Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Dignity of Labour

The Dignity of Labour

black and white working old human

Recently I was waiting for a few minutes at a traffic signal when I happened to notice an old woman selling bangles and assorted fancy items wheeling her hand cart away from the busy junction on the orders of the officious police force who didn’t want people to clog traffic right at the intersection. On a hot summer day, especially here in madras when the temperatures touch 40 degree centigrade even in the shade to see these old women push heavy hand carts laden with merchandise trying to sell them in the scorching noon sun somehow trying to make a living honestly instead of begging or stealing or praying to god for a handout made me reflect on life in general and the value we assign to dignity of labour.

And immediately, unbidden I recalled my colleagues, highly educated office workers seated in air-conditioned rooms who at the stroke of ten am or ten patients whichever is earlier close down their pens for the day saying “I have worked enough for the pittance they are paying me” regardless of the throngs waiting outside for a consultation.  And these people, the ones who work only for my salary amount kind are even lauded for their work because compared to others- the ones who sit reading the bible or divinity texts all day in the hospital and prefer to teach only bible gospels/classes to any student who approaches them with a doubt, at least the ten am workers see at least a few patients a day while the born again Christians spend all day communing with Jesus for which the government pays them a salary  and gives them an airconditioned office and a captive audience of eager young students- eager to pass somehow/anyhow.  And that this is all overlooked or justified by the higher authorities who are frankly afraid of being labelled anti-minority in the vein of excessive secularism and being politically correct towards religious minorities by allowing them to proselytize young college going kids in the classroom.

Anyway, leaving that aside, the very fact that eighty plus elder citizens are still working in the summer heat teaches us two lessons. The first is the most obvious, that there is no social security in India and you either work or you starve, even if you are a centenarian. Which means that either you work hard in your youth and middle age and save the money to tide over your old age or you try and get multiple children at least one of whom will take care of you in your old age, which explains the population problem.
The second lesson to be noted is that people in India, leave alone the officialdom, I am talking of even the common populace, look down on people who work with their hands/feet etc. There is no dignity in labour if you are not working in an airconditioned office sitting down in front of a computer. Even the most productive of manual workers, factory or industry workers or self-employed persons don’t command the respect of a say a 22-year-old software techie who just passed his arrears exams borderline or the bureaucrat who sits on his backside all day and only comes alive to demand baksheesh to scrawl his signature across a file. These are the kind of people who are most respected in India as seen by the ubiquitous engineering colleges and civil service training institutes.

I don’t have any solutions to offer, I don’t even know if I can achieve something with this rant of mine. But as a writer it behoves me to chronicle the times we live in for posterity and as a result I am recording this to the world wide web in the hope that someday someone in the far future will want to research why such an ancient civilization like India collapsed so suddenly and they might be interested to learn that it was because we valued shirking work more than honest labour and rewarded those who worked the least and punished those who didn’t.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Stop With The Lessons, OK?.

Stop With The Lessons, OK?.

You know what they say about life teaching you lessons and every experience is a blessing in disguise? Well I dunno who came up with such empty platitudes but take it from me it’s all such a load of bs (pardon my language). I mean who of us, given a chance wouldn’t prefer to skip over all the gory details of our lives and move straight on to the end part where we get what we deserve? On second thoughts, scratch that sentence and let me rephrase it again. Where we move on to the end part and get the victory we justly deserve?

 Oh yeah right, I hear you agreeing ladies and gentlemen and I nod back. All this character building through adversity and struggle for success is also overhyped in books and media. In real life there isn’t a single one of us who wouldn’t prefer to take the ladder over the snake despite the many benefits of the snake’s lessons. If life was a movie wouldn’t you like to fast forward it through all the tough parts, the boring parts, the violent parts and prefer just to watch the colorful duet songs in Switzerland alone?
Unfortunately my life as a movie has been more an 80’s violent blockbuster type than the 90’s romantic Euro-train missing/Switzerland duet singing screenplay till now. 

Much against my will I seem to have been cast in the role of the angry young man, yep the role patented by Mr.Bacchan the elder, where I keep defeating gangs of ruffians and rowdies trying to do me harm and a few reels later those same set of villains keep turning up again and again to get bashed again. I mean there should be an end to the number of villain’s sent against me by life right? Or at least some variety in the screenplay? That’s not asking much is it? If I were Batman in one of the innumerable sequel movies, I would be, by now looking at the camera of my life and whining “oh the joker? Again? And the riddler? Again? And two-face? Again and again?” For that’s the kind of scam life is trying to pull on me all the time. And you the audience watching my life with bated breath for what happens next are going to be sorely disappointed at the same old faces turning up like clockwork.

To tell the absolute truth (is there anything else I ever say?) I am frankly bored of the old villains turning up again and again to thrash me and put me in hospital and then when I get discharged and released out again the same set of villain’s are waiting outside the gates to send me back into the hospital ward which I just said a cheery farewell to. I wonder don’t they ever get bored of swearing revenge against a single individual and move on to others once they have had their fill of me. Even villains (/essess) should be given a chance to randomly select fresh targets instead of wasting all their hate and time on an old and well dusted antagonist like me. 

And as for me, well, if I haven’t learnt my lessons by now, doesn’t it mean I am not the learning type. So stop with the lessons and bring on the end credits already, fate or destiny or whatever you are. Be warned.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Travels in Sikkim-3rd Part

Travels in Sikkim-3rd Part

So what is the first thing you do when you hit the north east? You give into the clich├ęs and eat momos right? And of course that’s exactly what we did once we exited Bagdogra airport. But first there was a minor kerfuffle in locating our driver who was supposed to pick us up at the airport. Not having visited the north east before we had to trust travel websites to decide our place of stay and itinerary. Thankfully a friend in Kolkata gave us the contact details of a well-established travel agency conducting tours of the north east and we made the arrangements – even paying the fee upfront for an airport pick up to airport drop trip entire travel experience.

And then when we landed at Bagdogra we couldn’t locate our driver outside the airport. I kept getting calls on my mobile from an unknown number – someone called Pandey (according to true caller) who kept saying something in Hindi, but as the only Hindi I knew was limited to Baba Sehgal singing “aaja mera gaadi mein betja” I couldn’t understand what he wanted me to do. I mean, I had expected the driver to stand outside the airport arrivals with a big board bearing my name – as seen in numerous movies. I hadn’t expected him to call me and give me directions (in Hindi) to go somewhere. So laden with luggage, I did the only possible thing which came to mind.

I looked around till I could find a south Indian looking army officer (it shows in our faces right?) and I explained my predicament to him. The army officer (he was keralite by the way) took the next call from the driver and gave him an earful in Hindi such that the driver was present in front of us within the next five minutes. We learnt that he had parked way down the road to avoid the parking fees at the airport parking and had hence been giving us directions to exit the airport and walk down the Siliguri road to where he was parked. We communicated to him in our broken hingilish that we didn’t mind paying the parking fee in future if it means avoiding the long walk uphill dragging heavy luggage. And with that sorted out we began our journey into the hills.

Now the first order of business was to get some hot food inside as we had travelled by a budget airline in economy class and they basically will give you nothing but water for the entire flight. So as we travelled on the road to Siliguri we broached the topic of a late lunch/early evening tiffin. Meanwhile our driver asked us the passport size photographs the travel agency had recommended us to carry for applying to get a permit to travel to the Tibetan border. As a couple of us were not carrying two passport size photos per head we decided to get it taken in Siliguri itself along with all the Xerox copies of the various documents required and so, we first made for a fast food joint were we ordered momos with hot sauce- authentic Tibetan style and meanwhile got our pictures taken.

I have never had much taste for momos, but given the cold weather and our empty stomachs since breakfast, those momos disappeared fast. And then we had that most magical of drinks- authentic Darjeeling tea for after all we were in Darjeeling weren’t we? And then we were on our way hoping to reach Gangtok in time as the travel time – optimistically from Siliguri to Gangtok up in the hills was five hours when there were no landslides or accidents. We had travelled a long way to get to the Himalayas and just couldn’t wait to see the famed hills.

And that’s how our trip up that long, narrow treacherous road into the hills began. But you just had to roll down the window and look outside to forget all the dangers and get mesmerized in the beauty of the landscape you were passing along. The mighty Brahmaputra roaring out of the gorges, the long beautiful tea plantation’s everywhere, tiny streams and thundering waterfalls everywhere. Not to mention the cold, the bone freezing chill as went ascended up into the hills, clad in singleton t-shorts appropriate for hot and muggy Kolkata from where we had come.