- ARE WE ALL VILLAGERS?
Courtesy: K.R. Ravi, chennai, Trainers' forumSOUTH ASIA'S FIRT DR EDWARD DE BONO CERTIFIED TRAINER IN LATERAL THINKING
Many years ago I lost my mother to acute diabetes. The ceremonies preceding the cremation were held at my apartment in a suburb in Chennai. Several relatives and friends had assembled at my home — my mother was much loved by many.
One of the ceremonies involved performing some rites before the body was mounted on to the cortege that was to carry the body to the crematorium. The body was brought down from the first floor apartment to the small open ground in front of the apartment block. There it lay for about an hour even as priests chanted mantras, my sister fainted in grief, several relatives and friends wept bitterly and loudly, At this point — even though I was in grief — I noticed something disturbing.
Most windows in the apartments facing the open ground - maybe about a dozen apartments, had shut their windows tightly obviously not keen to witness a depressing scene. It struck me that my family — guided by the priests - had violated something very important. My family had transgressed what I deem a sacred concept — the need to clearly demarcate the private from the public.
The death of a loved one is a personal matter. It is not something that needs to be forced on the public. Looking at that event — I did this act of introspection an hour after I returned from the crematorium. I felt ashamed at the way my family had exposed the entire neighbourhood to the stomach wrenching sight of a dead body, weeping people, swooning relatives, some breast beating elderly women, all—in-all a sight enough to alienate us from what was till then a friendly neighbourhood.
This incident that rankles till this day came to my mind when someone sent me an email asking that people celebrate Holi — that is not far away — without wasting water. The email went on to say that the amount of water that is wasted by people in a big city like Mumbai on Holi celebrations would be almost the same as the amount or water consumed by people in Rajasthan for a month! That apart the ‘festival’ of holi is another occasion when the demarcation between public and private gets blurred. People like me who are just not interested in the revelry associated with Holi are subjected to ‘colour treatment’. People barge into my house on that day even as I sternly protest this nonsense but nobody cares for my sentiments. I speak on behalf of millions of others of all religious persuasions who object to being forced into having their face and clothes dirtied against their will. Holi is also, an occasion when people dirty roads, walls, exteriors of private dwellings — in short anything that does not belong to the ‘revellers\.
I am sure such sentiments occur to many of us on other festivals also, like Divali, Ganesh Chathurthi etc. when what ought to be a personal celebration confined to the home or place of worship is enacted on streets and highways often paralysing millions of people across the country. In the city of Mumbai it reached such limits that it was left to the Supreme court to intervene and set a 10 pm limit to the noisy revelry associated with Navratri.
I can cite many other situations when we are not even interested in respecting the boundaries between the private and the public.
To cite a few – how about the practise of some people pitting up pictures of deities, or of Jesus Christ or of the Holy Mosque at Mecca in their offices? Or of Hindus observing Satyanarayana Pooja in a nationalised bank branch?
I have no objection to anyone being a devout person but is an office not a truly secular public place where private devotion ought not to be exhibited?
My apartment block, as do many others in the locality at the Chennai suburb I referred to earlier, witnesses another shocking tale of disrespect for people’s privacy and desire for peace and quiet. Every December a small temple nearby would play at peak volume on loudspeaker Hindu devotional songs from 4 am till noon! The volume was loud enough to awaken the entire West KK Nagar area. My protests were met with threats.
I argued that even as Non-Hindus would naturally object to this assault on the ears, as a Hindu myself I had serious objections to such denial of my right to peaceful sleep. The threatening gestures of the temple ‘authorities’ - basically a gang of goons - deterred me.
I feel that Gandhiji was partly right in saying that India lives in its villages. I prefer to adapt that insight to modern India by saying that millions of urban Indians are really villagers living in cities. Our cities are really extensions of villages in terms of the mentality of people, It is in villages that nothing is private,
I recall our domestic help — a young man of 35 - once asking us for 15 day’s leave on the death of his father in his village. We felt sorry for him and not only granted leave but helped him with RS 10000 for the ceremonies. He went away only to return after a fortnight to tell us that his family had spent over Rs 3 lacs for the ‘event’. He also added that he had to sell a part of his landed property to finance the mass feeding. I was shocked to learn from him that it was incumbent on him to feed the entire village for 13 days otherwise his family would ‘lose its face’. Another instance of our inability to arrive at a clear distinction between the private and the pubic, a failing that exists in the villages and in the ‘village mentality of city folk'.
Delhi-ites among my readers will confirm that in that city a family celebrates a wedding by simply taking over entire streets, disrupting traffic not to speak of the nightmare that all the revelry can cause to those uninterested in the celebrations.
A wedding hall in Matunga in Mumbai does not allow Tamil weddings. This can be shocking since Matunga is a Tamil stronghold. I asked the hall manager the reason for this’ discrimination’.
’Sir the ‘nadaswaram’ that is played in tamil weddings is so loud many Gujeratis who also live here have objected to this’. I could see the irony—Gujeratis who make so much noise at Navratri necessitating Supreme court intervention find ‘Tamil’ noise unbearable. The insight that I got from this incident is that we are so self obsessed that we have convinced ourselves that ‘ our noise’ is better than ‘ your noise’, Clearly an inability to see another man’s viewpoint, something many of us are guilt of in many walks of life. I believe this inability to adapt to modern life, to come to grips with the era of urbanisation and globalisation and the demands they place on our attitudes, may well be the single biggest obstacle to our country’s progress. The modern era demands a new mindset not just new malls and tech toys like mobile phones and computers. It is ironic that we claim we are modern when we possess a mobile phone but immediately betray our outdated mindset when we bawl into the handset while travelling by bus or when inside a mall or when we let our ringtone startle the audience in a cinema hall. Nothing irritated me more in the U.S. than the sight of some Indians chatting loudly into their mobile phones when in a bus or in a mall. On many occasions I have heard a co-passenger politely asking our Indian friend ‘How soon will you be getting off the bus?‘
Our compatriot often replies, "Shhhh do not disturb!”
Designed and maintained by AKR Consultants