To those who stayed back

We eat contaminated food, drink impure water and breathe polluted air.

“India welcomes NRI delegates,” scr-eamed the headlines in every newspaper. The 1,800-strong Indian diaspora has descended on our already crowded city for the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. They are received by the President, the prime minister, chief ministers from different states and almost everybody who is anybody in this country. They are wined and dined in the choicest of cuisines from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. They will be honoured with awards for their achievements in a foreign land. They will tread the red carpet in their own homeland which they left long ago.

“Just for a handful of silver you left us” said an English poet two centuries ago. The words echo in my mind as I carefully try to negotiate the steps of a city bank where I must present myself to show I am still alive to draw a widow’s pension. The steps are getting steeper and I clutch a steel railing which moves precariously in my hand. I say a silent prayer that it will not come off. But these things are a part of our daily lives. We are so used to gaping manholes on roads and broken tiles on pavements, just as we are used to high rise buildings collapsing or vehicles colliding into hapless pedestrians.

But, today, we are agog with excitement. Our non-resident countrymen and women have returned to the land of their forefathers. It’s a once in a lifetime experience to visit hoary temples and exotic forests. Its also fun to go around a happ-ening city like Bengaluru. True, the traffic is a nightmare and the roads are terrible. The stench of garbage is everywhere. “How do people live in such filth and dirt?” Thank God, they remembered to bring sanitisers and bottled water. They have also made sure they were immunised against jaundice, bird flu, typhoid, TB and all the countless ailments that flesh is heir to.

“How do you manage to live in the midst of so many hazards?” Ah, now we shall reveal the secret of our immunity. We eat contaminated food, drink impure water and breathe polluted air. We do it all the time and we have also developed the ability to jump nimbly over potholes, dodge speeding buses and cross the busiest road in town with the finesse of a trapeze artist.

Our sleek cars and SUVs don’t wait for the old or the infirm to cross roads. So, even our very senior citizens have learnt the art of sprinting across the busiest roads with the ease of Olympic runners. That is why our governments don’t bother about these things. They know we are a resilient lot. They must worry only about the NRIs – sorry, PIOs – those lucky persons of Indian origin who can now enjoy the citizenship of two countries. They are the ones who must be wooed now because they hold the purse strings. Dear prime minister, I cannot offer you dollars. But I am braving the hazards of your country with a smile. Don’t I deserve an award for that?
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