On a recent visit to Vrindaban, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the innate intelligence of our evolutionary predecessors residing there. A monkey decided to swoop down on our auto rickshaw and snatch away the spectacles of my wife. Not to despair, said the helpful driver. A currency note was offered to the monkey, and back came the glasses without much ado. We were told that it was standard practice for the monkeys to earn money in this manner, only to be exchanged with bananas and peanuts with a trader later! Sure enough, they have figured out how to survive and do well in life!
This led me to think of several other monkeys who have perfected the art of survival in the lives of ordinary Indians. The monkeys of ignorance, superstition, poverty, illiteracy, absence of clean drinking water, inadequate and ineffective delivery of public services and a marked absence of manners, civic sense and politeness in our public spaces. Unlike the Vrindaban monkey who left us in peace, these ones keep returning to haunt us. Each time, they leave us clueless as to how to make them go away permanently.
The Art of Apathy, Callousness and Greed
There is no point in blaming it all on our government. Do we ourselves care about the domestic waste that we generate – eventually, where does it land up and what happens to it? If we pass by an accident site, do we stop to check if anyone needs urgent medical help? While traveling by a bus or car, do we think before spitting or throwing a plastic bag out of the window? In public spaces, do we try to show restraint, respect and courtesy to those who are seniors in age? Do we not enjoy displaying our bravery by breaking a queue, whether at a railway station or while getting into a bus?
Blatant traffic violations are the order of the day. Our drivers routinely use high beams even during city limits, both during day as well as night-time. Overtaking from the left is a norm, and so is merciless honking, despite knowing that the vehicle in front has no way of giving us any overtaking space. When facing a traffic jam, we believe it is smart to go into the opposite lane, so as to make matters worse. Our respect for an authority figure is intact, though. Remove a traffic cop from a busy intersection and we are sure to jump the red light.
We have more mobile phones than toilets – which speaks volumes about the skewed priorities we have in life. Even if there are public conveniences, these are rendered useless by sheer neglect and apathy. In trains, there is no consideration for the following passengers who would like the place to be left in a reasonably clean condition. Men relieving themselves in public and fertilizing our soil across all roads is a common sight to behold.
Many of our corporates indulge in malpractices, perhaps believing that tax evasion is the same as tax avoidance! The fact that four major audit firms are now planning to hire forensic experts to check corporate frauds once again highlights the need for our moral compass to be set right. Our disdain for laws and courts is exemplary. We appear to thrive in informal systems, where rules are meant to be bent.
Blame it on Maasai Mara!
Why are we the way we are? Perhaps our ancestors and genes are to blame? Our ancestors had perhaps migrated all the way from Africa. May be their nomadic lifestyles have shaped our genes, making us thrive only in a high degree of chaos. Then we had the invaders who kept plundering us time and again, making us love disorder and aggressive behavior. Or, has our own selfishness and individual greed grown to such an extent that we have turned highly myopic, with the greater good completely invisible to us?
The outlook of a majority of our workforce is still agrarian, giving rise to what one could label as a ‘Rabi-Kharif’ syndrome. What cannot be done today can easily be put off for another six months. No doubt, the attitudes we bring in to our work places (relative to our western colleagues) reflect this reality. As does our habit of making compromises in matters of quality – the thinking that ‘sab chalta hai’ (everything goes).
Ask any business executive and he would complain about long working hours and absence of quality time with family and loved ones. But is the quantity of time spent at the work place commensurate with the quality of the output? Having put in two hours’ honest work, don’t we get tempted to indulge in a long gossip session with a colleague, relaxing unduly long over a cup of tea or coffee?
Rights and Responsibilities
Come to think of it, are we not imitating the three monkeys loved by Gandhi-ji? Like one of those, we refuse to see the filth and squalor all around us. In fact, we go around spreading it all the more. Like another, we do not hear any voices emanating from our leaders, having given up on them quite some time back. And, of course, like the third one, we do not speak out when we see a serious issue plaguing a majority of our population. We remain safely cocooned in our comfort zone.
It is not my case that all is wrong with us Indians. The world can learn a lot from us – organizing mega events like the Kumbh Mela, managing coalition governments, yoga and spirituality, to name only a few. Our family bonds and values are still intact. We have several systems that do work.
We also have a vibrant democracy to boast of. However, individually as well as collectively, we appear to be more keen on securing our rights rather than discharging our responsibilities. A touch of decency, concern, compassion, courtesy and humility is surely the need of the hour!
(Images of Elephants and Three Monkeys Courtesy Wikipedia)