Sunday, September 04, 2016

The Ugly House

It was an ugly house.

The old house, and old it was, was an unsightly mess.  Chipped off paint, mold and seeping water, poorly designed pillars, broken steps, overflowing septic tank, a "garden" full of weeds and insects, garbage strewn around, decomposing left-over food, ...

People who had seen other houses passed by this house and cursed loudly at it.  "What a horrible ungodly pigsty it is."  "It should just be razed to the ground."  "What an eyesore." "Don't the people who live here have any sensitivity?" "Are they even human?"

An old man lived in that house.  Nobody had bothered to ask him why his home was the way it was.  And he was too old, and too frail, and too naive, and perhaps even too ignorant, to explain it.

But if you looked closely, and carefully, it was apparent that he had lived an irregular life.  His right arm, amputated, was just a stump.  He had a hunchback, it seemed he had carried heavy burdens.  There were concussion marks on his head, and marks of lashings on his back.  Who had tortured him so brutally?  It was a miracle that he was even surviving.  It was said that he was a slave for many decades, but after his masters set him free, his own brothers enslaved him and tortured him even more.

There was no supply of water to his home, even though he paid his monthly bill.  He was unwashed and so was his house.

He had tried to go to a hospital once.  He was abused and chased out.

At the end of his tether and teetering at the brink of giving up and dying, he was so scared, so scarred, so witless and so inward-looking that notions of beauty, aesthetics and even good health were meaningless to him.

When I see my fellow countrymen and countrywomen, the easy option is to deride them for their underdevelopment and unwholesomeness.  But when I see the scars of their history, the unwritten history, and believe me it is unwritten as yet, of their brutal oppression by their tyrannical masters, and the fear in their eyes, and also the hope that their children will win an Olympic medal, have better hair and a good haircut and will read books not just in the syllabus, I see them not as flawless vessels of glass but as sometimes ashen embers in a clay oven burning so that the jade that comes out of the hearth will be more beautiful and will reflect the sun's rays with more fierceness than the dull deathly despondence of their fathers and forefathers who lived in ugly houses because all the beauty and truth and hope and songs of gaiety and freedom had been robbed from them.

The Rat Race

The two rats were lounging back, engaged in discussion.

The first rat exclaimed: "But what's the point of racing our fellow rats?  At the end of the race, whether we win or lose, eventually a cat will swallow us anyway."

The second rat retorted: "But a cat might pounce on us here too.  So what is to be done?"

They both started pondering over this predicament, and became silent.

It was a grave impasse.  How, indeed, to live if death anyway was going to end it all?

Zorba the third rat joined them after having stolen some cheese and brought some for them too.  He asked them why they were so sullen?  Both the rats explained their quandary.

Zorba laughed.

He asked them: "Are you trying to avoid the cat while going about your daily life?"  Both of them nodded yes.

He asked them: "Why? Why not give up and offer yourself to the cat right now?"

Both the rats loudly proclaimed: "Because we want to live, Zorba!"

"But why do you want to live, my brothers?", continued Zorba.

They had no answer.  They just wanted to live, because that was their nature: to live and not to invite death.

Then Zorba sat down in front of them, and said, "Remember what I am going to tell you now."

"Whether you live this way or that way, death will overtake you.  Therefore death is irrelevant.  It is not a factor in how you should want to live your life.  If you win the rat race, the cat will devour you.  But if you don't join the rat race, the cat will still devour you.  Therefore, the cat is only an excuse for you to not do anything, anything at all.  There might be other reasons why you are not interested in this particular race: perhaps because you want something different."

"But never, ever blame the cat.  The cat is a constant, an invariant in whatever you do.  Therefore the cat is to be disregarded.  Completely, utterly, absolutely."

"If you live bemoaning the impermanence of life, it is perhaps that someone has told you that there is something other than this impermanence, which makes you want THAT and not THIS."

"Beware of those false prophets.  They will bring you nothing but misery."

And then he gave them some bits of cheese.  Impermanent though the sensation of taste was, the rats were thankful.  And hopeful.

McDonald's is not selling food in India

It is selling professionalism, hygiene and process.

Chicken burgers are available elsewhere too.  Aloo tikki is a staple of Indian street food.

But upwardly mobile folks all go to western fast food joints.  There are birthday celebrations and dates in McDonald's.  Haldiram's etc. are doing reasonably well, but there is a lingering suspicion that behind the scenes the bania must be cutting corners in terms of either material quality or training.

In developed countries, where all three of the above are ubiquitous, McDonald's is a matter of convenience and cheap food.  However, in India, all three are scarce.  People go to McDonald's to experience the features of a western developed country: modern machines, quality control, trained and courteous employees, quick service, etc.

Western fast food is unhealthy, though probably no more than Indian fast food (dosa, pakoda, paratha, etc.).  It is the brand and what it represents that makes the opening of a McDonald's or a KFC outlet an event in a small town in India.

One might criticize big corporations for various reasons, but it is clear to me that there is immense need and desire for people in poorer countries for the higher quality and streamlined processes that can only happen with planning, technology and investment.

At least, till that quality and process-orientation becomes more common in the society at large.