Of privilege and other things…

So there was Nardine Gordimer’s ‘The Conservationist’, 270 pages of description after description, set in South Africa during Apartheid. Descriptions of a child sitting with 11 guinea fowl eggs, of hippos aborting in times of drought. Of a dead black man lying face down in a pasture. There’s the rich white farmer, increasingly feeling cut off from his world of business and a family that seems to just hate him. There’s his mistress, a leftist who mocks his way of life. Most dialogues are his diatribes against ‘their kind’. “If only I had your money-” she says, always in the background. An opportunistic farmer, he buys acres of land and has black labourers who are already there work on it. He has no idea how the whole process of farming happens, and is routinely patronised, first by his labourers and then by his neighbour Boers. A sense of not belonging anywhere pervades the whole story reaching a catharsis in the end.

There’s a point where he declares, more to himself than to the world, standing in the middle of his pasture, smelling the harvest, as his (Black) labourers go about doing their jobs and managing the farm – My possessions are enough for me.

The point is, this story is so similar to how things unfold in modern day India, that there is no need for an Apartheid to set this against. As it happens in Mistry’s ‘A fine balance’, you are at the whims of the government and their shenanigans. Mistry set his story against the Emergency, but this could be true of India any day. But this is true only for those who aren’t privileged. To quote Sainath, in Bihar the army could pay you Rs. 1.50 per day and ask you to move to the forest so that they can do target practice in the land where you live, but will they do the same in Malabar Hills?

But no matter how much you think of it, it is very hard, actually impossible, to shake away that thing that you come with – privilege, from where you view the world. At no point in your life were you at risk of being derailed, of being left in the lurch with no support. And are not likely to. You can look at the guy wandering the roads like a mad man, picking up old shoes, smelling them and discarding them. But unless you are really unlucky, chances of that happening are very less. Point is, you have a support system built in which is strong. There’ll always be friends and family to pull you out.

I remember having an argument at work about the high rates of BMTC tickets. “Rs. 1000 per month for a bus pass is heavy” I argued. A colleague kept saying that no one in Bangalore can not afford it. People earn a lot here. I tried telling him that that’s bollocks, labourers who travel in the red-boards, all the way to the Sunkadakattes and other far off hallis every day cannot. His house was in construction and he was now quoting the amount he pays for them. So much they get paid, these labourers, he argued.

Given this, it is very hard for me to get across to people the ideas of “Make in India”, the dilutions of forest laws, the dilutions in Rural land holdings acquisitions mooted by the Government. People want development, am told. Am not sure who are those people. To say that factories generate jobs for those displaced in forests or villages is thinking like Nehru, the same man they abhor so much. Considering the level of automation and skill required, what is a poor tribal to do? And then, why do you have to go the manufacturing way, especially when most countries are pushing it out of their lands, to the backyards, given the amount of degradation that comes with it. Do we want to be a backyard, at what cost?

I remember reading this somewhere. Tribals were protesting about giving up their rights on the forest in Madhya Pradesh or Chhattisgarh. “We can’t even bribe them, they don’t want anything” said a bureaucrat. They decided to give them TVs so that their aspirations can change and money can be a factor in their life. Something to that effect.

I don’t really write political posts. Bracing myself for the backlash now. 🙂


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