Of Diwali and a Diwalia (bankrupt) Mind

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The corruption of a nation is complete when bribing becomes a part of culture and a corruption of mind is complete when we can not spot the difference between bribing and kindness.

This morning while I was speaking to a friend over the phone, she said in the most non-chalant manner, “I’m at the parking lot and my parking guy is giving me a good parking spot at the Khan Market.”

I paused while wiping the down the top of my refrigerator, “you have a parking guy?”

“Yes. He helps me get a good spot–”

“—in return of?”

Her tone went to a sing-song voice. “Obviously, I give him Diwali, na.”

“So you pay him extra for doing what he gets paid to do.”

“Yes, because he does a good job for me.”

I sat down on my low-profile dining table, “You realize that you’re bribing him.”

“Non-sense.”

My fingers pinch the bridge of my nose, “Not non-sense. When you give someone extra money to do what they are supposed to do so that you get some preferential treatment; that is the definition of a bribe.”

“Yes, but I like my spots he–”

“—and what have you done in life to get ‘preferential treatment’? Are you paraplegic, in any way disabled, an army veteran?”

She stuttered “No, I’m … I’m–”

“—Rich?”

She gulped “Well, yes but–”

“–This term; ‘Preferential treatment’ over others has plagued our country for centuries. The only preference he has for you is that you have more money than him. You don’t give him Diwali, you bribe him. But guess what when you go to your CEO and expect a Diwali bonus- guess what you are doing?”

“What?”

I shook my head, “you’re asking for a bribe to do what you are paid to do anyway. If you wouldn’t get that bonus it makes you feel shortchanged. Then you slack at work. In effect you only work for the bonus. That’s slacking, 101.”

She turned off her SUV, “that is true, Inder. It seems like we all seek our Diwali from WHOEVER has more money than us.”

That is our culture, bribing. Like most things we do wrong, we want to blame this on the British and colonialism but somewhere this tradition had infested our minds even before they got to the Indian peninsula.

When we walk into a 5-star hotel, the durban (gate-man) salutes us. To me nothing can be more shameless than that.

Who am I?

What have I ever done in my life to deserve a salute?

A salute: the most sacred of gestures to servicemen and women of a nation who dedicate their lives to its well-being. They deserve salutes. I deserve to salute each and every one of them. Any person who does his job with dedication and pride, I need to salute them. If the guard or watchman of the hotel took pride in the safety of its customers, it should be me saluting him.

The only reason he salutes me is because I have more money than him. But how much more. Is double what he have enough for him to make him salute me. Is ten times enough or 30 times? Where is that line in the sand?

The truth is that its in his mind. Servitude is so deeply ingrained in his tissues and his soul that he just accepts that he’s inferior. Isn’t that the worst form of oppression. To be oppressed to such a degree that one doesn’t even feel oppressed?

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Somewhere during this long pause my friend has hung up the phone and my thoughts are disrupted by a knock on the door.

I open the door and the trash collectors are there. They point out to the floor outside the apartment door where I’d left some trash for them. The one with a 3 day stubble starts, “Your maid had left some dust outside the garbage bag after she wept–”

I hold up my hand, “Arre nahi, I don’t have a maid. I sweep the apartment myself. I’m sorry, will clean it up.”

Nahi-nahi, sahib, I’ve already cleaned it.” He flashes a broad grin, “You haven’t given me my Diwali yet, so I thought…” he extends his palm out.

My mind says 23 whatthefucks in 2 seconds. “Sorry dude, I don’t celebrate Diwali so I don’t pay anyone to do what they should take pride in doing.”

As I shut the door on their glazed over faces I can imagine the conversations they’ll be having about me behind my back.

I would sooner hug him and make him feel like an equal than give him a few rupees to cement the fact in his mind that he’s in any way inferior to me.

I flop into my low set couch and suddenly I can’t stop crying. A deep sigh that started from my soul has grown into a wail by the time it escapes my lips.

“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high,” The nobel laureate Tagore had said in his epic Chitto Jetha Bhayshunyo

“Where knowledge is free.

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls

Where words come out from the depth of truth

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit

Where the mind is led forward by thee

Into ever-widening thought and action

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let  my country awake.”

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