the danger of being good

The danger of being good is the cover story of a leading weekly. Do read it. It is scary. Yet it paints a dark and accurate picture of present day India where to be good is not to be foolish but foolhardy. And yet some chose to do so no matter what. The article relates the stories of some of the bravehearts. It ends with these words This cover story is an alarming reminder that what should have been the norm has become the exception. Doing one’s duty is no longer an imperative in India. Nothing governs us as a society now except the miracle of individual choice. We are secured by the fact that some people choose to be good, no matter what. But there are myriad dangers in that. There is not just the might of the State to confront. There is also the temptation at every turn to just give up, part the skin and slip over into the silken side where one half of India is living a charmed life. If you don’t fight the ugliness of the State, it will behave in benign ways with you. That is one of the hardest lessons being good in India teaches you.

To all those mentioned in this article and to those like them who continue to make the right choice I say Chapeau Bas!

I too made a choice ten years back. To me it was not simply the right choice but the only one. And though my work is puny and insignificant compared to the stories related in the article, I too have faced the wrath of state and society. True it may not be as blatant or glaring, rather it has been insidious and surreptitious. The author of the article makes no bones about the state of our society when she says ...just this small handful of stories will make you balk at the depraved society they reveal. Corruption in every pore: ... Nothing is safe. Greed is the only propeller. We are not a society really: we are a termite nest, eating at ourselves. This is a far cry from the dying words of my father: have faith in India! I would still like to hold on to those words even if everything screams to the contrary. I would like to believe that things will change though how is a million dollar question! A recent ad on TV urges the Finance Minister to find some black magic to deal with black money. That is how desperate we are.

Coming back to my choices and the ire they leashed out, I would like to share some incidents that till date had remained hidden in some deep recesses of my memory. The article did make them come to the fore. I remember how outraged a local politico had felt when he realised that many pwhy students could read and comprehend English. That day I had become the enemy. You see the poor had to remain poor and illiterate and committing the cardinal sin of empowering the poor had to be arrested. What ensued was veiled threats, the bulldozing of our school in the park, public slander where I was branded a thief as I supposedly pocketed huge amounts and just doled out a few pennies to espoused cause. Even till date the said politico does not mince his words when it comes to me. I guess what vented his fury was the fact that many of my staff exercised their right not to vote in elections. I had crossed the line. Since I have reined myself a little, not because I am scared or intimated, but in the larger interest of pwhy as I felt it was more important to carry on helping the children and the community rather than proving points.

Running an honest ship is not easy in our day and times. Corruption lurks at every corner. You get hounded by the electricity department, the water department, the municipal authorities, just about every one. Each time you need to renew your tax exemption certificates or file your returns, greasy palms appear from everywhere and if you decide to ignore them then every nook and corner of your soul is scrutinised and probed and you are viewed with suspicion and mistrust. The state does not like people who make individual choices.

One would hope that society at least would be kinder and more generous. You soon realise that this is not the case. For one who had been voted Citizen One in 2005, the city has given little. Every attempt to secure funding has failed be it the one rupee a day pitch or the individual attempts at getting funds. What has hurt me more than anything is the total disinterest that people show when one shares stories from the other side of the fence and how can I ever forget the total outrage expressed by two socialites when they heard about our boarding school programme: what was left unsaid and yet so audible could be translated as: how dare you send these children to what has to remain our hallowed turf! So be it state or society you were branded enemy if you dared disturb existing social patterns.

And yet you do not succumb to the temptation of giving everything of, of slamming the door and losing the key, of slipping into the silken side where one half of India is living a charmed life. You carry on doggedly facing every scorn and obstacle and finding ways out. Sometimes you wonder why and the answer comes to you loud and clear: because there is no other option, because you have made a choice and because you still have to look at your face in the mirror and like what you see. Ans above all because of all the little smiles that greet you every day and the dreams you hold in custody.

So help me God!