Sunday, July 17, 2016

Ditch and varied heritage

I went on a heritage walk in the Charminar area. It involved picking my way through filthy streets to avoid litter, garbage, traffic, slush, and shit, and contriving to look up at intervals to glimpse the heritage structures I was there for. It was awful. My sense of belonging in Hyderabad may have seen me through some of the discomfort, but my friend from out of town didn’t have that buoy. I felt a blend of sympathy for her and embarrassment on Hyderabad’s behalf throughout the trip.

How can we get away with interpreting filth as quaint and cultural, and worthy of immersion in to get the true feel of a place? All the while, paradoxically, we get affronted when outsiders call our places filthy. Dirt, as in dust, mud, sand, gravel, may be mildly romantic. What is not is stinky garbage, poor municipal sanitation, thoughtless construction of roads and pavements, and bodily wastes on streets. Roadside eateries where food and beverage spills are wiped up with the same rag as the seats you are ushered into are not confidence-building.

Wastes have changed – in quality and quantity. People’s ways of dealing with them haven’t. The result is hillocks and streams of unsightly, and dangerous, garbage all over, particularly in celebrated places bursting with “culture”, unless the place has been taken under the wing of a foundation that cleans it up, restores it, and charges a fee to keep it visitable.

It is too easy to blame people for littering. But it doesn’t come naturally not to litter. The environment — physical, and socio-political — plays a vital initiating and maintaining role in such practices. If there aren’t user-friendly urban infrastructure designs; good urban sanitation policies, facilities and enforcement of rules; handy receptacles for wastes of different sorts; reminders at points-of-decision while the new behaviour is learned; and inspiration from role-models, not to mention pride in one’s home and surroundings, it is too much to expect people to keep their neighbourhoods clean, particularly when they have spent years adapting new wastes to old styles of disposal, e.g., flicking a plastic wrapper away like they used to flick the leaf and blade of grass that held snacks together in the old days.

This is a failure of intersectoral collaboration, preceded, unfortunately, by failures of each sector’s work. The tourism department puts its resources into organising visitor-friendly guided routes and schedules to showcase the architectural beauties of a place, and gets dismally let down by a set of other government departments, e.g., the local governance, traffic police, roads and buildings. Some more thought and concerted action are needed to make places habitable, visitable, and worthy of their attractive tags. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

The plight of the favourite

I know someone who dislikes her boss (true, that’s at least half the world), but is favoured by him. She receives due acknowledgement for her work, opportunities for more productive work, and some aid in negotiating administrative hurdles in her professional life. She didn’t seek this special attention, and doesn’t really revel in it, although the availability of opportunities and the absence of hurdles are not unwelcome. What’s unwelcome, and not entirely fair, is the inexorable envy of her colleagues.

I know someone who through chance events (X-Y pairing, and originating in the family of a particular person) became the favoured grandchild of a certain grandfather who held a good deal of sway. The grandfather, despite being well-supplied with grandchildren of either sex, chose to demonstrate his adoration of this child flagrantly, with visible gifts and special privileges, in full view of the other grandchildren. The favoured one is reputed (by his irate cousins) to have had his head turned by this coddling, which, even if true, lays the blame at the parents’ and grandparents’ feet rather than the child’s. In any case, he earned a great deal of bullying in his childhood, which turned to private scoffing and aloofness as maturity intervened.

I know someone who is a decent, insightful, intelligent, responsible and fun person, deserving of most of the popularity he enjoys. In addition, he is a light-complexioned Indian male, of a fairly privileged community, and holds the positions of son-in-law, brother-in-law, etc., which grant him special status more or less automatically. He has to contend with the annoyance of his less-advantaged peers, of either sex, who cannot dismiss all the adulation he gets as unjustified, but chafe, all the same, at the moiety of the adulation that is (unjustified by his character, skills, or work).

Persons in power – relatives, friends, bosses – often pick one or a few of their ‘subjects’ to favour, and to unabashedly and insensitively shower with attention, gifts, and opportunities. The ones bypassed are rightfully aggrieved, and often demonstrate their displeasure in resentful silence, plentiful gossip, complaints through ‘proper channels’, if any, or all too often, in mistreatment of the favourites. This last is an unfortunate, and seldom justified, recourse.

Not all favourites are sycophants, diligently sucking up to the authorities to ensure a smooth and undeserved ride for themselves. Some certainly are, and this is not about them, the *$#@&%! Others are simple souls, wending their way through life in all rectitude, neither seeking nor enjoying the glare of the authorities’ attention. That they do not shun the opportunities that come their way does not automatically make them undeserving. And the fact that some of them merit at least some of the favour they enjoy, making it tough for a fair observer to summarily dismiss their popularity and detest them whole-heartedly, is not their fault. This is more or less a ‘poor little rich boy’ situation. Many favourites even experience a measure of self-doubt at intervals, when contemplating the smooth path that stretches out before and behind them. It can be tough to negotiate the intricacies of these social associations, various combinations of fair and pleasant.

Not having had (or at least, not admitting to) first-hand experience of such favour, but having observed representatives of both the favoured and the envious subgroups, I speak from a point of detachment and empathy!