move and shake your hands

The little children in the picture are busy aping their teachers. Move and shake your hands has been a regular part of the morning wake up routine followed by the pwhy creche for many years now. It is a fun activity that the children enjoy a lot and probably forget as they move along the road of life. I just hope that they never remember it in their lives. Wonder why?

About two weeks ago I received a mail from our friends in France informing me that they has sent a cargo for the children: warm clothes, shoes, toys, and books. Was it not Xmas time. The cargo had been uplifted by an airline free of cost as the things were meant for charitable purposes. Most of the clothes, shoes etc were used though in prim condition. The cargo arrived and then began what I can only term as a ordeal I would never want to live again not simply because of the harrowing experience itself but because I still want to keep alive certain illusions I have about the land that is mine.

I had thought that the cargo would be released in a day or two and that we would have to pay a reasonable amount as charges, duty etc. The cargo was released after 12 days, a whopping 41 K (most as demurrage charges that I beleive we may get back) and extreme wear and tear on nerves. I must confess that I was not the one who was on the battleground. A kind friend who had been working within the aviation sector and who knew people at the airport offered to do it for us.

What followed the simple call informing us of the arrival was a film noir worthy of the best director. The protagonists were our spirited lady and a jaded cargo agent suggested to her by friends at the airport and a posse of villains in all sizes and hues. The villains in question belonged to the custom department, bureaucrats of diverse importance who may we not forget get their salaries from our hard earned money. A complex low life drama enfolded. To get the cargo released one had to conquer each villain and get the coveted booty: a signature! A true obstacle race as in spite of the stipulated timing of 11 to 4, most of them were on leave, not on their seat, out to lunch or too busy to talk or so we thought. My friend wondered why each one of them passed in front of her looking bothered and waving their hands just like the kids in the picture.

For some time my friend thought that the person in question was too busy or harassed. Ultimately it is the cargo agent who broke the code: the waving of hands signified the amount of facilitation money (not to use bribe) that was needed get to the next stage of the race. Two hands waved meant 10 000Rs! Nothing would be done other wise. That was the unwritten and unbreakable code. It goes without saying that we did not pay any bribe but it took us 12 days to get the cargo out, 12 days of having to listen to despicable and humiliating comments about NGOs and they all being thieves and crooks, 12 days of running from pillar to post and knocking at impregnable doors. In the end we got our way but by then the demurrage charges had mounted. We ultimately got our cargo released and are now appealing to get the demurrage waived.

What is sad is that this happened at the same time as India was supposedly coming together in the hope of changing things, when anger against politicians was being voiced by one and all, when it seemed that perhaps, just perhaps we would see better days. But this small and insignificant incident that was enfolding in the remote corner of the airport of our capital city proved beyond doubt that change was as elusive as ever, that the rot had set in so deep that it would take not one, but countless miracles to stem out. What saddened me most as my friend recounted the events was that there seemed no way out of the quagmire. Honesty, compassion, righteousness were not only passe and defunct, but held in contempt and derided. That the lessons we so assiduously tried to teach our children would not help them in life, if things were to remain as they were.

Where did we go from here? How did we change things? Candlelight vigils and passionate speeches could not be the answer as they could only be heard and understood by people with a soul. How did you deal with those who had sold theirs? Would we then simply have to tell our children not to forget how to move and shake their hands.