20 May 2020
I was taking the usual walk along with the Antara parameter and came to the Entrance Gate. I saw a clearly destitute family of five - 2 little girls, 1 older boy - sitting across the road looking wistfully towards the Antara edifice. Three stray, cloth-bound possessions, sipping some liquid. The woman was crying. There was no aura of energy around them; totally listless, no conversation, no laughter, no animation at all. No social distance, no masks.
Soft, sanitising morning sunlight rained down on them and me, the gentle breeze wafting around us. And there they were and here I am.
The thought occurred to me that as I luxuriate in Antara, I rant and rave against people who do not follow elementary rules which effectively safeguard us all against Coronavirus. Ensconced here, how dare I make judgements on what the poor, the deprived should do? The lockdown works so well for us: An irritant, yes, but we have all we would want (apart from the fripperies). We, the Middle Classes and above are the Great Protected. And from within cocoons such as Antara and other gated oases and home havens across the globe, we pontificate about the value of lockdowns for containing Coronavirus. But what does that mean for the Unsecure Unprotected - the itinerant labourers, vocational trading classes and small enterprisers - as they watch sources of their income, cash flow vital for day to day existence, drain away under the weight of the edicts issued or supported or influenced by the Great Protected: Politicians, bureaucrats, academics, think-tankers, the (awful) nouveau riche......not only in India but right across the world.
I am having doubts now. In my tweets and elsewhere, I have taken the high moral road in arbitrating between the Livelihood Vs Lives dilemma, coming down firmly in favour of saving lives, not opening up the economy. I am no longer so sure. Perhaps I am only thinking of myself, my life. After all, lockdowns are of advantage to the Protected, and their economic ramifications affecting the livelihoods of millions down the line are merely grist for small screens (which they watch from their comfort zones, lamenting the state of the Unprotected). What does the right to life matter to those trudging hundreds of miles to reach your home sanctuary to partake some food on the home ground, however paltry? This is not only in India but right across the globe - homelessness, hunger (soup kitchens in the USA!), dole queues and other measures of misery are manifesting themselves across the developed world too.
The Protected Elite is making policies (minimally affecting it) and the Unprotected have to suffer their consequences. The responses to the Pandemic reflect Ideological Divides and are sowing the seeds of Class Wars. Oh, Karl, where are you?
(See my blog on Modi and the Migrants Under Coronavirus Snippets May 2020 in the Health category.)
Patakas (Fireworks) - 4 November 2021
Diwali, probably the most prominent motif of Hinduism at the popular level has long been celebrated by myriad firecrackers of all shapes and sizes throughout India. The resulting sheer noise and reverberations are a source of much discomfort to many, humans and animals. Over the years, several efforts have been made, and solutions tried, to abate the problem. Not with much success. The latest limitations on fireworks and associated displays stem from intensifying concerns about pollution and global warming. And rightly so.
The protected elite, including myself, cocooned in luxury rant and rave about the pervasive firecrackers still being let off. The results are of course very notable in a place like Antara - unlike, say, in Delhi, which is noisy and tumultuous at any time. Grumbles about the failure of 'other' Indians 'outside' to follow the law gather momentum. Much is debated about the need to control global warming and stop all this unruly behaviour with more discipline (the elite's favourite word as a solution for anything that threatens its style of living).
Of course, the undesirability of fireworks for the sake of the common good is self-evident. But here is the thing. The vast majority of Indians at the lower economic and social rungs look forward to Diwali as the ultimate occasion for entertainment. It and other faith-related festivities such as Christmas or Id provide those few hours or days of escapism from a drab and deprived daily drudgery, a very tangible excuse to make the effort to be joyful whatever their circumstances. Meanwhile, the protected elite pontificating about global warming, noise, pollution, etc. enjoys its life by the very means which contribute to all those ills. For example, how many of them give up using their upmarket cars at any time let alone during Diwali when so many flaunt their wealth. As usual, the Indian middle class and above never looks at itself in the societal mirror.
What right does the protected elite have to seek the banning of fireworks or similar which gives the common people a tiny sliver of unfettered joy?