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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The A,B,C’s of L. O. V. E

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Three eight year old boys A, B and C are walking back from school when they chance upon a mangy stray dog. A digs a few rocks out of his shorts and flings one at the dog. Boy B recedes behind a tree and keeps a close watch on the dog. Boy C plants himself firmly between boy A and the dog, ensuring that the dog is not hit anymore.
Which of the 3 boys from the scenario defines you? A hypothetical question, you say? Maybe it doesn’t jog your memory enough. Okay, read on;
Boy A goes home and his mom is indifferent to him. She’s busy arguing with his father or planning a kitty party.
Boy B goes home to a mother that is the quiet contemplative type. She’s a housewife concerned about her family’s well-being. Worried about her son having all he needs to do well in school.
Boy C goes home to find his mother feeding a cow or teaching the servant’s six- year-old child how to read and write.
Does either of these scenarios sound familiar? Too general, you claim? Well, read on;
Boy A’s path in life is as follows. From seeking fun in hurting others he becomes a bully at school. He then becomes an eve-teaser in college. He ends up getting into a few fights, always on the verge of getting in trouble, or worse; arrested. He gets married and has a good chance of being a wife-beater.
Boy B is the classic case of someone that does what’s expected of him. The “also ran” in life. The one who observes everything, does nothing and is educated enough to talk about it at a party. He gets married, has kids and watches out for them like his mom did for him. He will complain about ills in society and his country but he won’t do a thing about it.
And then there is boy C. He has learnt compassion from his mother. Love and care for animals and other humans has been nurtured in his heart. He will grow up to encompass everything. The environment, animal abuse, sex workers, oppressed classes, geriatric care; everything will be of concern to him. He will do something about each and everything. He will fill his life with causes those are beyond himself.
Now does the picture become clearer?
Here is the simple truth. Most of us fall under the category B. Always afraid that our B child doesn’t become a category A kid. All we have to do is make him a category C child. That will make a generation of category C children.
Most of us ask what one person can do for this world or to change our country. Well here’s the answer for you. Encourage your child to be a type C child. Learning about compassion early in life builds empathy and moral character, reduces violence and builds a sense of empowerment and responsibility. Society as a whole benefits when its members are more caring toward each other and the animal those live among us.
Studies have shown that kids those abuse animals are five times more likely to commit violent crimes against people and four times more likely to commit theft and three times more likely to do drugs than kids who don’t. In fact the FBI uses violent crimes against animals to profile violent criminals.
Hence A is not equal to B and B is not equal to C. So there you have it- Hence proved.
Q.E.D – Quad Erat Demonstrandum.

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JOHN’S ON THE DAILY NEWS

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 “I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t” Vidyut counted the money again and stuffed it in his wallet.

I tossed the car’s keys to him. “This is the craziest thing we’ve done–”

“– so far.” He winked at me. “If I don’t outperform all her previous boyfriends, she’s going to dump me.”

“She’s ditched you three times already.” I slapped his back and laughed. “ Slutty girlfriend, virgin boyfriend.”

“HOT slutty girlfriend.”  He turned the key in the ignition.

We drove across the crowded bridge over the train tracks at the New Delhi railway station. The traffic light turned red and children appeared from nowhere with rags in their hands. They wiped our windscreen begging for a few rupees for a job poorly done. A song from the latest Bollywood movies blasted from the loudspeakers and the children danced to its tune.

Vidyut bit his lip and faced me. The reflection of the red light illuminated half of his face. “Inder, will there be actual red lights? How will we know if we are there?”

“M mm m,” (I don’t know) I hummed.

The light turned avocado green and his lead foot met the accelerator.

“There.” I pointed to the green sign that read in white bold letters. ‘Mahatma Gandhi Marg’. Vidyut made a sharp right turn. Gosh, did they have to name this road after the ‘Father of the nation’?

I opened my window and stuck my head out the window. Decrepit wooden multistoried houses lined the street with paint peeling off the walls. Street vendors sold various unhygienic snacks to hungry hard-working day labor.

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The narrow street was webbed with illegal power lines crisscrossing the passageway. In the next few houses several women clad in bright gaudy clothes stuck their heads out the windows.

Vidyut dropped the car into second gear.

Oye chikne, idhar dekh,” (Hey handsome, look at me) one yelled.

I plopped back into my seat, “Vidyut, where have we–”

“Arre O Rajja, Majja lena hai to idhar aaja,” (Come to me), another voice boomed.

I snapped my fingers. “Let’s get out of here–”

“–Hello, Sir. Wan’t girl? Best girl.” A boy all of fifteen years old tapped the drivers window.

Vidyut rolled down his window. “How much?”

“Come up and look, Sir. All girls. No charge for just looking sir. You select. I give you good rate.” He gave us the Indian head nod.

The wooden stairs creaked under our weight. We walked into a room no bigger than a volleyball court. The dank smell of sweat and cheap jasmine incense fought with each other to overpower the hall. A man sat on a small platform with a harmonium and sang a poor song to a badly played tune. People sat on the tile floor and rubbed shoulders and elbows with each other.

“You want girl too?” The fifteen year old asked me.

“No buddy, I don’t have a slutty girlfriend. I’m the ‘hero ka dost’ (Hero’s friend), the sidekick Danny. I make sure he doesn’t get in trouble.

“Danny?”

“Danny Zuko…as in Grease” I puffed my hair.

“Like Vaseline, Sir. You want?” he stroked his finger.

“Nooooo… Grease… Never mind. Rahul…DDLJ,” I splayed my arms.

He sang. “Tujhe dekha to yeh jana sanam…chahihe mujhe bhi nahana sanam.” He guffawed. “You sit. Enjaay music.” He pointed to the lone open spot on the tile floor.

The second god-awful song started. I yawned. Come on Vidyut, hurry up man.

Thock thock thock. The fifteen-year-old body appeared in the doorway. He put his hands on his knees and coughed out, “Police-Run-Police.”

I gulped and tried getting up but my knees were locked in their position. In the next few moments everyone in that room scrambled around me. They disappeared into cubby-holes and attics and behind doors.

Five khaki uniform clad men entered the room. The lapels on their shoulder announced, ‘Delhi Police’. One of them barked. “What are you doing here?”

“Listening to music…,” I pointed to the platform in the now empty room. “Uhh… There were fifty people here… five seconds ago. I swear. Trust me–”

Tanne ko to gaane sunayenge ib hawalaat mein. (you’ll surely face the music in the lock-up).

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I blinked a few times. Handcuffs? I’m actually wearing handcuffs. And all because Vidyut… I gulp. Gosh, I hope Vidyut is–

“I swear it officer. This is my first time here–” Vidyut walked behind another office into the room. His eyes widened when he saw me. He thrust his shackled hands at me, “Inder, do something.”

“Dude, where are your pants?” I pointed to his smiley faced Jockey’s.

“–I’d just taken them off.” He crossed his legs.

“You’ve been gone for seven minutes. What the fuck?”

“Dude, I was talking to her. Making her comfy–”

“You blooming ass. We’re being arrested for you talking to a–”

The policeman shoved me, “–shut up and walk.”

We stepped into the police van and sat on the hard, metal seats.

“How many did you get?” The sub-inspector asked his constables.

Just these two, janab.

I turned to Vidyut, “Just two. Goddamnit. There were two hundred men and fifty women in that building and they got two. You and me. Rahul and Deepak. Danny and Kenickie. And you’re still a Virgin. How can this day get any worse?”

Vidyut smiled. “It just did. They have my pants and my pants have my wallet. No bribes will be offered today.”

I slid my fingers on my cheek. “Well at least I shaved today for my first appearance on the news.”

************

It’s been twenty years since that incident. It was the only time either of us made the news. Two lowlife John’s in the vast sea of hormonal, oppressive men seeking any means to justify their whims.

We grew up in a society where it is okay for men to look down upon women as if they were objects. Where it is justifiable to take advantage of oppressed girls those couldn’t survive any other way. This is the same city of Delhi where last year a woman was raped in a bus by six men while they drove around town. I am amongst the millions of people who criticized the cruelty and the brutality of that rape.

I’ve travelled the world and lived in several countries. It’s not just Indian society- men of all countries are afflicted by the disease or treating women poorly. In the US women are protected by laws- but the attitude of men going to strip clubs uncovers their unabashed primal instincts. The flourishing business of strip clubs and whore-houses world-wide is a slap in humanities face.

I put the newspaper down and remove my spectacles, “How far was I from committing a crime of sex.” Even before the thought permeates my brain I have excuses ready; We were going to pay for it. We didn’t even do anything. We were teenagers. I never did it again. It wasn’t even for me. I was just being a friend. Prostitution is legal–

–I gag even before I complete the last thought. What kind of a sick bastard am I? Admit your mistake, damnit. I pick up the phone and call Vidyut.

This is what I’ve learnt about myself.

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— I’ve shamed my education and my family for doing what I did.

— My demand drives the supply. I’ve a hand in the flesh trade industry in India; however small it may be. I have a hand in it. I had the education and ability to stop exploitation of women and I didn’t do a darn thing about it.

— My biggest issue as an animal activist is the attitude of people those turn a blind eye to the plight of animals. I turned a blind eye to those women.

— That never again will a single Dollar or Rupee I earn go towards supporting exploiting women in any way, shape or form. Strip-clubs, porn, flesh-trade industry; all exploit women.

— That never again will I turn a blind eye to the plight of anyone- be it human or be it an animal. Nor will I judge anyone till I have successfully cleaned up my own act.

That is what I understand by ‘Being Human’.

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