It was a strange Sunday. One that I have never experienced before. The city was like a fortress and we felt under siege. A friend who landed from Europe after a few months found the drive from the airport almost eerie. Though the city looked squeaky clean she felt Delhi had lost its soul. The roads were shiny and empty. Gone was the hustle and bustle that are such an intrinsic part of the city. The smell, the colours, the familiar sounds were all absent. Delhi was almost a ghost city. She asked me what was wrong and I could just reply the Commonwealth Games!
Over a much needed cup of tea I tried to fill her in on all that had happened in the last months and about how those in power had decided to rid the city of what they thought was not to be seen: in a nutshell the poor! This was very well articulated by the CEO of the city when she said: We are not trying to hide but you know that you are receiving guests. Yes, Delhi has been decorated - for Commonwealth Games, for celebration...lot of things are there. Don't you have the right to light up your house on Diwali or whatever festival you may celebrate and are you trying to hide your poverty at that point of time?..But when you get a guest at your house and when the eyes of the world are going to be on this city, would you not like it to look like a nice city? I find it difficult to accept. To me the city today looks alien and soulless. And the decision to close everything just reinforced the feeling. It was one of the most claustrophobic days of my existence.
We cannot and should not forget the reality we live in. We are a poor country as more than 40% of our population lives below the poverty line and there is no way we can conceal that. The honest way would be to accept the reality and take steps to counter it. Wish our leaders did that.
The next cup of tea and there we were discussing the attitude of the rich towards the poor. This is best exemplified in the attitude my peers have had to our boarding school programme. I have yet to find one country mate who has applauded the idea of sending eight of the most deprived children to a 'good' school. For them it remains a no no! You see in India you do not mix the rich and the poor, the lines have to remain drawn and cannot be crossed. And if you dare delve further ans ask some disturbing questions pat comes the answer: karma. The poor's karma is what makes them poor and you do not meddle with that. My answer is a little different: what about our karma, does it not compel us to help those in need. Mine does. And that is simply what I have been doing for the last 10 years and will continue till I breathe my last.
To our CEO who asks candidly : would you not like to look nice, my answer is a loud yes but our ways differ. I would like to look nice by accepting the harsh reality and not looking away; by finding answers and showing to the world that we are aware of our problems and are actively engaged in solving them. I would also like to add that I would like to look nice for ourselves and not just to the eyes of the world. So maybe it is time we addressed the issues of beggars, street children, homeless people. It is time we cleaned up the whole city and got rid of all the pot holes, not just the ones on the roads guests would take. It is time we stop pretending that all is well and addressed real issues. But is anyone really interested?