Saturday, September 16, 2006

Confessions of a Troubled Mind

How does one define patriotism ? Pre 1947 the answer would have been pretty easy - those fighting the British were patriotic, the rest were not. Now after gaining freedom, since all Indians are presumably on the same side, it is not so easy. Are the crowds who shout "Hindustan Zindabad" ( as opposed to "Bharat Zindabad" ) on the cricket field wearing the badge of patriotism on their sleeves - or is it more a case of misguided nationalism. Who are ( or should be ) our heroes today ?
Remember Satyendra Dubey? Public memory is short. We all have our 10 minutes of fame and then are conveniently buried in the recesses of the brain. Let me flog your memory. Satyendra Dubey was an NHAI engineer who blew the whistle on corruption in the Golden Quadrilateral project - a product of IIT Kanpur he complained to the office of the Prime Minister no less. His reward ? He was murdered and his dead body left on the roads. There was the predicatable hue and cry, most major media organizations took up his case , many of us dashed off outraged emails and SMSes. The end result - his family got a share of the compensation and we all congratulated ourselves on a job well done - reassuring ourselves that our collective conscience was not dead, that in times of need we would react. React to what end? Was even one person related to that case punished ? I may have missed the news buried somewhere in the inner pages of the newspapers, but I have a strong suspicion there was none.
We treat life cheaply. This is blunt but sadly is nothing but the truth. Just compare the reports for any deaths in India as compared to any occuring in the Developed world. The reports there are precise eg 87 dead and 23 in hospital 12 critical. If the same thing had occurred in India, all the media outlets would be blaring out flash news ( Between 50 and 100 dead ) . In a country of one billion what does an extra 20 or 30 here or there matter? But we shouldnt be blaming the media for this when the highest court in the land has fixed the price tag on every Indian life. In the Bhopal Gas tragedy of 1984 , where 5,00,000 people were directly affected, the Supreme Court ordered Union Carbide to pay the "monstrous" sum of $US 450 million. Compare this with the $10 million lawsuit every second obese person files against Mcdonalds ( in the US , of course ) . No wonder the MNCs love doing business here.
Bhopal and Bihar seem rather far away and so we can all remain comfortable in our sheltered cocoons. But unfortunately the stench is uncomfortably closer to home. Let me tell you of an incident which occurred on a train journey I made between Bangalore and Chennai a few years back.My ticket was RAC - the first in the list . So if there were any cancellations, ideally I would have been the first to be allotted a berth. As soon as I got into the train , I asked the TTE if there were any vacant berths. He kept brushing me off. After some time he came to see me and said, "Berth 17 is free. You can use that. But when I am doing something for you , you need to do something for me". You could have knocked me down with a feather. I had a rush off blood to my face and I told him clearly, "I know berth 17 is free. I also know if there is any vacant berth I should be given first allotment. Inspite of this if I do not get a berth and I see someone else using that berth , I will ask that person for his ticket. If that person does not have a valid ticket, the first thing I will do tomorrow morning is get down at Chennai Railway Station and register a complaint against you. I do not care how many days I have to take leave but I will ensure the complaint reaches its logical conclusion". The TTE just stared at me and left. After some time he came to me and allotted me another berth. Thinking back I sometimes wonder what made me react this way. Maybe I had not yet become cynical , maybe it was the fact that I was alone and did not have a family to worry about. Would it have been different if I was travelling with loved ones ? I hope not.
I sometimes feel we have the spirit of Gandhism imbued in ourselves so strongly that we prefer to see our escapism as an act of Ahimsa. We even have manufactured a phrase for this - "Chalta hai". Edmund Burke rightly said , "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing".
I recently read a poem , the last two lines of which went - Any fool can write a poem but only God can create a Tree . Similarly, I offer no solutions here. We need , maybe not a God ( even if one exists, I do not think he would be bothered to help a people who have nothing to offer in return except prayers ) , but certainly a Hercules to clean the Aegean stables that "Mera Bharat Mahan" has become.

1 comment:

Chitra Shenoy said...

True sachin..the last thing that has value in India is human life..U know the situation is so bad, everybody just want the thrill of reporting a sensational news..I cannot see any compassion for the victims anywhere..
Sometimes like you I also wonder if God is there and if he is there, why is he turning a blind eye to all this atrocities..We have been given an overdose of morality right from child hood, like good will happen to good people and bad will be punished..Its an irony exact opposite is happening in India..The political class with their string of bad deeds have gone so strong that even a collective people power cant stop their sinful march..
Indias future is surely bleak, but we wont do anything ..kyunki yeh India hai, yahaan sab chalta hai!!!