The Guilty Indian

Posted By: Rupa Gulab|Dated: December 1, 2011

I’m always amazed when foreigners visit India in search of inner peace. Admittedly, you can discover a lot of wonderful things in India, but peace certainly is not one of them. Guilt, however, is readily available in large doses whether you want it or not, and you don’t need to visit an ashram and give hefty donations to BMW-owning spiritual leaders (who, ironically, preach the joys of a non-materialistic mindset) to experience it. We’re born with guilt from our past life (karma) and we go on to feel miserably guilty for the rest of our lives.

The Guilty Indian

This inner-conflict that most well-heeled Indians suffer from stems from the shocking disparity between the haves and the have-nots. I’m not surprised that India’s poor are more religious than the rich – they fervently hope that at least God may give them what the government (whichever government is in power) doesn’t. To be fair, though, the Government of India has got some fabulous well-meaning schemes like MGNREGA in place – sadly, they turn out to be not so fabulous when greedy middle-men exploit them to fatten their personal piggybanks. An idea amounts to nothing without conscientious execution.

Just a stroll down the streets can make you wallow in guilt. You spot a man sleeping on a filthy footpath but there’s nothing you can do about it – forget it and move on, or else you may spend a few sleepless nights on your comfortable mattress. A child in grimy, tattered clothes tugging your arm can also tug at your heartstrings – even when you know clearly that most beggars are part of an evil underworld syndicate. It’s a little easier to assuage your guilt here if you’re smart enough to carry small packs of glucose biscuits to hand out. That way you feed the poor but not the underworld syndicate.

You gnash your teeth, scowl and throw a tantrum when the house-help does a bunk on the grounds of having the flu – but you think nothing of calling in sick when you have a tequila-induced hangover. You stuff yourself with vitamins and minerals for an air-conditioned desk job, while manual labourers who actually need those vitamins and minerals get nothing nutritious to eat.  I know a terrifically wealthy lady who gives stale, ant-ridden sweets to her house-help as treats – oh, and she always proudly introduces herself to her peers as a Gandhian! Recently, my eyebrows shot way past my hairline when I read an article on how Mumbai’s celebrities maintain their toned bodies: apparently, most of them partake of slimming soup and salads at home before they go to parties. So who consumes those fancy Mushroom Vol-au-Vents, Smoked Salmon Canapés et cetera? Not India’s starving millions but municipal garbage bins, tsk.

I could go on and on about the unfairness of it all but I’m guilty once again – this time for stating the obvious. Instead, I have a suggestion: wealthy Indians should visit the West more often – not to shop and sightsee, but to find ways to help us reduce the rich-poor disparity and the guilt that comes with it. Perhaps one of the most valuable things we can learn from Westerners is how to treat the underprivileged with respect – for starters, that is! Then, perhaps we can move on to more vitally important issues like minimum wages and maximum working hours across the board. I don’t know about you, but that will definitely make me feel more at peace than hours of meditation in the Himalayas.  Who knows, I may even attain nirvana!

Rupa Gulab

Rupa Gulab is a columnist and the author of Girl Alone, Chip of the Old Blockhead, and The Great Depression of the 40s.

The views expressed above are those of the author, and not necessarily representative of the views of the Mahindra Group.

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  • Aravind

    Amen to that!

  • Anwesha

    Why do you think middle class/wealthy Westerners are able to treat the poor with more respect than Indian middle/upper class do?  Why do Indians treat poor people as though they are less human?

  • John Galt

    I appreciate the author’s effort in highlighting the issue…Respectm/

    I think this issue also throws some light on possibly why affirmative action has failed in this country for the past sixty years – Lack of good intent…

    However, I think she errs in looking at policy design and implementation as separate entities w.r.t. NREGA…Lack of implementation means that the policy is designed with a flaw and myopic!

  • Rana Gagan

    I agree that whatever has been stated is true, except that we should learn from west?? Perhaps we should go deeper into our own culture/history – BEFORE we were enslaved by mugals/brits…… We have acquired a greed of an insecure individual, which in turn is also the mentality of a slave… We need to strengthen our “values” and be more honest with ourselves….

  • Nirmala

    We need a great movement similar to the one started by Anna Hazare to ensure that the social security bill for the unorganised sector is implemented in totality, I think that will indeed be the magic wand to wipe out disparity to a great extent. Only the fear of the law will make our people pay adequate wages to their housemaids, watchman, etc.

  • Tarun

    Excellent article , well done !

  • Hazel Nut

    BRILLIANT ARTICLE!!! I was so overwhelmed after reading it because it is an accurate echo of my thoughts and feelings put into words! The disparity between a rich man and a poor man in our country is simply outrageous, and yet, sometimes we cannot do anything about it. I dunno what to say now..I’m at a loss for words just thinkin about it again.. :(

  • John

    in playing down preachings.. she herself is preaching…..Indians do not have to travel to west to learn how to treat the poor… the west has enough problems of racism, inadequate banking systems and capitalistic mammoths …. just ask INDIANS to wake up to the problem… good enough

  • Prateek Kumar

    Immediately after reading this piece i could connect with the author. I still remember the face of an unknown boy at a traffic signal trying to peddle childrens’ books. Seeing him, i felt obliged to buy one. When the signal turned green, i gave him another glance and he smiled back. It was one of the most wonderful smiles in the world which conveyed sincere gratitude. But it only ended up making me feel still more miserable. Tears welled up as i realised that i was powerless to drag him out of his present situation.

  • Jadhav Suraj S

    Very well said

  • Shiva from Jaipur

    Overpopulation is the root cause of all evils in our society and is much worse than corruption. Smaller  population is always fed ample, taught free education atleast to highschool and managed well with less disparities between top and bottom earners.

    India is an extreme example where mob & corrupts will rule this country if population control is not taken care of because they dare to dance naked on streets even if their number is much less than those who cannt dare naked dance. The naked dancer’s number is good enough to scare away others divided people to their home in locked condition. These naked people will rob your hard earned & taxed money right in front of your eyes and you are helpless. How can you expect is such jungle raj to respect & get respect. Forget it.. it’s the wildest dream.

  • Shiva from Jaipur

    Overpopulation is the root cause of all evils in our society and is much worse than corruption. Smaller  population is always fed ample, taught free education atleast to highschool and managed well with less disparities between top and bottom earners.

    India is an extreme example where mob & corrupts will rule this country if population control is not taken care of because they dare to dance naked on streets even if their number is much less than those who cannt dare naked dance. The naked dancer’s number is good enough to scare away others divided people to their home in locked condition. These naked people will rob your hard earned & taxed money right in front of your eyes and you are helpless. How can you expect is such jungle raj to respect & get respect. Forget it.. it’s the wildest dream.

  • RomaCircar

    First it was caste, now class; a disparity has to exist. True human rights education begins at home, and schools too should perpetuate this from day one of a child’s schooling so that the concept of equality becomes ingrained rather than outsourced at a later age.

    An excellent piece of prose, and a valuable message.

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