On Poor and Rich

7 January, 2005 at 02:46 2 comments

(via Outlook, BBC etc.)

I called my parents today to wish my Dad birthday wishes for his 58th birthday. It was just a formality this time as the gloomy mood created by the tsunami still has not left the house. He did not buy new clothes as is the custom and wont be having a birthday meal and this echoed so much of me not buying a video camera. I am my parents’ son and I love it every bit. There I said it. Call me mushy or sentimental. Anyway, I asked Dad to give the phone to my Mom and he said that she was not in the mood but I finally got to her. And she told me something that I will translate –
She said that when she went to the temple yesterday, there was a huge queue of people donating money and clothes and other miscellanous items (like toothbrushes got from some promotion schemes) – whatever they could. She was very surprised and overwhelmed to see such generosity from the poorest of the poor people one can think of. When she was finished collecting stuff and arranged a log book and “hundi” for this and going home, she stopped by to drop some bananas to Simhadri (a shabby old homeless guy whose name is unknown – he is a beggar and a leper and never usually talks to anyone other than scream once in a while) when all of a sudden he refused to accept them. He motioned my Mom to hold and raised the shawl he sits on to reveal torn notes and coins. Carefully, he collected all of them (amounting to less than 1£) in a heap and emptied his pockets for a few more paise and gave them all to my Mom speaking for the very first time – “I just want to do my bit. I will now go Ammagaru” – and left.
My Mom broke down at this point because she said that she never wanted his presence around the temple as he was a leper and hence unhygienic and just the other day she complained to the muncipality asking them to remove him from the premises by force. But this whole incident has made her realize that this was a special man like every other and how foolishly and contemptiously she behaved. She now thinks Simhadri was some God testing her (there are many Indian flok and mythology tales of God coming in various guises to test and tease his/her devotees). Surprisingly, the search party has not yet given any positive reports as to Simhadri’s wherabouts. Putting things in context, it made me wonder and I broke down too. Was it because of the incident or was it because I felt for my Mom or was I sad that I was not there to lend a shoulder or do my bit, I can never say. Possibly, a combination of factors and I did not know until I saw a few tears on the desk. Yes, I felt sad, my heart filled up and tears came rolling on my cheek. That’s right. I said it and am not ashamed. Now, when I sit in contemplation of what happened, you would have to have been hewn from stone not to cry at this incident if you were to witness it and even if heard from the sad tone of my Mom.
Sometimes, the world takes you by surprise when you think you have understood or just merely disillusioned by it. It is a nice feeling because over the past few months, reviewing the complete lack of public interest in what is happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the failure, in the West, to mobilise effective protests against the continuing atrocities in Iraq, and of the shreds of aid (money and humanitarian) promised by the richest countries in the world (UK donated as much money as it spends on 6 days on war-related expenses in Iraq and what US donated is less than the bill of Bush’s party after he won the election a second time), I had begun to wonder whether we had lost our ability to stand in other people’s shoes. I have now stopped wondering. The response to the tsunami by folk I never thought would ever be able to donate or even afford to feel generous, shows that, however hard we might seek to suppress it, if we are true to ourself and our emotions and are willing to listen to our humane side, we cannot destroy our capacity for empathy. Period.
I probably never said it before but I always felt it in my blood that India is a beautiful country. Of course, it is crowded, polluted, corrupt, poor, ignorant and all that but that is the reason why I want to go back after getting this ‘phaaren’ defree. I am not proud because of history and the achievements of our ancients but because inspite of all this, we are just good people at our heart who are forced to give importance to other humans because all we can ever hope to achieve is moral wealth and good karma. Again, there is no need to go into patriotism and jingoism and spiritualism. The facts speak for itself. A tragedy always tests one’s mettle and the catastrophic tsunami is India’s trial by fire. India is both victim and saviour, the dual role stretching its resource and manpower thin. But by responding quickly to neighbours in need and, in fact, dispatching a ship the same day to Sri Lanka to help clear ports, India has emerged as a much-needed regional anchor. Around ten Indian naval ships are in Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia doing the hard work even as the government deals with the devastation in Tamil Nadu and Andaman and Nicobar. India’s ability to rise above its own massive difficulties and reach out on a large scale is just damn impressive. I am really proud and happy to be an Indian.
And I will end this post on an acerbic note to rich/developed/first-world/western countries (and their citizens therein since “desamante matti kaadoyi, manushuloyi”) whose primary source of wealth has always come at the expense of blood and freedom of less fortunate but peaceful countries. If it was slavery and colonialism and imperialism in the past, it is child labour, sweat shops and cheap inhuman resource utilization in the present. Go ahead shoot me by citing your own stories of heroism and generosity and stuff. Great. But one obvious question recurs. Why, when extreme poverty could be made history with a minor redeployment of public finances, must the poor world still wait and rely for poor people in poor countries to empty their pockets? The obvious answer is that rich people and governments have other priorities. And the one that leaps to mind is war and wealth. Rich people only donate and do their bit in this unprecedentedly prosperous side of the world because of the whims of their peers and the appeals of pop stars and comedians. I bet that when they go to a charity concert, they hardly know which charity the money is going to and what it is gonna do but they haggle about the tax relief they will get from such a donation when they must really be worried to the relief of suffering, even if only for a momentary fancy. Perhaps rich people are incapacitated because they can never even imagine what homelessness and hunger is like. I am glad I know that pain and suffering. It is only the poor people who have been struck by disaster before that know how hard survival is in the aftermath of disaster. It is primarily a case of identification. This my friends is the reason why poor are becoming poorer and rich are becoming richer. The answer, dunce, lies in the fact that there is just no respite from poverty that the poor people keep donating their time and money towards calamities. They just cannot escape the cycle. The rich of course do not have such a dilemma. Not that they are not aware of the situation but because they cannot identify with it. Amen.
But one question still bugs me though. How the heck did Simhadri know of this tsunami disaster?


Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. vasug  |  2 February, 2005 at 23:01

    Hoi Srikanth-gaaru,
    Well written and well said. You got my question right at the end… did you find Simhadri/the answer yet?
    Keep the good work.


  • 2. S 'naani' J  |  8 February, 2005 at 14:40

    No Vasu. No answers yet. This is all just mysterious…



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