As election fever grips the nation with Rajasthan, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh in poll mode; as the mind grapples with the several grey areas in the charges of sexual assault leveled at erstwhile respected and now much maligned citizens; as I worry about a nation pushing its multitudes of poor further to the sidelines in its current state of enamor for a particular strain of neo-liberal thinking…
In the midst of all this, I read with delight the news about India’s Mars spacecraft successfully exiting Earth’s orbit on its way to the Red Planet. I realized I had been worrying in my subconscious mind about the craft going off track and the profound sense of relief and pride that washed over me was both amusing and heartening.
I have to remind myself everyday that India is a good story. Not just because it is my country and I have more than my share of patriotism inside me, but because I see immense positives everyday. We are not a nation that has given up, we are on the street trying our best everyday. I refuse to believe in that self-created image of Indians as a people happy with status quo. No, we are restless for change and that is hugely hopeful. Let’s not give into the media-created hype of negativity, but look around us at all the success stories and brave attempts being made every day by ordinary people who want to live a good life, do a good job and leave a sound legacy behind for an undoubtedly capable generation to take on.
Migration has been my area of interest for a very long time. Academically, I studied housing choices among Asian Indian immigrants in the United States, focusing on Houston. My masters dissertation outlined the radical differences between the settlement patterns of Indians as compared to other ethnic groups. What was interesting about the study was that by opting to mingle in among the others in American suburbs, Indians were making a brave attempt (and making a statement) at assimilation barely a few years after migrating. Ghettoism of any kind is seen only during festivals and other cultural celebrations and rarely otherwise. the Indians I interviewed thought of themselves as American. Being Indian was a cultural thing for them.
Even back then, I was fascinated with the parallels I could draw by studying the migration of poor rural migrants to urban areas in India. If I assume that the location and type of housing is a sign of the intent of assimilation, I cannot study this group. Because of the tremendous barriers they face in accessing housing, because of the low supply, because of the rising land prices that are pricing the poor out of the market entirely, because of the lack of access to finance for those among the urban poor that do manage to make a decent living from informal employment.
This entire situation in Assam reminds me of America too. Here, there is much discussion about the Muslim immigrant from Bangladesh and he is the bad guy. In the US, the techie Indian who takes away white collar jobs from Americans is the bad guy. Both images that are popular and widely accepted have serious flaws. They’re not really very sound, these caricatures, in my opinion. And your response depends on which side you are.
Essentially, the response is to reject the migrant as an ‘outsider’. A rather fading argument in a rapidly globalizing world. We must remember that it is either opportunity in the place of migration or repression and lack of opportunity in the home state that fuels migration, or both. It is important to look at the larger picture. What about the positive aspects of migration? Many Indian cities would not survive without migration; I could even argue that none of them would. Migration is essential. We need to learn to manage it and look at the positives in trying to harness a variety of skill sets that migrants provide, the services and goods they consume, the economy within the economy that they drive.
So it’s official. No less than 59% of us Indians are dissatisfied with the state of India and most of us blame the government for the sorry state of affairs. I agree, it’s frustrating. When we read the news, watch TV, talk with friends about politics, caste wars, molested women, apathetic cops, poverty, torture, espionage, violence, potholes, road rage, it is natural to feel helpless. We think of ourselves as victims, powerless figures that cannot make a difference. I feel that way too. But I know that is the root of the problem, this viewing of problems as residing on someone elses plate.
Each one of us are contributing to the state of affairs and we need to look into ourselves first. Little things matter, and not just in the sense of little drops constituting an ocean. Rather, they matter because if you get the attitude right for little things, there is a chance you will have a more balanced perspective for the larger picture as well.
For instance, I can visualize many homes that tut-tut at the Guwahati molestation incident, but do not raise their sons to respect women. Many middle class parents talk about gender equality, but refuse to send their daughters to study away from home because she is a ‘girl’, even at the cost of her missing an excellent opportunity. And so and so forth, issues related to safety and dignity for women seem particularly hard to crack. We’ve been a chauvinistic society for centuries, but this degeneration into completely obstinate and meaningless gender disparity is scary on many levels. We live with so much fear that its impossible to view the problem in an objective manner. We’ve got so used to this discourse, that the anger that seethes over every time something horrific happens simply vanishes in a while, leading us back to our state of complacence.
So what can we do? For starters, let’s reinforce the positivity in our life. Let’s renounce the philosophy of fear and protectiveness. Let’s make small efforts to be nice to people around us, the people we meet in the lift, on the streets, on the way to work, the office boy, the maid, the person next to you in the Metro. It’s made a huge difference to my personal attitude since I decided to smile at everyone that catches my eye on my way to work. Perhaps some people think I’m batty, but at least I give them entertainment!
As I read endless tweets denouncing the Guwahati molestation and the crazy Panchayat decision from Bhagpat, UP that trates women like cattle, I made a decision. On the days I find negative information washing away my enthusiasm for life, I shall look for the positives and blog about them. Enough in enough! I do not believe this life isn’t worth living any more, nor am I prepared to give up on the future. Against reason, I seek the positives…take special note, my friend who wants me to change my blog name to grumblinginthecity! 🙂
‘Small Remedies’ by Shashi Deshpande. I just finished it today and I must say it has completely absorbed me for the past few days. Such fine insights into how we think, and particularly about the many fears and insecurities we harbor and how much we lie to ourselves.
A line of thought that particularly struck me- that ultimately we only want to keep away the negatives from our life; everything we do is about that. But the thing is, disaster, misery, disappointment and many other negatives await us, round the corner. Of late, I’ve caught myself having irrational fears at the strangest moments. I miss a call from home and I wonder if my child is unwell. Rahul doesn’t call at the end of a flight and I wonder….the more you have invested in certain relationships, the more you fear for the ones you love.
I am aware of the pointlessness of fear. I really want to break out of these cycles of negativity. Reading the book made me realize that we hold on to the fears because we perceive it as a proof of our love, because we seek our own attention through it, because we are ashamed to express these fears and let them out of our system. We feed on our fears and become objects of pity in our own eyes. Yes, its ridiculous, but life is very strange.
I guess it is important to reinforce the positives in your life. I’ve taken to doing that every time I experience negative emotions. I tell myself to enjoy all the good stuff while it is there. Life is short. Its good to live the moment, take the pleasures on offer and move on. For not moving on is the only option we do not have.