Musings on poverty

Poverty afflicts all men, irrespective of caste, creed, gender or nationality. With no other options, men approach moneylenders who charge exorbitant rates of interest and mercilessly extract their dues from the poor men who are caught in the vicious cycle of mounting debts and inability to pay.

The seventeenth century scholar Neelakantha Deekshita in his satirical work ‘Kalividambanam’ humourously portrays this familiar subject. Especially in contemporary times, phrases like ‘borrower’, ‘lender’, ‘loan defaulter’, ‘EMI’, ‘accumulated interest’ are all part of everyday usage. The scenario may slightly differ, but the storyline is the same – lender chasing the borrower! Concealed beneath this satire in the text is a deep concern for these less fortunate men as well as contempt and derision for the inhuman and usurious moneylenders.

The very remembrance of the moneylender induces fear in the hapless borrowers. The poet says, “Just by remembering whom the limbs become listless, by seeing whom the intellect is destroyed, that is the great ghost known as moneylender.” That the moneylender appears at any time of his choi-ce to demand his dues is touchingly conveyed when the poet says that even Yama, the Lord of death, needs the final mome-nts of men to take them away to his abode, but the moneylenders have no time restriction at all and can turn up at any time. The moneylender is a human like anybody else, but his trade imparts a fearsome aura to him. “We do not see sharp teeth in the mouth, nor is there a snare in his hands, but still, on seeing the moneylender, the mind becomes nervous and agitated,” says the poet.

Poverty overwhelms men with its ineluctable onslaught. “One can mediate with an adversary and take a conciliatory approach, one can take medicines to fight against diseases, meditation on the Lord can provide protection against even death, but there is no defence against poverty,” says the poet, highlighting the sheer sweep of this ‘incurable disease.’ Poverty imparts to man the ability to tolerate many things which he otherwise would not. It makes him walk long distances in search of employment, gives him the power to endure heat and cold, swallow insults, ignore hunger pangs and so on.
Poverty dehumanises and makes man a miserable wretch. As the poet says, poverty compels one to beg with stammered speech, closed eyes and trembling legs. “It can even make them digest stones,” says the poet.

Reading these moving words, one cannot but help commiserating with those in penury. With a touch of pathetic irony, Neelakantha Deekshita says that in the case of poor people, even the king’s wrath is useless, because no penalty can be imposed on them. What can be confiscated from them? Incarcerating them in jail will at least ensure a roof over their heads and some food! “Poverty is much superior to riches, since there is no fear of thieves, slanderers, greedy relatives and powerful people. Indeed, poverty is the strength of those miserable souls,” says the poet.

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