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We are like this only

Last updated: 05 February, 2011
Monideepa Sahu 18:54 IST

The great indian mindset

We need to complain. And we love that. About the way the country is run. About the corruption and ineptitude of our leaders. We are contemptuous of politics and virulent about politicians. But, who will take the politicians place? Not us, thank you... Monideepa Sahu takes an unflinching look at our addiction to complaining and our apathy towards politics.

Join any gathering of respectable, educated ‘people like us’, and chances are, you will hear a slew of strong opinions based on questionable reasoning. A hot topic for social small talk is the corruption and ineptitude of our current crop of leaders. We love to wax eloquent over how badly the country is run over sips of lager, cappuccino or earl grey tea.This same rag-tag band of incompetent leaders we revile and mock have so far managed to maintain our Motherland as a free country. And because we live in a free country, we can get away with such open criticism of the powers-that-be. We have the right to hold free opinions, and we make suitable noises about it. But, when it comes to acting on those feelings and opinions, of actually shifting out of our cosy beanbags and standing up to be counted, that’s a different cricket game. Most of us wisely avoid all risks by not lifting a finger to change the status quo. The classic slogan, ‘talk less, work more,’ was surely created for ‘people like us.’

Who is to be blamed?

When we focus only upon their shortcomings, we do our leaders grave injustice. When we point an accusing finger at them, four more fingers point right back at us. Are we so different in spirit from those who govern us? The proof is everywhere. We haggle over small change with roadside vendors and autowallas, but we rarely follow up on serious public issues and grievances. We vent road rage on hapless pedestrians who happen to be in the way of our fancy cars in the same way our bosses yell out their frustrations on us at work. It’s easy to bash soft targets, and we do it all the time. We burn young brides, terminate unborn girls, and turn up our noses at others because of the gods they worship. What are we proving? Aren’t we all supporting baser human tendencies to kill, steal, cheat, fight and generally be obnoxious. After all, loathsome behaviour can provide instant gratification, and this isn’t restricted to our netas.

Walk through any of our city streets. Mountains of piling garbage pull down our aspirations to world class luxury. We complain tirelessly about it, but no prizes for guessing where a great deal of that stinking garbage originates. Yes sir, it’s dumped on the public roadside by ‘people like us’.

Meet Mr Fancy Suited-booted as he steps out of his air-conditioned car, blabbering continuously on his cell phone about his latest trip to some suitably impressive foreign destination. “The streets there are so clean, there’s no littering abroad,” he says as he approaches a wall to answer the call of nature. “What are our authorities doing to clean up this mess?” Taking a leak by the public roadside is the greatest single trait that binds every Indian adult male from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Unruly bladders unite beggars, misers, corporate hotshots, netas and college-going dudes alike; testimony to the Indian male’s unity in diversity. Meanwhile, finicky home-makers keep their homes spotlessly clean by dumping refuse on the roadside, or at the neighbour’s doorstep. We use plastic and discard it recklessly.

Opting for natural environment-friendly alternatives to harmful chemical pesticides has few takers. We strongly prefer the easy way out. We mar our monuments by scratching our names on them. We blithely leave behind a residue of garbage when we go for a picnic. The recent New Year’s Eve revelries saw a Himalayan pile-up of discarded liquor bottles and other rubbish on Bengaluru’s hot spots. While some folks like us had a great time ringing in the New Year, others, less fortunate, had to sweep up the mess after them. Why then, do we blame the poor neta alone for every conceivable mess?

‘People like us’ are the staunchest upholders of the law of averages. If anyone dares to step out of the herd and tries to make a positive difference, chances are, we will shun him and doubt his motives. We are like the proverbial crabs in a basket. If one crab tries to climb up and escape to freedom, the rest pull him back into captivity again. Even at the basic level of neighbourhood residents’ welfare associations, people discourage volunteers by swamping them with frivolous complaints, insinuating corruption and ulterior motives for their positive efforts. We attend crash courses in leadership and push everyone else in the way to get ahead of the pack.

True leadership and genuine positive qualities are exceptional. They cannot be bought with money, and therefore, rarely appreciated. If someone from our known circle excels in any field, accomplishes something outstanding far beyond our own capacities, we become glumly envious and shun them or pass snide remarks. Activists and whistle-blowers, who struggle to let truth prevail and expose wrongdoings, often get eliminated. So, why should a true leader strive to outshine? Chances are, he will be pilloried or assassinated.

Like father, like son

Our culture and tradition condition us to expect people to come up on the strength of pedigree and social connections, rather than because of their innate talent and abilities. Children of film personalities are more likely to succeed as movie stars; artists and writers are better appreciated if they hail from a lineage of illustrious ancestors; children of doctors are more readily accepted as doctors; scions of established business enterprises are bred to head them. Why, then, do we criticise netas for perpetuating dynastic rule and filling up plum positions with sundry friends and relations?

‘People like us’ are confirmed materialists and unabashed worshippers of money power. We felicitate bridegrooms and other motley worthies and unworthies with garlands of currency notes. Though ours is a developing economy and poverty is rampant, we are the world’s biggest consumers of gold. There’s nothing ‘people like us’ flaunt and crave more than filthy lucre. We respect people according to their salaries, fancy clothes, glitzy cars and grandness of dwelling.

Educated and well-placed young men routinely sell themselves in the matrimonial market for the fattest dowry. Ads blare at us constantly from the airwaves and print media, urging us to buy and consume every conceivable sort of luxury. We want to grab it all, and we demand it now, sidestepping the trivial issue of earning it. Why, then, do we blame our netas for grabbing that unaccounted bundle of cash under the table?

Pride and prejudice

We freely flaunt our own casteist and communal prejudices. Flick through the classified ads in any newspaper or matrimonial website, and you’ll find hordes of seekers for alliances from the same caste, religion, gotra and linguistic community. Why then, do we denounce politicians for stoking the flames of communal disharmony and resorting to vote-bank politics?

We constantly clamour for freebies and subsidies from the government. We flare up at the thought of having to pay a more rational price for petrol or cooking gas. Meanwhile, the beggar starving on the footpath in front of our posh office hasn’t even seen these essentials, and has no voice to complain. Higher education, at many levels, is available to all at ridiculously low fees even today. When we give candy to our kids to shut them up and bribe them to do what we want, we perpetuate the next generation of unreasonable whiners and potential bribe takers. Inflation grows with increase in public expenditure to provide more subsidies. We don’t stop to think at whose expense these subsidies are funded. Public money comprises largely of taxes, and budgetary deficits are partly met by hiking taxes. And, of course, we groan and lament again when paying taxes. Then, why blame the government leaders for twisting the economy into knots?
Sincere netas are conscientiously trying to appease us.

Our netas aren’t doing such a botch-up job after all. Empirical evidence and utilitarian indicators of our nation’s growing prosperity abound right under our noses. People are growing wealthier and have more money to burn for cars and petrol, so traffic and jams are growing. The pavements are shrinking due to growing commerce because traders are spilling over their booming business onto the streets. Pollution and environmental hazards are increasing, which means more industries and more vehicles are prospering to belch out more toxic wastes.

The most solid and systematic indicator is the spurt in chain snatchings. With more cash to throw around, newly prosperous people are flaunting gaudier gold ornaments. Crime figures are shooting up and crooks, cheats and the nation are flourishing because wealth is increasing and there’s more to steal. So, instead of carping or leading hare-brained charges against windmills, let us rationally come to terms with the way we are. We are like this only, and our netas too, are ‘simply people like us’.

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