Friday, August 5, 2011

What can I say...

about my motherland without feeling disloyal. There have been times that I have wanted to say so much about the apathy that seems to be the undercurrent of every person's and business' method of survival here.

Some of us call it apathy. Here they call it fate-Karma. "This is just how it is madam. Live with it or you will die inside of ulcers most likely."

Deal with the crappy service, crappy products, the sweet talk that covers and sweeps over all the dirt. Yes India is a nation of apathy--was and still is--of this I am convinced. Else why would the sheer numbers of monied people allow themselves to get poor service and products, accept less than perfect as 'just the way it is' or worse allow the abominable condition of those less privileged than themselves?

And its so easy to get sucked into the state of apathy. Case in point--we live in a very nice rented apartment. The flat above us was bought by a rich couple who wanted the place to be as palace like as they could make it. For those not in the know, most middle class and upper middle class and of course the rich people who buy places of their own usually gut the place and add new flooring, new bathrooms. This is the rule not the exception. The richer you are the more the work that gets done. You get the idea.

So the flat above us belongs to a really well heeled couple. And so the trappings must reflect that no? And so for the past 7 months there has been construction going on during all hours. We of course are so affected by the noise that we kept picking fights with the only people we could--the construction workers.

Yes given that we have not yet fully been sucked into the vortex of total apathy, we did observe that these workers from Rajasthan--we guess--were living there amidst all the dust, cutting marble and God knows what else not even wearing a mask, breathing the worst possible dust, sleeping amidst the debris, hurting their ears that also are unprotected from the noise--if you have heard marble or stone being cut, the noise travels even 200 yards away. At close quarters it is death to the eardrums. Whenever we went upstairs to pick a fight, they were covered in white dust whose origins can only be unhealthy at best, toxic at worst.

This sad truth only entered our minds when there was no work going on, when we were at peace. But when at 10:30 pm or later we heard cutting and breaking of walls, all we felt was anger, irritation at them and we showed it in words, gestures even. Appalling.

So yes we are apathetic. Why else will we allow children, impossibly young ones to roam the streets begging, or worse work for us caring for our own kids. That is a sight I have seen too often and which breaks my heart like none other. A child caring for another--as an employee--and not being treated as a child either. Or a child serving an adult at a restaurant or store and not because his parent owns it either.

Among the myriad NGOs I have spoken to in my time here one thing I have heard over and over is how little money and volunteers are generated within India. Most donations and help comes from Indians and others abroad. The volunteers especially. I read a wonderful book by Pavan Sharma, I think--about what it means to be Indian--he propounds a theory about why Indians survive--every man for himself is basically the line of thinking. You are in misery--its your Karma. I have my own issues to care for.

I read an article in the Times of India about why Indian business owners give so little money away, compared to their shall we say Western counterparts. One supposed psychologist said and I am paraphrasing, 'these Western business owners haven't experienced poverty and hunger like the Indian business people have and which is why the Indians will protect their wealth even more.' Give unto me a break. If Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani with their cricket franchises and billion dollar houses have experienced poverty and hunger, I will eat my hat.

One the plus side, this apathy or acceptance makes the country resilient and able to sustain so much damage meted out on her by less tolerant countries that surround her. Another bomb blast--oh well, we are strong, we will get over it. And yet one more--are the police asleep--where are the terrorists that did this? The authorities are working on it you say? Good.

The mantra is, "Oh well, life must go on."

India is a place where one can be seething with rage about one thing with one person when another person can bowl you over to tears with a simple act of unexpected sweetness. It is a country of extreme emotions...irritation and happiness at their peak and lowest. A roller coaster ride that I feel ill equipped to handle.

So what am I doing about all this right? Besides writing this and kvetching?

More on that in the next.