Friday, August 15, 2008

On the Indian independance day

India is 61 years young today. Amidst hosannas and eloquent McKinsey reports sung to the surging economy and the galloping middle class, some putrid aspects remain below the sheen which will be worked out in the many years to come in the world’s greatest true democracy.

From here:

In every men’s washroom at the Taj is a helper. As you approach the sink, he salutes you. Before you can turn on the tap, he does it for you. Before you can apply soap, he presses the dispenser. Before you can get a towel, he dangles one. As you leave, he salutes you again and mutters: “Right, sir. O.K. sir. Thank you, sir.”

India may be changing at a disorienting pace, but one thing remains stubbornly the same: a tendency to treat the hired help like chattel, to behave as though some humans were born to serve and others to be served

I sometimes talk to people who have decided to pack up their bags and return to India for good and ask them what it is about India that draws them back home. I have heard a lot of variations, but a common refrain tends to the following ‘well, now that we can afford it, we plan on settling down to a more placid lifestyle and starting up a small business’. On probing further they come out with plans like ‘buy a flat, a couple of cars, hire four or five servants to cook, wash, clean and drive and travel a bit’… I guess the tendency to treat hired help like furniture is instilled deep within us and only time and education will make it go away.

A new movie, Barah Aana coming out later this year explores this subject in greater detail.

In a scene, a security guard, Yadav, discovers that his son is ill and will die if he does not receive treatment costing $150. He goes around his building asking for loans from tenants who think nothing of spending $40 on pizza. The tenants, glued to their televisions, treat him like a puppy to be shooed away. That night, as he sits with friends and fills himself with drink, he contemplates what it would mean to bury a son.

“Why is it,” he wails, “that people can only feel their own pain, not others’?”

The director’s answer is that India has something deeper than a poverty problem. It has, in his view, a “dehumanization” problem. In an interview, he described India’s employers and servants as living as “two different species.”

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