I came across this graphic today on twitter.
Predictably for Indians, the top concern is religious and ethnic hatred and not inequality. While I understand that communalism, regionalism, casteism and all the other ‘isms’ are media favourites, political favourites and hot topics in drawing room discussions, I find it strange that ‘poorism’ is not of much concern to the Indian people. I’m not getting into the methodology that Pew might have used for this and whether their sample was sufficiently representative of the varying income levels in India, but what the survey is saying corroborates well with what I observe around me.
Those of us who research and practice in the area of poverty and human development are usually preaching to the choir when we express our concerns. Most Indians, sometimes including the poor, are not really concerned about the issue of income inequality in India. Is it that we have normalised inequality? Or is it that we believe in the passiveness of the Indian poor who will never rebel? Or do we really believe that India is decimating poverty rapidly enough for it to not be a concern?
I don’t have the answers, but I sure find it interesting. Also, perhaps if we focused more on bringing down inequality, the other ‘isms’ might matter less? What do you think?
Yet another article, in the Business Standard this time, highlights the cultural contrasts between the original inhabitants of Gurgaon and its original inhabitants. “The two sets of people do not share public spaces — so vital for a city to become a melting pot of cultures. For example, the city’s sought-after clubs are out of bounds for the villagers because they do not fit the profile,” write journalist Veena Sandhu. Access to private schools is equally difficult for rural children, despite their immense material prosperity. It is a strange situation, by any standards.
I happen to frequent several days a week a space where these two worlds do meet. My gym. Owned by a local, most instructors in the gym belong to Gurgaon’s urban villages. The customers are a mixed bag of ‘us’ and ‘them’. The interaction has helped me look at the young men with a different lens. Often labeled as aggressive and uncouth, the citizens of modern, glitzy Gurgaon would like to dismiss the city’s rural young, avoid them. I, however, see their immense dedication to their bodies, their single minded focus and determination when they work out. I have not once (in several months) seen them ogle at a woman, flirt with one or even come anywhere close without permission. Initially, my attitude was as neutral as possible, perhaps even avoiding eye contact totally. Then slowly, I felt myself relax. Initially a smile would get a stiff response, almost a scared one lest I judge him. Now the regulars will smile back or even have a conversation in the lift. My trainer never introduces me to any of these friends of his by name; that comfort level has not been reached yet. But our distrust is as much the cause for this as the actual cultural divide.
I see spaces like this (and its good to take these spaces even more public than a membership-based gym) as a great opportunity to initiate interaction and sports can be a starting point to evolve a new culture for this city, which is young and in a delicate formative stage. I feel that we are so quick to judge, almost as if someone passing a diktat to allow intermingling will miraculously overnight resolve these issues. And then a woman gets molested, and everything clams shut again, the abyss deepened, trust destroyed.
We need to give this city time to evolve and find its balance. Yes, efforts must be made to initiate those dialogues, and equal opportunity is a good starting point especially in areas like education. Personally too, it is important that we get out of our shells and really open our eyes to the realities, to the ‘human’ side of the people around us.
The last Open House session at Shikshantar, which is where my kids study, was about ‘autonomy and boundaries’. Many relevant things were revealed and discussed through case vignettes assigned to parent groups as exercises.
It’s clear we live in stressful times. A consumption driven economic philosophy is pushing the world towards a me-myself-mine mindset and each of us wants to succeed within this paradigm, creating a stressed and performance-oriented life. Our kids are at the receiving end of this lifestyle. We fail on two fronts here. We curtail their autonomy by being over instructive. The luxury of negotiation is no longer a part of our lives. It’s simply too tiring and time consuming! We also are unable to clearly set boundaries. On one hand, we expect discipline, but we also give in to demands easily. We end up confusing our kids about right and wrong, what’s ok and what’s not!
In all of this, what’s most critical is that by controlling children’s lives, over protecting them, over monitoring them, we are not letting them develop some of the most critical life skills. Ability to resolve conflict, confront bad situations, just ‘deal with it’ basically. As parents, teachers, coaches, we need to recognize that children must go through their own struggle, on their own. We may help them out if we see they are stuck and seeking help, but a lot of the sorting out needs to be done within themselves, through self-reflection, goal setting, prioritization and other critical skills we all covet and use (or not!) daily.
I had the opportunity to experience a heart wrenching moment this afternoon. Udai and me were in music class. We have individual lessons, one after the other. Each of us sits in on the other’s class. He is starting afresh and has been having a hard time with getting a couple of notes right. These notes, the Sa and Re, are critical. It’s impossible for the teacher to move ahead unless he perfects the essential saptasura. This concept was being drilled into him again and again, in a firm but nice manner. He was just not getting it right! I could sense the struggle, sense the tears welling up. I watched him fight them back, control himself. He snapped himself out of the emotional web, concentrated on instructions and managed to improve his rendition within the half an hour time span of the class.
Through this, much as my heart ached for him, I said not a word. He did not once look to me for help or support. He chose to bond directly with his guru and leave me out of this. I am proud of him for making that choice, for showing the maturity and for taking a challenge on directly and forthrightly.
It’s a small example, but I really do feel my kids benefit hugely from me staying out of their hair! All those of you who have the opportunity to influence a young person, all those who are role models in whatever way, it’s a great adage to hold on to- Let them struggle! It’ll be a lot more helpful than making life unrealistically simple for the little ones, who must grow up one day, soon enough, too soon in fact!