Comfort Zone : From the pulpit of ‘Feel good factor’

This is the age of consumption. Consumption drives production. Production drives profits. Profits create mirages of unending happiness. We chase these mirages. We are exhorted to consume literally everything from cradle to coffin. We are promised that consumption will bestow innumerable joys. But we need to earn to consume. To consume more we must earn more. Consumption is our nirvana. We sit before TV sets. We spend our time browsing sports, glamour, travel, high living or simply soak in the languor of serial soaps. In between clever advertisements tell us where to find the next oases of happiness. We are sold & we buy dreams of light skins, enviable figures, insatiable stamina, luxury in mobility, cruises in the paradise, – a veritable Garden of Eden, or better. New dreams give rise to new desires. Next day we have new mirages to chase. We believe in freedom, liberty and pursuit of happiness. We take the democratic polity as given, but rarely do we value it. We take great pleasure in criticizing the state of affairs, but we seldom vote. We have no stake in the outcome of elections. We know our lives will go on more or less as before no matter who comes to power. We know this but we never wonder why it has to be so.
Sometimes we are shaken from our self contented stupor. We do get agitated when we see ‘democracy’ is violated. When the followers of Raj Thackeray rough up a fellow legislator for taking his oath in Hindi or when office & employees of IBN7 are attacked by those who swear by Bal Thackeray; we condemn their parochial thinking. Raj sees fellow citizens from UP & Bihar flocking to Mumbai as the cause of all Marathi troubles. Or Bal Thackeray views brother citizens belonging to other faiths, notably Muslims, as the source of all problems of the Hindus. Chief Minister & Home Minister assure that stringent action will be taken against miscreants & law will take its own course, whatever it is supposed to mean. They feel vindicated with those brave words. We feel assured that something is being done. When Sachin Tendulkar bats for ‘Mumbai belongs to all Indians’, our confidence in ourselves is restored. We all rally behind him as one. We also rally as one, join candle light vigils, peace marches as we did when terrorists struck at Taj & Trident (or Chabad House. We often forget pedestrian CST where the highest murders took place) on 26th November last year. Thus assuaged we return back to our cocooned lives happy we have done our bit. Everything is forgotten by everybody until the next stirrings.
We have clash of hotly contested opinions with our class fellows when urban sprawl in which we live hits hard. Chaotic traffic jams, piling garbage bins, ugly shanties, pot holed roads, erratic power, petty graft, begging children at crossings, etc. disturb our pretty picture. The daily staple of news regarding rape/murder/dacoity/strikes/ corruption/burglary wreaks vengeance upon us. It spoils the coziness of our cocooned lives. We miss the feel good factor. We blame all these ills on someone else. We are law abiding citizens. How could we be responsible for all these evils? We fail to see Bal or Raj within us. We overlook the fact that like them we too have reduced the discourse to We versus They. We get angry when we find sundry hawkers blocking pavements to eke out a living. But we are oblivious when we park our cars on road and block traffic – roads are meant for moving vehicles. We hate the eyesores that slums present, but we want the cheap home maids, cooks, car washers, gardeners, drivers that come out of them. We want our holidays, sick leave, allowances, pension funds, weekly off; but are roiled if they want the same. We willingly pay extortionists prices in boutique stores & malls, but call street vendors or cabdrivers cheats for charging a few rupees more.  We rant against pickpockets, thieves and general lawlessness; but we indulge in insider trading, tax evasion, or bypassing laws through innovative methods.  We detest the graft at all levels, but pay out speed-money to get the ‘work’ done. We accept salary under different heads, in cash & in kind, to avoid tax in a neat arrangement between employer & employees. We open several units to keep workforce small or in modern days outsource work to avoid paying just salaries, Provident Fund, unionization, providing crèche and we call it avoiding headaches. We keep two or more sets of account books to create a parallel world hidden from the government. While they cheat we innovate. We do all this in a comforting belief that we don’t have a choice. What to do when the system is like that? We unabashedly enjoy an unjust, unearned, undeserved systemic advantage.
We fear the rise of urban lumpen youth, but forget the uncontrollable desires planted in their hearts by the great consumer dream. Pickpockets and thieves, mind you accused not convicts, were recently paraded by Mumbai police before the shopkeepers of a locality. Few saw the patent injustice of it all. What about similarly parading Raju of Satyam, Ketan Parikh of Bombay Stock Exchange, Reddys of Bellary, Manu Sharma of Jessica murder case, Madhu Koda of Jharkhand, and may be the rest of us? When faced with a proposal to stone a sinner, Christ countered by saying that only a person who hasn’t sinned may pelt the first stone. None were pelted. Today no Christ or Buddha is amongst us to hold mirror to our faces. No one to show how starkly unjust the system is.
This is the story in urban centers. At the top is the miniscule minority that controls all the wealth & power. That minority is the system. Below it are ‘we the Consumers’ who help turn the wheel of greed ceaselessly by insatiable consumption and keep the system going. At the bottom are the toiling poor in the city who make our lives comfortable in a million ways. They aspire to climb into the middle of the pyramid. Aspire to realize our lifestyles. We aspire to move up the comfort chain, possibly to join the gods at the top. There is a frenzy to get rich. Get rich quick. Anyhow! Somehow! A frenzy that has knocked out our senses and has reduced us to uncaring beings.  But inhabitants of villages, forests and remote areas do not even figure in this scheme of things. They are not consumers. Tribals don’t have place in this pyramid.
A P J Abdul Kalam was the most popular president at least in last 35 years or so I can assert. He was humble, he was frugal, his conduct was irreproachable & above all he was simple & approachable even as president. These are admirable qualities in any president. But I don’t think that alone explains his charm. He asked us to dream. We liked that, because that is what we have been doing. He made us dream of India – a super power by 2020. He also thought of an innovation – PURA. PURA means providing urban amenities in rural areas. PURA was not a gargantuan project to cover whole of rural India. It was a modest proposal to demonstrate in about 5000 out of some total 600,000 villages the power of integrated development. One such place selected was Bhaktara in Chhattisgarh. A cluster of 22 villages with 36,000 inhabitants were to get four lane high quality roads, battery operated bio-diesel buses, a thousand modern dwelling units, state of the art school, 250-bed modern hospital, and paramedical & nursing training  institute. Kalam wanted to teach even villagers to dream so as to unleash their creative energies too. It was his idea of what makes for transformational catalyst. It was this ability of Kalam to create a ‘feel good factor‘that really endeared him to us. We love feel good factor. Everyone loves it. But when Joseph John of Indian Express recently visited Bhaktara he could not even locate the sign boards announcing the scheme. As if PURA never existed, as if Kalam never launched the project, as if it was all a dream – or not even that. Inhabitants of Bhaktara were not even equipped to dream such dreams. This is the story of the heart of India.
Tribals living in the heart of India breathe air, drink water off the streams, cultivate food if they are allowed to or live off the forest as only they know how to. State neglect so far has been so complete that schools, health centers, agricultural extension services, improved seeds, irrigation, micro-credit etc. that government schemes boast of providing to our rural populace are conspicuous by their absence here. Yet they survived, may be barely. But now their days of neglect are over. They have been chosen for special attention. They have been selected for the intense scrutiny of the Indian state. The state wants their land. Below these lands lies immense mineral wealth. The top of the pyramid wants these lands. Minerals underneath their habitat are capable of turning the wheel of greed faster & faster. Minerals out in the open means more goods, more consumption, more profits, and still more factories. Faster & Faster! The glint of gold is shining into the future. Tribals don’t understand this. They are stubborn. They resist being shooed off from their lands. They refuse to walk quietly into oblivion. They don’t realize they are the problemscarifying them is in ‘national interest’. They are holding up progress. The system is impatient. System is goading the State to do something. Do something fast. State is foaming at its mouth with greed & anger. It has let itself loose. The carnage of tribals looks imminent. We are unconcerned. We have our dreams to chase. We feed on the goods the System serves us. We are content with consuming the news the State gives us. We are blissful in our “nirvana”.
Yet the world is interconnected. Chinese & Indian leaders are hawking dreams of reaching US & European standards of living to their constituencies. The wheel of greed wants to turn even faster. Faster & Faster! Rocketing consumption is gobbling forests, wetlands, coral reefs, and other balancers in nature. Earth just cannot sustain that kind of lifestyle for every earthling. What is needed for the developed countries to do is sacrifice their luxuries, to axe their grotesquely bloated consumption, so that everyone can live decently in a sustainable world.  The demon of consumerism has to be halted in its tracks. Climate is changing. Climate is warming.  Climate knows no boundaries. Climate is delicately balanced, but it is also blind. It recognizes no elite, no super powers, no guilty or innocents. Warnings of climate change are ominous. Climate change will unleash droughts, water scarcity, famines, and hunger deaths. We are as if in a train that is hurtling towards an abyss, a certain perdition. But the partying of consumers is in full spate. Drums of insatiable greed are beating louder & louder. Nobody knows where this is leading. No one is concerned. No one cares. It is a state of ecstasy. But the fabric of universe is such that whatever we do to it will come back to us later with interest & more. Everything will be accounted for. Everyone will be held accountable.
Post Script : 
1.       Himanshu Kumar, a Gandhian and the only human rights activist on ground zero in faraway Dantewada where Operation Green Hunt is to be launched, says, “We can all be agreed on the premise that Naxalism is a problem, but why are these poor people attracted to a politics that will end in death? Have we created such a heinous system that death is more attractive than the deprivations and humiliations this system doles out? If that is so, why should I defend this system? All that these people want is food, health care, school, clothes and their legitimate right over their land. Yet, instead of weaning them away by strengthening the democratic process, if we are going to run our democracy only on the strength of weapons, I fear we are entering a dangerous and irreparable state. We are headed for civil war.” Men like Himanshu should know. For 17 years, he has functioned like an ICU on the edges of a wounded society, providing education and health care, painstakingly drawing tribals into the electoral and constitutional process. The government, loath to undertake the trouble, has been happy to outsource its functions to him. Yet now, it is deaf to his wisdoms.” – Tehelka.
2.     Vedanta Resources published a full front page advertisement in Indian Express on 18th November 2009. Among its achievements following caught the eye. JCommunity development initiatives improving the lives of over 2.5 Million people in 427 villages through education, self-employment, mid-day meals to school children, women empowerment, health & hygiene and other programmes – a major initiative towards socio-economic development of communities at large.J5% of the profit committed towards development of Kalahandi – Creating a new model for local area development. I have written to them asking for details, such as names of 427 villages state/district/Tehsil wise.

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One Response to “Comfort Zone : From the pulpit of ‘Feel good factor’”

  1. A C Rao Says:

    Hi there,

    Most of our Resources are in Rural India.
    Forests,unpolluted air, farmlands rivers,springs etc are in rural areas. Thus rural folks should be regarded as protectors of our wealth, resources and treated with respect.
    Education in the rural areas should be different from that in Urban India. It should be centered ofcourse around the 3 R's and then towards using local resources to earn their livehood e.g rattan/bamboo chairs, tables. Science should teach how to use mechanised equipment, pumps, motors, improving efficiency of tools and equipment used by rural folks, e.g. sickle made of carbon steel which get sharpened on use, rubberised wheels for the bullock cart, mechanics of tractors, use of natural fertilisers ( cow dung, jageery, cow urine, vermiculture), increasing yield of crops by using scientific farming etc
    Why is it that common items like toothpaste , bread, aggarbattis have to be transported from urbal areas to rural areas by middle men?. Why is it that we never see local bakeries?. I am sure the rural folks can make better bread on their own, make aggarbatties, cane furniture etc thereby boosting local employment and income. It is high time local folks use local products. When I went to rural Karnataka a fortnight back,I tried a local aerated drink 'Ginger Pop” a cola with a ginger flavour. It definitely beat Sprite, & Up in taste!!
    Recharging of dried up springs, increasing water supply by linking and cleaning up ponds etc, making semi arid land valuble by planting the right type of crops etc can bring confidence to the farmers and maybe reverse flow of rural folks to Urban areas.
    There is a lot of wealth in rural areas ( no wonder Tatas, Reliance etc want to exploit it) and rural folks should be educated ( mobile phones which give latest prices on local crops, local weather conditions, use of fertisers etc ) on how to preserve and increase'value'.
    This could also solve the Maoist and violent agitations in rural and tribal areas.
    Is anyone listening??
    Cheers
    A C Rao

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