A friend wrote a mail regarding her experience with the grassroot India. While I was happy and proud about the work my friend is doing, a line from the mail got stuck in my mind which reminded me of several other conversations. The line said that my friend hereafter, after looking at the miserable conditions of poorest of poor, will not crib about her own life.
The line reminded me of what many people over many years have been telling me and I have heard many people telling many other people. How many times I have been told, “Look at those people who do not have to eat, a shelter over their head. In comparison to their lives your life is so much better.” I have heard this being told to many other people I know by many others who I know with much concrete examples like “Construction workers,” “Migrant labourers.”
I have had problems with such line of thought, always, for two reasons. One I have never understood how can we compare two or more tragedies of life and say one is bigger a tragedy and the other is not. While I understand that there is an intersection of socio-economic powers in some tragedies and some are purely emotional and personal, I cannot come to believe that social, political and economic tragedies are more miserable than personal, while I completely agree that socio-political and socio-economical tragedies need to be fought collectively. I say this at the risk of being called “self absorbed.” But let me say this, like Manto said in his essay titled ‘Why I Write?’: “If a boy falls in love with a girl I do not consider it to be the same as some viral fever. Such a boy captures my thoughts and imagination. It happens so because to my mind his hunger for love is as intense and as strong as the hunger of Bengal.”
I have not even understood how the miseries of a migrant labourer or a construction worker can make me feel better about my own situation. It is like what Javed Akthar wrote in one of his gazals:
Kam Ho Kaisey Inn Kushiyon Sey Tera Gam,
Lehron Mein Kab Behataa Hai Nadi Ka Chand.
[How can your miseries be of less weight than these moments of joy,
When has the river carried away with it the reflection of the moon?]
Similarly how can somebody else’s miseries carry away my own tragedies, however personal and emotion it is in opposition to the other miseries which have a social political and economical gravity.
More importantly, I have always found this call to feel better about oneself looking at other’s miseries, very sadistic. To feel good by looking at other’s tragedies, by comparing it to our own tragedies, to my mind is a sadistic line of thought.
But I believe that one’s personal tragedy, because of its touch of pain, should make one understand the bigger tragedies of life and world in a better and much more sensitive way. If that does not happen then it is ‘self absorption’, I agree. But at the same time those who speak of the tragedies of ‘construction workers’ bringing in loaded words of class and oppression, should be able to understand the personal tragedies without dismissing it off as personal and emotional. We require a Montosque line of thought which can see the personal and social as the same and personal through social and social through the personal, it appears to me, rather than breaking the two apart and saying one has more weight than others.
While walking back all alone to the Institute from the MCCIA building on the Senapati Bapat Road I stopped for a moment. I stopped because a few stray dogs started barking and chasing a car on the road. These dogs were a few steps far from me and now that the car had passed I had to cross these dogs to reach the Institute. I have been afraid of dogs ever since I was chased by one while I was in class three. My fear of dogs shot up even the more when Daadi Ma was bit by one few years ago. These two incidents surfaced in my mind as I stood and saw the dogs still staring at the car that had gone far.
I pulled all the courage. Slowly I walked two steps and then stopped again. This time I stopped because I heard somebody say something from behind. I turn back to see an old man in white dhoti, white soiled shirt and a dopalli cap. I was not wrong. He had called me. He said something in Marathi and I could not understand anything. I told him, in Hindi, that I do not follow Marathi. Extending his hand towards me he said, “Please hold my hand and walk me till the end of this road.” I was puzzled. He was not very strong, yes. But was not so weak that he required somebody’s help to walk. Reading the puzzled look on my face he said, “I am afraid of dogs.”
I had a smile on my face. With the smile on my face I extended my hand to hold the hand of the old man. Who else could have understood his fear better than me? But I dint know if he was aware of my fear. I guess he wasnt. As I held his hand and started walking I wondered who was holding whose hand out of fear? As we were near to the dog I saw myself holding his hand tightly, out of fear. Were I to be alone probably I would have walked a bit fast. But holding the hands of the old man who could not walk fast I had to match my speed with that of his. The slow movement made my fear shoot up. The high fear made me hold the hands of the old man with all my energy. Slowly we walked and managed to cross the dogs. Some ten steps after we had crossed the dogs the old man’s hand released itself from my grip. The old man had a broad smile on his face when our hands were untied by each other. It was a smile filled with gratitude. I too had a similar smile as I said bye to the old man who had helped me walk the road while fear had gripped me.