(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
March 01, 2009
Hungry Mind is an Angry Mind
LAST morning, I was taking my child to the school. It took me more than forty five minutes to traverse three kilometres. I was perplexed. My child too grew slightly restive. With this experience in mind, on my way to pick him up, in spite of my planning, I was greeted with more traffic diversions and snarls. I thanked my stars that I had reached not later than fifteen minutes after the school closes, though I had started forty minutes before. As a mother, I understand that a hungry child is an angry child.
In our walk to the vehicle parked at a distance, we passed through a huge congregation of people. My child is a bundle of curiosity as any child of that age is. On being asked questions about the reasons why these people had gathered, where they had come from, what are they shouting and holding, etc., I tried to give some vague answers. But curiosity once aroused cannot be easily satisfied. Through my short experience of parenthood, I also came to the conclusion that, even a hungry mind also makes one angry. So, we decided to seek answers to all those questions.
Small children, same aged as my own child, were cuddling in the laps of their mothers, the strains of the journey clearly visible. It seems they have come here to Delhi in a train travelling more than twelve hours in a packed general compartment. Being a smart, educated, city-bred woman with humanitarian concerns, I warmly scolded her that she should have come purchasing a reserved ticket, at least for the sake of the child. She stared into my eyes and asked me sternly, “Do you think we would have come here, if he had the money to buy a reserved ticket?” There she was, an anganwadi worker earning a pittance - an 'honorarium'-with her poor little child, coming to Delhi with none of her relatives by her side and braving the hard journey, sitting before me. I compared it with my own condition, a cuss, in spite of my comforts.
Coming out of my thoughts, my humanitarian concerns aroused, I asked looking at her child, if they had anything to eat. Yes, she replied, “yesterday before starting.” Pointing to the sun above our heads and the child, I repeated the question. “It is ok, normal for us,” she replied. I remembered the dinner, breakfast and snacks that I fed my child before preparing to take him for lunch, worried that it is getting delayed.
How blind am I becoming? How unconcerned - thinking only about myself, my child and my family. Reading the newspapers the day after, I searched for that poor mother, her sisters and brothers who had come from far and away. I hoped that media would 'enlighten' me more about why they had all come, what was the response of the government and much more. Surprisingly, I found none of it. Of course, there is that item on the traffic jams and the reporting of the ironical remarks of the police officials, that in a democratic country they can't help but give permissions to all those who wanted to protest.
The report did not carry a word about the people who had come all the way to Delhi, to protest. Instead it had interviews with many commuters who were caught up in the traffic jam. People like me who can speak English, who have our daily coffee, breakfast, snacks, conscious of our appearances, were interviewed. We diligently express our disdain on all those people who were in the rally - those who cannot speak and dress like us. We say, “rallies and processions should be banned on working days”, “they should not be allowed to be organised”, “they should be organised in the outskirts of the city” etc. In our prismed thoughts, the people who take part in the rallies don't have anything else to do except protest and disturb our daily serene routine. Alas, the reporter is also one amongst us - the same middle class moron, city-bred who takes life for granted.
For us, there is no life except ours. We don't understand that there are people sacrificing their existence for us to live our life. We don't know the workers, the peasants and all those who are straining their sinews to ensure that our motors, heaters, coolers and computers work. We don't want to know that more than 77 per cent of them are 'living' with an income of Rs 20 per day. If we know, we don't want to bother much about that - as long as we can buy our packet of Lays everyday. We are superior to them because we have the 'brains'. We forget that they burn their brawns to help us grow our brains. We feed on them, live on them but don't bother to acknowledge them. After all, they are not trees for us to be concerned. Nor are they animals. Sadly, they are humans.
Accepted. If they have any problem they can write a letter to the editor, become a citizen journalist and bring to focus their grievance, send a rose or a garment or at the most they can light a candle. Haven't we done it when our conscience was pricked after the terrorists attacked Taj and Oberoi in Mumbai? Disgusting for them to block our traffic and smooth flowing lives. If protest was against reservations, a hundred are more than enough for front page coverage. Because they are one among us! If it was against hunger, for work, for life - no. Because they are, 'slumdogs'.
Yes, we need to be rightly concerned when somebody attacks a pub. Good for that. But what about the attacks on those women in the villages, dalits, tribals who are beaten, threatened, abused; mercilessly, brutally everyday and every hour? Whom shall we send our garments, our roses or where shall we light those candles?
Who cares if Vidarbha dies or weavers die. Why should we bother if diamonds, gems, textiles and such other factories close due to the economic crisis. Who says there is a crisis? Aren't we still buying cricketers for millions of dollars to entertain us? Why should these people lament saying that the prices of rice, oil, gram etc., have gone up? Why can't they be happy that the prices of cell phones, air travel have gone down?
Why are we afraid when these people come out against their exploitation and oppression? Why do we blank them out? Why do they come out, after all? Humanitarians amongst us question, aren't we there to voice their grievances? Yes we are there. We the philanthropic, large, good hearted givers. They should take what we give, never seek.
Have we ever thought why do people come in such huge numbers to some of these demonstrations? Taking part in a demonstration means losing their income for the day and for them this is not something small. And remember all those hardships involved in travel. Do we understand what it takes to walk on the streets, with our thousand and odd scornful eyes staring at them? Witness their courage when these demonstrations are attacked by the police; more than all, their sense of humane concern to save their fellow brother or sister even at the risk of placing themselves in the line of fire. Remember, they are all unrelated, except through their hunger. Will they be ready to brave all this if their problems get solved by lighting a candle. Even for a moment can we imagine ourselves in their position?
If they come out, it exposes the narrowness of our heart, our cosmetic libertarianism and humanity. It exposes and lays bare the compromises we are making in our life. It breaks the myth that we are strong and need not depend on anybody for anything. It forces us to break the set patterns through which we are used to seeing things and if we are ready and keen, opens up a new world of possibilities. This demands action and sacrifice.
Remember, that it is not petitions that won our independence. It is the masses, the satyagrahas, hartals, strikes, hunger strikes and the attacks on the British state machinery that won it. It is not just the skin of the rulers that brought the people together in the fight for independence. They fought because they were hungry and robbed. They were angry with the policies of the British.
The skin of the rulers has changed. And now we have our cherished 'secular, socialist democratic' republic. But, robbed and exploited people still are. Hungry they are. Dying they are. They are demanding a change. They want to live - just like you and me, as human beings. They don't understand what is wrong in it. They are asking questions, seeking answers and solutions to their simple desire to live.
If you think it is not a big deal, try answering them. Then they will not block your roads. You would join them. After all, they know the real value of time and wealth. It is they who create it.