Thursday, 18 June 2015

For a Free and Fair World

"May I be protector for those without one,

A guide for all travellers on the way;"

~ Shantideva, in A Guide to the Bodhisattva's way of Life.

The gorgeous Goan monsoon is washing my windows squeaky clean, and as I'm lying around in bed, I’m suddenly thinking of Sealdah railway station. I was there just last month, a sweaty, stinky blob of flesh melting in the heat and humidity. We were running to catch a train to North Bengal, pushing through a roiling mass of people, dodging handcarts, sidestepping squalor when three ragged, dirty, little boys ran past us, pushing each other around, laughing, eyes a-sparkle, running barefoot across the platform... and all I could think of at that moment was him.

I saw a world & it was mean,
and hope was nowhere to be seen…

Impatiently pushing aside tangled, matted hair, one of the little boys lithely swung himself onto the train pulling into platform number 1. The other two ran alongside, deftly catching plastic bottles he threw out at them, swiftly stuffing them into a sack, ending with a running jump onto the tracks beyond. They’re irreverent, incorrigible, heads thrown back in laughter, and my mind is lost in those long, lonesome nights spent with him, sitting in near-silence by Chapora River. It’s like we’re strangers, mostly quiet, sometimes speaking of stargazing in Mumbai.

I know I’m indulging in a sickening bout of sentimentality here, but seems like being at Sealdah station was rougher on me than I choose to remember. Obviously it’s making my mind into a simpering silly slug flopping around in slush erstwhile known as brain. Each night by the river was to be a different story. He used to tell me why he ran away from home. When. How. We’d wondered through various theories together, whether his family ever looked for him, missed him even. His references to ‘home’ leave me lost. For him, ‘home’ sometimes means the jhula at Juhu Chowpatty. He'd swing rich lil Bombay brats by hand on that jhula. He’d often slept under the stars, he’d said, gazing up at them even now, more than a decade later, skinny arms wrapped around his bony knees, rocking himself in rhythm to the river slapping gently against shore, staring at the stars, anxious... always aloof, always alone…

I used to go to Chapora with him because it was quiet spot we could sit at, without a care. Poor carefree Chapora, made maudlin by all these stories. He’s often talked to me about being hungry & homeless, alone & afraid in a strange, scary city. Other friends have described to me warped relationships wrapped in secrecy & strange compulsions, subtle notes of subdued pain, old scars of struggle...

My whole damned trip into West Bengal last month had felt like a strange sorta ‘ghar wapsi’ for me, a return to my motherland after almost a decade. Decades have gone by, that India has been ‘independent’. Yet West Bengal got left behind in some sepia-toned time warp, where people are still impoverished and deprived. Denied a basic quality of life, of choice, of the right to raise their voice, people usually resign themselves to substandard lifestyles, depending on government doles to sustain themselves.

West Bengal boasts of being the sixth largest economy in the country, and the state’s power infrastructure and roads and railways network is top notch as compared to the rest of the country. Despite having literacy rates higher than the national average, over 30% of the youth in Bengal remained unemployed in 2012-2013. 47 million unemployed young people. This was the same year the state recorded the highest rates of violence against women in the country. Around the same time, there were apparently no farmers committing suicide. Around that time, apparently, no custodial rapes in West Bengal, according the National Crime Records Bureau. Same time when there were no custodial rapes in Chhattisgarh either. Hahaha! Someone forgot Soni Sori. 

Savage destruction of fragile ecologies of the Sundarbans and the Northern Himalaya, rampant pollution caused by illegal stone quarrying, pathetic living conditions, arsenic poisoned ground water, droughts and floods, caste based discrimination and violence, cross border trafficking and smuggling, it seemed like everything immoral and illegal, it's all happening in Bengal! Most of the government records I’ve trawled twice over had little to offer. The websites were mostly defunct or full of dead links. The newspapers rarely asked these questions. They were busy with the political violence ripping apart the state.  

All the missing stories were right there, with the legal groups, the health workers, the forest villagers, the tea workers, the non-profits, the self help groups and women’s collectives. We heard about the deplorable state of education, appalling stories of the sheer lack of employment opportunities available, the desperate search for a means of survival, and the subsequent trafficking and the migration that is rampant across the state. So many stories. No one to listen.

Hearing these sickening stories almost always hurt, sometimes, rarely, they inspire imagination. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to simply walk away when someone starts speaking, sharing their strange stories. I’m usually compelled to remain. Perhaps it's politeness. Maybe it's curiosity. And a certain sordid fascination for speaking to strangers for sure. Sometimes these stories make me want to wage war. Channelize my dormant Chandi Maata and wage a war of non-violence[1]. And then I reluctantly remember we must accept our fate. ‘Kismet’, as Saloni says. Dratted destiny. If I must listen, I must do so in renunciation[2].
For a free & fair world.

And so, still lounging in bed, still thinking of Sealdah station, still thinking of him, I make up my the many moods of monsoon take over, I must remember not to indulge in too many bouts of sentimental shit.

I must always remember, nothing I do can fix the world he grew up in.

I can, however, fight to fix the world everyone will live in hereafter. 

I can fight for a free and fair world.

[1] "Nonviolence is not only a state of being, but a course of action meant to be waged rather than merely preached."

[2] “Renunciation is not giving up the things of this world, but accepting that they go away.”~Shunryu Suzuki

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