a pattern in trains, railway stations, temples and bus stops, I realized that there was indeed one. I made a decision not to offer alms anymore and maintained that for a long time. I felt I was doing a good deed – not entertaining begging. And for those who think they are poor people in need of help, let me tell you, I have seen people in worse conditions earn their bread. ‘There are other ways to survive because we are human beings and that is a gift,’ I am sure. I know a mentally challenged man who makes money fetching water, a limping man who sells toys, a blind woman who sings in troupes and a disabled who eats his meal at temples and simply rests. By offering alms, I would be enabling profit for some ruthless clan of people, undermining India’s civility in many ways.
I look at people who offer alms. Some do it realizing how well they are doing relative to the beggar, some do it out of pity and some do it for prestige among his people. Whatever it is, no beggar seems to be saving anything, using it to start a business, or at least take a shower (I have seen beggars who make 300 rupees a day). I only see more and more people enter this ‘lucrative’ business.
Getting back to the day I was confronted by a begging boy… He was about 10 years of age and he was knocking my window with determination and poise. I looked at him to communicate to him I wouldn’t pay (as i usually do). This time I saw a greater resolve in his eyes. He looked back strong at me. His facial expression was of course a fabricated one, that depicted textbook helplessness. But his eyes; They sent a strong message. It seemed like a threat, a blackmail. Yes, he was making me feel responsible for his state of life. He was well aware of my perspective of vision. He was aware that he was standing foreground to those high rise buildings in the backdrop that represented development in the country. He was reinforcing the fatalist in me. He was questioning my karmic duty pointing to me that whatever my ideals were, my presence and good life on earth was responsible for someone else’s pain and suffering. There was absolutely no request in his gaze; Just statements. He had strong vocabulary in his eyes. My hand felt weak and started moving towards my wallet. But then, I stopped myself, looked away, looked through my decisions and lessons learned in retrospect. After a great struggle, after intense thought that traveled back to the challenges me and my best friends had to face, I conquered my hand.
The signal turned green and I drove away not looking at the boy again. I felt a little stronger, wiser and capable of holding on to ideals that made sense to me.
I had a dream today morning, when I was just about to wake up. I found the dream weird and for the first time was wondering if my dream had some relevance to my existence. About the dream…
I heard my mobile phone’s alarm ring. The sound of it was clear and distinct and indeed my regular, unusual alarm music. I checked the time after I woke up. It was 7:14 am. Which means I woke up one minute before the alarm was supposed to ring. Then the clock struck 7:15 am and my mobile phone’s alarm tone started playing! once again, after it played in my dream!
Year 2002, my chemistry teacher spelled the word ‘phosgene’. He was a stickler for how the word phosgene had to be pronounced: Fos-gsheen… ‘Study about phosgene. There is not one question paper that does not ask about it. Very important question!’ Why? Bhopal Gas Tragedy (BGT). From the storage facility of a company called Union Carbide Ltd. in Bhopal, toxins escaped and killed an estimated 20,000 people. Phosgene is believed to be a toxin that leaked with Methyl Isocyanate, the primary killer. The gravity of the disaster didn’t stick to me because it happened before I was born. I then believed that it was a disaster that we have moved on from and the consequences accepted.
The beginning of June this year saw newspapers and media talking about th0se alleged in the BGT case. I was surprised that justice lingered this long. Today, I was reading an article on how unjust the sentences were. 7 were convicted and sentenced to 2 years of imprisonment and fined a lakh rupees each, for the death of 20,000 people. The accusation was ‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder’, a few years back. But conviction was on ‘a rash and negligent act’ from those alleged. Even if they were convicted of the former, the sentences would have been called unjust, owing to the delay in justice. For justice to seem reasonable the system has to evolve a lot. Filling holes in the process, making people aware of law, making them more responsible with knowledge from past events and observations. The judgement for BGT observed the following:
The tragedy was caused by the synergy of the very worst of American and Indian cultures. An American corporation cynically used a Third world country to escape from the increasingly strict safety standards imposed at home. Safety procedures were minimal and neither the American owners nor the local management seemed to regard them as necessary. When disaster struck, there was no disaster plan that could be set into action. Prompt action by the local authorities could have saved many, if not most, of the victims. The immediate response was marred by callous indifference.
Callous indifference! I like that phrase. Callous indifference is more of a personality than a crime. I remember an old German movie called ‘M’ which was released in 1931. The movie is about a serial killer who alleges his alter ego for the crimes he committed. People want him punished ruthlessly, whereas their legal system has provisions for treatment of a psychopath criminal and letting him live. The climactic scene has a mother crying for her lost child, accepting the judicial dilemma. Her words, ‘This won’t bring back our children. We too, should keep a closer watch on our children’, end the movie. We have a similar situation here.
Callous indifferences, or in our own language ‘Chalega’ will continue to happen. When the terrorists attacked us again and again, when our so called ‘ill-fated’ aeroplane skidded off the runways, when our rockets failed, we only had people that blamed each other for the callous indifference. Is there a treatment for this? I believe we have a preventive measure atleast and that vests in our teachers; Teachers who can inject ideas into the students’ blood that reminds them of ‘glory of the deed’ each time their hearts beat. By teachers I mean people who are supposed to guides us.
I believe, unfortunately, we only have few teachers who inspire us, who talk about the glory of good work, who points us to the past where good work was done, who make us realize that work is not about the pieces of paper we get in return. Had a few employees at Union carbide been inspired ones, who kept their vision beyond the barrel of toxins that lay before them, who realized living and letting live is more important than progress, the disaster might not have happened. Had our teachers talked a bit more about the tragedy, rather than the chemical structure of phosgene, we would have had a little more integrity at work. Our present teachers were themselves not inspired by theirs. So we can’t blame. Though we need teachers that teach us history beyond the dates of events and the names of kings.
I don’t mean that we are uninspired people. We are inspired. But we are inspired only at a later stage, after we start working for a multi national company, one that emphasises on its vision statements, that teach their employees individuality, integrity and a sense of glory. As a nation we are not taught yet. It is time for us to get the last pieces of inspiration, an iota of the sense of glory that we can find and start working, teaching our progeny true education.
Why do I think that the major cause for these disasters lay in our teaching? Because each time I did some extra work, averted accidents for someone else, made a job easier for my colleague, I remembered certain statements my old teachers made. One worth mentioning is what my physics teacher in Higher Secondary School taught us in addition to what she was supposed to teach. Of all that she lectured, I only remember this sentence, ‘Your attitude decides your altitude.’ I realize its importance now.
Prapanj Ganeshan writes about Indians being late
IST = GMT + 05:30 + 00:30
That is how I have learned to put it. I don’t remember many a meeting, a function or a social gathering starting in time in India. Our Diaspora is also famous (notorious) for their reputation in arriving late. Pardon me if I am wrong. But before you do that, attack your conscience once to make sure you have been punctual for the most part.
Some rough statistics from my experiences suggest that about 50% of the events start 20 minutes late; about 25% start 25 minutes late; the remaining 25% are either ‘on-time’ or too late. This applies to friends meeting up for a party, people meeting up to go for a tour, dinner meetings, lunches, meet up with valentine, public speeches, any ‘penultimate’ deadline, internal deadlines, presentations and workout schedules that I have witnessed or been a part of. The corporate world also has a notion that Indians are late.
What I find interesting are the exceptions. Religious events, national events, flag hoists, etc. are mostly on time. Our public transport system is a matter of debate though. The temples start singing early mornings at specific muhoorthams, never late. Marriages are spot on. In that case, do we Indians maintain punctuality selectively? I believe most of you agree with my observations. If you don’t, you are the kind that is never late. Hats off to you! Rest of you Indians, continue reading.
In school everything was on time. I used to get hurt and insulted whenever I was late. Which means a lot of ‘disciplining’ went into trying to make me punctual. College fests and school day events were on time. It was the Chief Guest who was always late. Punctuality was given all the importance in the world. What happened to us once we got out of college? I have always been bad with time. So I can easily observe the transition with others :) Some serious research has to go into this as with anything else that is unexplained.
I have my own hypothesis. I don’t want you to get serious with what you read because this is just an individual’s musing. For someone to follow a habit, it has to stick to his values. Some habits may require a lot of persistent effort, like working out regularly. So, even if a kid is disciplined all his youth to work out regularly, the habit will stick only if the kid realises a need for the habit – to stay thin, healthy or strong. That said, for the majority of a country’s population to find it difficult to follow the habit of being on time, there should be a cultural factor. There could be other factors, but a cultural factor is for sure.
India, with its cultural roots in Hinduism, has a tendency to believe in after life/rebirth. I don’t want the non-Hindus to feel offended and come up with an argument that you don’t believe in after life, no matter what. What I mean to say is that most of our great-great-great-grand parents (since they were almost all Hindus) believed in rebirth so strongly, that the idea has descended down the generations and takes a part in our art, culture etc. “Dear, we couldn’t make it in this life. If rebirths are true, I would want to be your fiancé for 7 such lives”: all our ‘Indian’-woods have made movies with similar dialogues. Even a remote possibility of a second chance at living releases a great deal of pressure. Even if a possibility of second life is not intact, the absence of a guarantee that the life in hand is the only one we have, has its impact in the way we treat time. This applies to all the youngsters who failed to give it a good fight and rebel to live with their lovers and instead decided to go with the easy option of marrying someone convenient. Because they part with this tacit notion or feeling, that there may be a second chance, remotely, imperceptibly, inappreciably, faintly …
So, when you are on your bed taking your afternoon nap on a Saturday, you are not as compelled as people elsewhere are to get up at 3.00 pm, finish taking a bath by 3.30 pm, assess traffic delays to be 15 minutes and reach your friend at 4.00 pm as planned, for your evening tea. Instead, you push the waking up to 3.10, watch the birds, make a phone call, press your clothes, take a partial shower by 3.40, watch the TV for a while because you know you can reach your friend in 15 minutes, start at 4.00 pm, call him on your way, tell him that you will be reaching in 15 min, shout at the poor old grandmother who stumbled into your way, scorn the traffic management system in India and reach your friend by 4.30, only to find that he arrived only a couple of minutes back. You then proceed with no qualms.
Though rebirth is an equivocal concept in India today, it makes a lot of sense to strongly believe that the current life is all that we have. You will, then, definitely do your best and will be lucky if reborn. I said this to myself one day, “This is the only life you got man!” That day was good; I accomplished a lot and really pushed aside sleeping for a good cause.
I have one more point to prove my hypothesis may be right. Indians are good crisis managers-undisputed fact. You are good at managing crisis when you take things sportive. And you take things sportive when things are err… sports. And sport is when you know you got a second chance to do it better. So we Indians do not face tremendous pressure at the verge of accomplishment. We take it sportive…