Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Post 359 : Charity of Life - Rajeev Nair (Tehelka)

Probably the only magazine I still regularly read (on current affairs, that is) is Tehelka.

In the Feb 9th issue of Tehelka, read a nice article called 'Charity of Life', its not very insightful, it tells us what we already know, but yes, at the same time it is so goddamned true.

Here it goes, reproduced.....


Illustration: Sudeep Chaudhuri

AT THE NEWSPAPER I USED to work at, the canteen contractor had a way of keeping the administrative staff in good humour.

His boys would slide a tomato dressing over the fish fry or sneak in a boiled egg under the rice served to the P & A staff — the true caretakers of the canteen. It irked us to no end. After all, in a newspaper hierarchy, shouldn’t reporters figure above the P & A?

If respect doesn’t begin at home, is there anything to be expected of the public? We had the audacity to raise the issue at nothing less than an editorial conference. A silly move!

We were assured an “ego massage” and no eggs or tomato dressing. So we — a small group of entry-level reporters and subs — decided to boycott the canteen and even the 10 paisa tea that was supplied at our desk. It was war with the contractor — as if he cared.

Years later, I was in Dubai when a former colleague wrote to tell me the sad end of the otherwise rebellious story. The canteen contractor had died. “It took his death to break our resolve [of not stepping into the canteen],” he wrote. Suddenly, it didn’t matter whether we were fighting for a “cause.” Our action looked mean, immature and egoistic. It was a reminder that only till death do us fight. After that every shred of hatred, every grudge loses its edge. Living, we can hold them out. But death evens it out .

Right now, how many people don’t we love to hate? Whom we will happily envelope in scorn? Whom we feel we can live without? One, a few, a handful, an awful lot? But we know we can get away with an apology, a nod, a kind word at some point in time. If not today, tomorrow for sure. With death, we blow all chances.

A recent story from Kerala made headlines. A man, the father of five children, all from a single delivery, ended his life because he could no longer take the anguish of his long struggle against poverty. He left behind the five little girls in the care of an ailing mother. The news threw open all the doors of charity. Poets, social workers, government representatives, politicians, neighbours all flocked to the family with support. Funds were set up for the children’s welfare; hospitals rushed in with care for the mother.

A sad man’s death finally served the purpose his living life could not.
Why has death opened the doors of kindness when life couldn’t? Why did a man have to pay with his life for a little humanity? Had he, the living he, approached the very same poets, social workers with his story of persistent suffering and total penury, would the response have been the same?

In a country the size of India, at least one-tenth of its population mired in a life of misery, how many deaths do we need for true acts of charity to take their course? Are we doomed to mark the genesis of charity at the altar of the ultimate — death?

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 5, Dated Feb 9, 2008

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