Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Hollow People

Two very dissimilar incidents in the recent past pointed out people's hollowness to me and made me react enough to post about them. I'll talk very briefly about the first incident and go on to the second one that affected me more deeply.
The first one was noteworthy because it stirred the most laid-back guy I know into action when a hundred others were sitting and cursing their luck. We happened to get stuck in a not very uncommon Mumbai phenomenon -- a traffic jam. The uncommon things about this jam were that it occurred in one of the least happening suburbs of Mumbai, on a weekday, in one of the arterial roads, in a direction that is opposite to the usual flow of traffic and at around half past eleven in the night. We drove into a long queue of stalled vehicles on our way back home from a rare outing to get some much-needed ice-cream post a particularly bland dinner rustled up by our household help. After waiting patiently for about 10 mins my husband decided to check out the reason for the jam. He apparently walked half a kilometre before he ran out of steam and gave up the quest to sit out the jam in the car. I was in my PJs and refused to step out of the car. My bored brother decided he should grab this opportunity to pollute the air and spoil his lungs one more time. On his quest for a smoke, he walked around a kilometre and half and reached the spot the jam originated. He realised that all of us were in quite a pickle. An ambitious truck driver had broken the axle of his truck in an attempt to manouver his way onto the main road from a bylane via a narrow path through one of the cordoned off Monorail construction sites. There was no way we could move unless the truck was towed away. There were about hundred vehicles behind the truck and not one of the occupants had the energy to think of a solution. Appalled at the passivity, the most laid-back person I know, i.e my brother, donned the leadership mantle and made the appropriate noises to stir some people into action. He called the fire-station who directed him to traffic-control. The somnolent person on the line at the traffic-control centre noted the location of the jam and said that action will be taken in due course. Meawhile, the lately charged up drivers realised the traffic could clear, despite the unfortunate postion of the truck, if one car driver does a slighty difficult manoeuver. The risk in this option was a couple of scratches to the car. The owner refused to expose his car to that kind of risk and declared that he will stay put till the truck moves, while his aged mother and pretty partner were watching his performance from the passenger seats. Finally, the home-guard on duty awoke to his duties and suggested that all the vehicles lined up for about 2 kms behind this car should carefully drive reverse till they reach the diversion that would lead them onto a parallel road. This suggestion was readily taken up by drivers with all levels of skills and all kinds of vehicles. They shifted their gears to gently drive reverse and the traffic jam was cleared in about half an hour. This was choreoraphed by my brother and a bunch of people lead by an energetic middle-aged man. So, nearly 50 drivers risked hurting others and crashing their vehicles because one driver refused to risk a few scratches on his car!
I thought the kind of hollowness displayed by the car owner needs to be written about when something more personal overshadowed the personality traits of a stranger.
Yesterday, I keyed in my name on a Google Images search to show a dorky old photograph of mine to a new friend. To my utter surprise a blast from the past stared back at me. Click here to know the details on this. I followed it to find that my name occurred in a response to a newspaper story about caste-based reservation in our country. The story was in itself quite pointless and was almost flippant in its treatment of a serious social issue. To worsen the harm done by that kind of an article, the first respondent's reaction to the article was tangential and rather unnecessary. In this unnecessary response, the respondent, who happens to be one of my oldest friends, mentioned me as one of the priveleged people in our country on account of my caste. She noted that people like me happen to be on the merit list of national universities due to the accident of our being born in families that belong to particular Hindu communities. To me, the most astonishing factor in her writing was that she and I happen to come from families that belong to the same community! Simple logic would show that if I were to be considered priveleged, by the same token, so should she. So why not own up to the 'privelege', if any, rather than 'discuss' the 'priveleges' others seem to have. Especially since she and the writer of the article had better ranks on the merit list she mentioned! Just goes to show that caste-based 'priveleges' are not the only deciding factors in merit lists. Things like access to good colleges also count. Having had access to better colleges than mine, I'm amazed they forgot the 'priveleges' they enjoyed.
And the most cutting bit of the incident for me was the fact that, she carelessly used my name knowing fully well that my views on caste-based reservations have been seriously misunderstood during a specific agitation on gender issues in our student days. So, here's to my first use of a new verb in the English language. I have decided to unfriend her.
PS: Taking this opportunity to set the record straight on caste-based reservation -- I completely support equal opportunities as I believe that it helps in bridging the gap that cultural capital brings about. In case, the main protagonists of the newspaper story incident happen to read this one, the phrase you were looking for is 'cultural capital', remember Raymond Williams?