Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Common Man

Hmm. Twenty two years. By no means, is a short span of life. Maybe one-third of my entire lifespan. Aaah..while dreaming, why dream till the roof?? Dream till the sky, dream beyond…..cross the world. Then, maybe I can say, I have lived up around one-fifth of my entire life that Almighty has licensed me to be in this world.

Born into this great nation, I have had the dispensation to live in two very contrasting parts of the country. My home state, the “State of Domicile” as the official records put it, is one of the southernmost in the country. And the state where I stayed for near half a decade, where I did my graduation, towards the opposite direction.

This is just a random jotting down of thoughts. The way of life in either of these states, rather the way I assimilate the life of an aam aadmi in these places. I do apologize at the very outset if this entire piece seems satirical, for that is the very aim, the very zest of this article!!!

Aaah, home sweet home. Do allow me the freedom to start off with my home state. What is widely renowned as God’s Own Country. Am sure though, that God might be having a slight difference of opinion.

This friend, very appositely called aam aadmi, owns a motorbike. All through his life, he toils hard for buying a Maruti mid-size car [well, a lot of socio-cultural and business revolutions like Hyundai Santros and Tata Nanos do threaten the Maruti dream, but the “status” of owning a car remains unaltered, no matter the brand]. Wealth, however scanty, is ostentatiously displayed, with women (and often men indeed) showing unbounded zeal for 22-carat gold jewellery. The higher the grade of the car one owns, the higher is his “status” in the society. And every person strives to be in a class higher than the one he actually belongs to. A person in the lower middle class strives to show-off as if he belongs to the upper middle class; someone in the latter category displays attire and attitude that is supposedly the trademark of a higher “elite” class.

When it comes to educational qualification, this person is almost certainly a graduate or at least, in too very rare cases, a matriculate least of all. Malayalam medium schools are the places where only the “lower class” peoples’ children go. For our aam aadmi, his dream is to see his child study in an English medium school. And yet, in spite, the English accent of a common man is so very strange and unique that it’s hard to comprehend for many an outsider. And contrastingly, for a state that boasts of near centum literacy rate, the “level of sensibility” is alarmingly low. To be added is the fact that since a significant proportion of the populace are literate, every other person you come across desires a job “in an office, sitting on a revolving chair under the fan.” Hence, the people hard to find by are laborers like painters, blacksmiths, household helpers etc because we believe, these are jobs “not fit for the educated” and it is better to sit at home jobless than take up some of these as vocation. Even though the state is a global tourism destination, tourists – both foreigners and north Indians, are treated as if they come from another planet. A typical Keralite has a disgusting stare towards anyone who cannot speak Malayalam in his vicinity, one that leaves any human being puzzled and often irritated.

The earlier generation Keralites seemingly had a higher degree of civic sense when it comes to etiquette like avoiding spitting on road or throwing waste on roadside, but the modern generation seldom seems to care of those little factors. For a Keralite, communism is a part of the political fabric and for Communists, revolution is an integral part of them. They seem to be a group of people who feel that absolutely nothing in India is correct, the United States ( and CIA ), they claim, are the root cause of all the problems in India, including petroleum products’ price rise and India should learn and practice the policies of China and erstwhile Soviet Republic (curiously enough, they take care not to mention about Poland in any of their propaganda ). And very amusingly, the Left government in the state, which has regularly gone in for increasing bus, auto-taxi and essential commodities like milk prices almost annually, announces a harthal the day after Central government decided to raise the fuel prices, when no other state in the country shut down (Read this together with the fact that Kerala was possibly the only place in the world which held a harthal (declared by the ruling Communists) the day on which Saddam Hussein was executed; not even Iraq would’ve thought of this idea!!)

Blown the trumpet too much. On my home state. I’ll shift the domain north. To the state which I completed my graduation. To Uttar Pradesh.

Talking about the common man here, he owns a bicycle. And a lifelong toil in the fields earns only a lucky few the opportunity to own a motorbike. In villages, which are the places where probability of finding this person is maximum, a car is considered a symbolism of eliteness in a social setup which is still based more or less on a feudal structure. This person is more straight and pure at heart when compared to his counterparts down south (Hold on…we’re not talking politicians here. Those class of people are corrupt – no regional barriers apply there). And he is in general very naive, with rather little “display” of his wealth, if any.

In a general perspective, this person’s educational qualification is relatively low. One cannot expect this person to be qualified above matriculate, or intermediate at best. But the better part is, he is more or less satisfied with his life in his village and in satisfaction index, ranks very high in my view. Anyone with a strong educational background is revered highly in the north Indian village culture. His display of respect towards persons elder in age to himself is very commendable, with gestures including falling onto the feet which are very much absent down south.

Little is he expected to know about politics outside Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati. Any place south of Bambai[Bombay], is, for him, Madras and anyone from there is considered a Madrassi. Basic amenities like power is very scantily available [even heard of places with eighteen hour power cuts!], whereas I remember in the case of my state, there was an outrageous uproar from public when the government tried to implement a half-hour per day “load shedding” power cut. A typical aam aadmi cannot escape the clutches of Paan and Gutkha and has a very unhygienic habit of spitting any convenient place he finds. As such, the level of civic awareness is quite low, propounded by higher amount of illiteracy. As a direct consequence, the levels of hygiene in villages and cities alike are quite poor when compared to towns in Kerala.

Although I’ve heard a lot about the north Indian attitude of travelling ticketless in trains quite widely, I have not found any instance of any such happening personally.

Let me wind up this piece with a couple of outstanding feature of Keralites. Their overwhelming lust for harthals [a re-christening of what is known elsewhere in India as bandh. The Kerala High Court was literally mocked when it banned bandhs in the state and the intelligent political assemblage came out with a new name – harthal] and booze. An eminent social scientist once pointed very accurately that harthal is the only “festival” in Kerala which is celebrated across socio-economic-religious barrier by all the people throughout the state. People now view it as a public holiday, a day when everyone in the family stays at home and enjoys a complete “day-off.” Shops, business and academic establishments are off, public examinations, if any scheduled on that day, are often postponed. Television channels celebrate it as well, with special programmes and new movies on that day, the kind of stuff one would typically expect on a festive occasion or on a regional or national holiday. For a very educated populace, it seems rather an odd phenomenon in stark contrast to Uttar Pradesh, with a significant proportion of the population being relatively illiterate, where life moves on normally, as on any other day during a bandh.

It’s not just quarters like education and health care that Kerala ranks among the top in the country, but also in the consumption of alcoholic beverages. The explosion of number of people consuming alcoholic beverages is a rather recent trend. The state Government owned Beverages Corporation is one of the most profit making public undertakings operating in the state. There have been cases of occurrence of traffic jams in some areas due to the queues in front of Beverages Corporation outlets on the roadside stretching onto the roads.

Been quite a contrast. I have not delved into the cultural or linguistic differences that exist across the two states, but instead, tried to focus on the difference that exists in the attitude and habits of the aam aadmis on either side. Diversity of India is a topic that never ceases to fascinate and there is going to be no dearth on discussions, deliberations and literature on this subject and this is no way meant to be counted among those. I would rather term it a purely individual perspective, how I have seen and experienced life in various parts of the country, in my very short span of life so far.

On the concluding note, I very faintly remember a cartoon that appeared in a Malayalam newspaper sometime in which a “common man” was asked the significance of October 2nd in contemporary India. The reply was, “Beverages Corporation outlets remain closed on the 1st of every month, as a Government policy. In October, the next day being a public holiday due to Gandhi Jayanti, again the outlets are closed. So the first two days of October are dry days and if one wants to have “the stuff”, he must stock it up a couple of days beforehand!! ” Aptly certified by the BBC ( ), the alcohol crazy state had recently come up with a brand titled "Jesus Christ". You drink it, you "resurrect" after three days, the analogy to Jesus Christ being crucified on Good Friday and supposedly resurrected on Easter day, two days hence!!!

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