Pride and Prejudice

One of the first things that you would notice if you walk into one of the mammoth old buildings around Dalhousie Square in Kolkata are the rows and rows of electrical cables that hang from various corners of the ceiling. The tangles would put to shame a highly intricate streamer decoration at a party.(see some here) They are dangerous, yet everyday people walk in and out or sit for hours under them without a stutter.

In some kind of graphical representation, that is probably what our country looks like. A montrosity thats bursting at its seams, waiting to spill out its contents and held together by a network of flimsy patches at various places. Yet, it stays in place. Just like inside those old buildings, people carry on with their lives nonchalantly. More as an existential pattern they have known for a lifetime. Any alternative is unknown or doesn’t seem to work (and i am guessing here) mostly due to a lack of familiarity. With a billion other people to fight against for a share of food, jobs, a berth on the train and everything else, life as we know it here in India is a constant challenge that most of us don’t really sign up for, but nevertheless accept because otherwise we may risk losing what we have managed to gather.

What breaks this mad rush are incidents induced by nature’s fury or misguided human fury. Like the other day. Bombs, in Mumbai (yet again). What followed was the usual round of calling up friends, family and other folks to check if things were ok. When things settled without the detection of any cause for alarm, one could divert their attention to the messages of wrath that started pouring on various timelines. Some called for an attack on the perpetrators, while others lamented upon the lack of tooth and nail within the general populace. Honestly, even I have felt the same way, when accosted by a situation grave enough to rattle me in some way. However, in most other cases I prefer to maintain a reserve. Not because I do not empathize, but rather I have inherited a trait from a parent who describes it as – unless there is a fully informed solution that has any practical implementation in a conducive environment, it is never a good idea to ramble opinions about sensitive matter. Well.. not in gentle company atleast.

A lot of people have questioned the effectiveness of our intelligence agencies and how porous our defences are that terrorists can make a serious attack with the least of efforts. Personally, I am not in a position or informed enough to provide a serious analysis of where the failure was and how things could be strengthened. Instead what I see is an unmanageable chaos. Stop for a moment and look around. What you’ll see is a unstructured mass – not just of tangible objects like people, vehicles, buildings, but a carefully nurtured cultural shroud that binds all of these. Call it rich Indian heritage, difference in castes, inequality of the classes, regional biases, the all encompassing ‘jugaad’ – in short the cultural fibre that dictates how the people of the land live with each other. And one of the things that rarely finds itself on this list is perhaps ‘respect’.

Its probably hard to describe how thats a conclusion I can come up with, except for the various instances that I see around me. Being a microscopic instance of a billion+ population, it comes down essentially to the equation of demand and supply. The more in number, the more devalued it is. In this case human lives. No one really cares about another person, because they have to struggle to ensure that atleast that one human life still gets a bit of importance – their own. Stretch it maybe a little further to family, children, parents, someone-who-matters. As long as this coocooned bunch is taken care of, nothing else matters. Trains can burn, young children can beg, a hapless guard can be yelled at, plastic bottles can be thrown into rivers, walls can be defaced, red traffic signals can be run over, a bribe paid, examinations cheated, or the nextdoor neighbour called a racist vile term.

Seriously, where is that element of respect that drives a community to stand up with pride and reclaim its glory. I find it really funny when people mouth the cock and bull statements about a ‘country that is unified in its diversity’. Bull crap. Define diversity – the politically correct regional culture or things that create differences worse than plague – religious rigidity, caste based divisions, financial demarcations, occupational supremacy…you name it and we have it. There is always a reason to disrespect the other person standing next to you. How would anyone be able to collaborate with harmony with people they don’t feel good about? Even if its for their own safety? I seriously don’t know. These differences have been passed on for generations and I don’t see it changing very soon.

Its probably like working at a place where you don’t care much about the work, but you get your paycheck at the end of month and go home happy as long as you get to buy that perfect pair of shoes or a crate of poison. Well.. as long as the next bomb doesn’t get you.

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