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Sunday, June 1, 2014

The change you want, All or Nothing... you game?

The regional newspapers have been cribbing on about taxicab drivers in Kolkata refusing passengers despite the no-refusal directive and charging rates exceeding the metered fare. From time to time, reporters go undercover as potential passengers, exposing these violations and photographing the offending drivers. The responses of the drivers appearing on these features range from the apologetic ("...I didn't know the rules, never again...") to the defiant ("...I have the number of many police constables, you want them?") but the middle order comprises drivers who, usually politely, justify their violations with stories of police and political forces demanding bribes for their regular parking and plying, the costs of which they must recover from the passengers. "Please understand, we're poor people...", say the younger drivers; the older, disillusioned ones replace the entreaty with a resigned accusation: "You rich people don't get the troubles of the poor".
Meanwhile, the situation remains unchanged, and most passengers comply with the drivers' wishes because, simply put, who has the time to argue? The worst hit are people like us who go into the state capital on limited time to avail facilities missing in our hometowns: everything from medical care to examination centres. We're on the clock, far from home, dragging luggage, hungry, and want whatever we're there doing to be over fast: so we shut up and pay, and end up contributing to the problem -- something that my family and I have done countless times. On a day trip to Kolkata today (yesterday, by my watch), we did it again. The driver, on enquiry, gave us the middle order's answer, even pointing out to us the guy who charged them for access to the exhausted passengers fresh off the long distance buses. "From where shall we recover those costs? From you, obviously, right?... You get it?" And of course, we got it.
No, people, I shall not lecture you on how change begins from one person, how each one of us should stand up against wrongdoing, that our righteousness will inspire others and create a movement... nuh-uh. It's bull, eh? Though that has happened in history, it usually takes a lot of bleeding to stir people up that much. For small things like taxicabs, the balance of probability is towards the harassment of the minority with courage and/or too much time on their hands, while the complacent majority feeds the moral decay. As idealistic as I am, I know that going against the flow is tough, real tough, and never ever will everyone, at once, have the courage or the resources to do it...
...and therein lies the problem. Having established that never ever will everyone rise up at once, we circle back to the situation where someone has to begin, but who will it be? (I'm assuming here that the people who are okay with the status quo, ie. the 'chalta hai' population have stopped reading this by now). Will the taxi driver endanger his livelihood to face the corrupt cop or will the out-of-town passengers with a patient in their midst wait for a metered taxi?
From Kolkata to India, if you please: will Hindus stop saffron activism and live in fear (be it rational or not) of being wiped off the land, or will Muslims give up their self-respect and relent to the incessant discrimination and branding as 'terrorists'?
From India to the world now : Will the developed nations give up their nuclear arms to set a good example, hence risking terrorist attack, or will the small fry stop testing theirs to keep outward peace, as unfair as that may be?
I presume you get the general idea.
No one will act first. Ever. On the other hand, everyone will never act at once, because everyone fears that if they act, they might be the first to do so. The only thing that will bring any change is the very unity that, if it ever existed, stands destroyed by fear and mistrust. We all know what we want : we want morality, reform, justice; and we take every opportunity to complain about the lack thereof. The mathematically impossible occurrence of everyone putting their foot down at once is the only thing that can get us all that we want, but its impossibility lies in the fact that there simply must be a small lag: someone has to, even if by an infinitesimal time interval, go first. And once that hurdle is overcome, someone has to go second, which is almost as difficult to do, because 7 billion something minus two is still 7 billion something, and the minority will remain a minority for 3.5 billion and something precious infinitesimal moments, integrating into quite some time. The reform gamble, if won, will be to the world's benefit; but if lost, it will crush the brave minority and set back all progress made. Now, which fool will risk personal crushing to save the world, especially if they have the option to spend a few extra bucks, tell a few grey lies, and scrape through life?
No one, you say, and I kind of agree, which is why, as promised, this is not a lecture. I'm just saying, y'know, that the big names -- Gandhi, King, Lincoln -- all braved the gamble and went first, and won. Countless others, of course, played at the same gamble and lost, which is why we don't know their names, but they did exist. And after the firsts, many gambled to be second, third, fourth. Some got lucky, some suffered death and worse. Most of us, though (me included, because this is not a lecture, remember?), do nothing and stay safe. So here we are: the changes I want, you want, everyone wants, will happen if someone goes first, just infinitesimally first, but other people may or may not gamble to be second, or if someone does, there might be no third. But, despite how much you are hating me right now, please do face this: deep inside we all measure people by where they come in that gambling order, by how many infinitesimal moments away they are from the one that went first. We will respect the 100th gambler a little more than the 101st; we will honour the nuns who refuse to bribe cops for charity permits a wee bit more than we honour the lawyer who represents them pro bono, because the former gambled first, without any assurance of anyone like the latter turning up.
And that is why I'm just casually pointing out that it's an open gamble for anyone who's game, the stakes being all the reform we yell for, and for respect from our fellows. So, y'know, if you're one of the rich people who does not like being accused of not understanding the problems of the poor, or one of those world peace lovers or something... no pressure, just think about the possibility of jumping in. You think, and I will think too, and maybe one of us will have the guts to place our bets. Just saying. Because as of now, it's bleak and we kind of are doomed, so just, y'know, hopin'...



Afterthought... should we all just take a break from everything, Pablo Neruda-style? Is it practical?

Btw, my heartiest congratulations to the new Government of India, the new ruling party, and the new PM Mr. Modi. You have the country's mandate, and five years to show us if you have the heart to gamble for reform. You also have no room for error -- if the Modi sarkar fails after all this hype, janta maaf nahi karegi. So good luck, and Jai Hind.

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