While we are settled ashore, we’re much too absorbed in the daily grind, to really observe and notice anything around us. But when we return from foreign ports, we get a fresh perspective, and are able to observe certain details, that we are not able to pick up in the normal course, since we are much too close. It’s almost like the inability in trying to read this article, with the paper held an inch from your face, reducing the print to a hazy blur.
The first thing, that strikes you, is the sheer overwhelming mass of people. Like getting off a crowded local at Dadar and guessing how many people could be squeezed in per square inch, while performing their daily basic (biological?) functions: hawking, spitting, peeing, crapping, digging their noses. Buildings are in a state of terminal decay. Roads and pavements forever dug up, in a haphazard manner, like a perpetual grave that the city is excavating for itself.
Infrastructure, other than in a few metros like Mumbai, is a joke. Nothing seems to work smoothly, whether it is the supply of Bijli, pani, transport, traffic lights, public toilets, you name it ! There is an air of squalor, as irremovable as the paan thook, that stains every available surface, like self-generating graffiti.
Whenever you start questioning this situation, you are met with blank looks. People retort, accusingly, ‘Don’t we know our country is poor ?’
Funnily enough, I have frequently observed poor people living in clean, though simple ways, and maintaining a fairly high standard of personal hygiene. On the other hand, I have regularly seen the filthy habits of some of our more well-to-do brethren, who persist in spitting wherever they can and dropping litter all over the roads. I still fail to understand what poverty has to do with basic hygiene and manners, that cost nothing, except a little bit of effort, in overcoming lazy habits.
The argument continues : India has always been a poor country, ever since anyone can remember. So then, what to expect ? How dare we moan and bitch, when we are lucky enough to belong to a minuscule elite, a pampered privilegentsia, living in the commercial capital, able to afford unthinkable luxuries, like 24 hours light and water, with the occasional foreign trip thrown in ! We ought to be ashamed of ourselves. Don’t we know that in rural India, women have to walk for miles, just to get a pot of water, which probably isn’t safe to drink, anyway? That they’ve got no schools to send their children to, no hospitals to go, when they’re sick?
Yes, we know all these things. And, yes, we are ashamed. But not for feeling particularly pampered or privileged. Because, even after 50 odd years after independence, we still continue to pompously wear our ‘poverty’ on our sleeve, trying to justify our laziness with all sorts of self-righteous, but basically illogical arguments.
‘Finish all that food on your plate; don’t you care about the starving millions ?’ We are threatened, as children, giving us a permanent guilty complex. We never could quite explain, that we did care and feel sorry for the starving millions. But just how was cramming ourselves with unfinished food, that we did not need (and quite possibly making ourselves ill in the bargain!) going to help ? It was as though, by an unspecified but mysterious process of distribution, the surplus food would have found its way to those anonymous millions, who were being used to emotionally blackmail us.
We are programmed to carry these hobgoblins of guilt into adulthood. Power cuts ? Don’t grumble. Do you know how many thousands of villages have no electricity at all ? The alternative, of re-organising the distribution system, to run the system more efficiently, or to deter ‘theft’ of power (unauthorised connections), doesn’t appear to exist as a viable solution.
Your roof is leaking, because a crooked building contractor ripped you off, by using sub-standard materials and workmanship? Don’t crib. Don’t you know how many millions are homeless? The use of Poverty, as a blunt instrument, to bludgeon you into acquiescence of all inefficiency, is a subtle way of justification. The paper shoved back in your face, so that the fine print becomes an illegible blur again.
And if you still persist in cribbing, after coming home after sailing, you are labelled as a disgruntled member of the privileged class. You should claim solace in the thought, that so many millions are much worse off than you. And if you persist in questioning this fuzzy logic, you are given the final, knockout punch: If you don’t like it here (at home), what stops you from going elsewhere to settle down?
The answer to that, we think, is not that the problem will be solved. The fear is that, if everyone were to desert his country to settle in another country, wouldn’t that just create a new mess in another country, since we would just be exporting all our bad habits to other, hitherto cleaner environments. And then, where on earth would we go, to get away from there ?!
Returning to India, after completing a contract, we forever tell ourselves, that there’s no place quite like home, sweet home, thank God. Incidentally, if foreign ports were like home, where the heck would we go, when we wanted to get away from home?!?
|– Vikram Gokhale & N. Nanda (authors of NG Series)|
[Mr Vikram Gokhale and Mr. N. Nanda are both Marine Engineers, who are senior faculty with LBS College. They have extensive experience, not only as teachers in the Marine field, but also practical experience as shipboard engineers, in tackling a variety of problems.]