March 17, 2006

No dichotomy

Over at Don't trust the Indian Media!, K tells us about his recent visit to Vidarbha and to the family of a farmer who committed suicide there. He reflects:
    Imagine the dichotomy of an urbane, well-educated person standing with money, goods and clothes worth Rs 50,000 in front of a widow whose husband killed himself for Rs 20,000 and the lakh of rupees that his family will get after he dies. It happened with me. Can you look that widow in the eye and can you forgive your own wild consumerism? Can you forgive yourself for the regular five-star lunches you have when these people eat plain jowar rotis.
You know, it's hard to go meet such widows. I did it, ten days before K, and it was hard. I've found it similarly hard, for example, to meet the widow of a man killed in police custody in rural West Bengal, or to talk to a man whose brother died in that horrific fire in Godhra.

But I stop short at "Can you forgive your own wild consumerism?" and "Can you forgive yourself the regular five-star lunches?" Because to me, this skates too close to the thin ice of guilt, and (I'm getting deja vu all over again here) a more futile, useless emotion than guilt would be hard to imagine.

The people who effect change, in my experience, are the ones who bypass guilt altogether because they have no time or use for it. They also bypass theorizing and arguing and debating. They simply get down to doing something. It may not necessarily the "best" thing to be done in that situation, whatever that may mean. But because it gets done, because they simply buckle down to work, it makes a difference, and then who remembers all the discussion and debate?

There are lots of people who come to mind as I write these words. An IAS officer called Saroj Jha, handling cyclone relief and rehabilitation in Erasama in Orissa in 1999 (I mentioned him briefly here). A young woman called Revathi who started a school for tsunami-affected kids in Nagapattinam, the "R" in this article. There are more.

Writers like me come and go from places like Vidarbha. We agonize over what we have seen, then we write about it, then we get into wrangles with others, like us except that they have utterly different ideological opinions on What Needs To Be Done (Suitably Capitalized). It gets all bitter and contentious and snide -- but of course, you can bet that none of the argument actually ends up with any of us actually Doing Anything.

So I applaud the Revathis and Jhas of this world. They show me how pointless guilt is. They show me how things get done.

Me, I'll keep up with consumerism and lunches. I'll also keep going to places like Vidarbha. I see no dichotomy.

17 comments:

tejal said...

i didnt quite understand what u meant by "i see no dichotomy". u can carry on with u'r consumerism and also continue visiting Vidarbha... but u cannot deny that there is dichotomy.
didnt quite understand what u meant.
Abt K's article, i didnt think it was necessary for him to have given a long drawn out peamble abt how he is a neo-liberal, non-commie etc.etc. to sound authentic... almost as if , even though he is a main stream urban consumerist, he could see the plight of the farmers, so it counts more than what the Communists or social workers have been saying or writing...

k.r.a.k.t.i.k said...

I think guilt is important - sure, you mighn't be doing as much important work as Revathi or Jha - but without that guilt that you talk about abandoning, you wouldn't even be mentioning them in this article.

Guilt is good - it keeps us on track with our conscience - and more often than not its right. And its not necessary that to do something you have to be devoid of all guilt - some of the most noble work can come out of a single moment of guilt.

Don't agree with the guilt part, say what you will.

jammy said...

must have been tough. The only way out would be consider onself lucky. Whatever you do...will not bring happiness in her life again!

Dilip D'Souza said...

Maybe it was a confusing post! Maybe I'm confused.

Tejal, I think K was trying hard to be honest with his feelings when he visited there, and I applaud him for that. But I thought I should react to this "can you forgive yourself" question. Because to me, that's a meaningless and futile question. Some of us are always going to be privileged, some are not. It helps nobody to feel you can't forgive yourself for the privileged things you do. (Or to raise that question).

I do agree with you about K's preamble.

Kraktik, fair enough. If it works for you, good. For me, it doesn't.

Hmmm said...

"Some of us are always going to be privileged, some are not." - Dilip.

Dilip, what is the point of Other India ? To prove your above 100% accurate statement with 100s of examples ?

Neela said...

Dilip

Bravo! Well said! Truly, the Revathis and Jhas of the world are admirable.

I have always been one of those "what is the solution" brigade but I can understand the role of journalists and writing stories and driving awareness in a society. So yes, I admire those too.

About the guilt, well I am not quite sure. It is hard not to feel guilt when one reads such stories, much harder when one meets the actual victims. Unlike you, I think that some low levels of guilt might be useful in propelling action. For without some sense of guilt we feel no unfairness in a situation and that could be th emost dangerous thing of them all.

I think for people like me, pure consumerists, who neither write about stuff like this nor do the Revathi kind of work and frankly have not the motivation, patience or ability to do it, the hardest thing to figure out is :what can we do? and is what we do enough?

But thanks for this

Neela

Sanjit said...

"a more futile, useless emotion than guilt would be hard to imagine.

The people who effect change, in my experience, are the ones who bypass guilt altogether because they have no time or use for it."

I can't agree more!!

I know a person who quit a drink or two he would have over the weekend because he felt guilty that he wasted money while there were kids going hungry in this world. I am not sure whether he donates the amount he saves but anyway that was the idea behind quitting the drink (not that he was a drunkard).

I guess he would be an example of one who overcame guilt and went ahead with what he thought could be his bit for the kids of this world.

There are many who wud just feel guilty and guilty and .....! I guess being guilty becomes a comfort zone for most. Isn't it fashionable too?? Maybe I am being a bit too pessimistic, maybe.

And then there are those who don't feel guilty at all (I guess that is what u meant by bypassing guilt). They are unabashed about whatever they do and that could mean having all the fun in the world and also serving the society in the way they want to, if they want to.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for visting Vidarbha and writing about it. I guess thats what the region needs to get attention - a man from Mumbai taking the pains of coming, touring and publishing...

Journalist of the region are puppets in the hand of local politicians who are in turn puppets in the hands of their western overloards.

Thanks again

Rahul said...

tejal - I don't see where guilt comes into it. First, it's not our fault that the farmers are in bad shape. Second, if we all stopped eating in restaurants a huge number of people will be out of jobs. Consumerism makes the economy go around. Why do you think capitalist economies have consistently done better than socialist ones?

This is not at all incompatible with feeling that something has to be done to help the farmers. We should do what we can to help them. And most of us do something. But what? Giving them money? I have done that (not to a farmer -- to a lady in the cleaning crew in my workplace, who was deep in debt), but if I give away all my worldly wealth I will help at most 10-20 people and there will still be thousands in trouble.

We need to do something, but feeling guilty about consumerism doesn't achieve anything.

Anirudh said...

Agreed. But guilt isn't always deliberate. Sometimes you just feel guilty.

K said...

Dilip, the particular paragraph is being taken out of context in a way and I quote myself...
At a level, you can. After all, throughout your life you have seen utter poverty right beside you and not given a shit at traffic crossings across India have become dehumanised like soldiers in World War II. So none of us has really given a damn for the vagrant in the street. Its normal for a Mercedes S-Class to drive past slums or a man with three Mont-Blanc pens to jostle with a daily wage labourer in a Bombay local. We're used to it.
I did feel awful, at that point. Now, I'm back in my reality, the stench of Mahim creek filling my pickled nostrils. At the end of the day I have to do a story on the issue and guilt can never play a part. Yes, you feel gutted at the moment, and if you have to ANY change at all, you must feel gutted. You HAVE to see the reality to make any changes. I see nothing wrong in going out and spending Rs 500 at a restuarant at Pali Naka or Rs 1000 at bar, I don't plan to pick up a Enfield rifle and join the Naxalites. And I still believe that it is not socialist inspired dictats that will improve these peoples lives it is private sector participation. But the private sector has to be prodded to do that - and maybe the only argument I'm willing to buy here is that Vidarbha could be a separate state.
At the end of the day, all I was trying to say in my post is that until and unless something is done the danger of creating two India's exists. That is a Dichotomy.
Cheers and lets catch up sometime!

Ajit said...

This is a universal question which really has no answer.. About guilt, I think it really depends on the situation.. There is no absolute answer to it.. Sometimes you tend to think, 'Why worry about it coz anyway you aint gonna do anything'.. Sometimes u might think 'Anyway u aint gonna do anything.. So we can always do what little we can..We can atleast share their troubles and feel for them..'
And yeah.. Its really confusing me up too!!..

tejal said...

k- "the danger of creating two india's exists" - u mean there aren't two india's already?... from u'r article i thought u said there are. Neway that apart, i disagree with u on the bit where u say that private sector participation is the answer (or a possible answer). The private sector exists to create capital and make profits. The Vidarbha farmer's plight is largely due to the neo liberal policies of the state, the policies that support privatization. This "free market" does not have any place for the marginalized, and instead of incorporating them, it eliminates them like it is doing in Vidarbha.

kuffir said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
kuffir said...

k:
how would vidarbha being a separate state help?
anyone:how can a few thousand ngos help 100 million farmers in the fight against drought/distress/debt ..(can't think of anymore alliterative words but..)?

March 20, 2006 12:41 AM

1teardrop said...

dear Dilip,
i am interested in this topic aand hence am gathering information. could you send me ur email id so that i could get in touch with you. it would be of great help if you could send me the names and the work of some of the writers of that region to whom i can talk to.
thanks.

Dilip D'Souza said...

1teardrop, send me a note at ddd AT rediff DOT co DOT in.