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A Study in Contrasts


Damaged goods in a well - designed system.


In the good old (?) USA where I live now, often I have run into a category of individuals generally above twenty years of age, who I consider as “damaged goods”. A person from this group will list many a reason for his or her lack of a productive life, chief amongst which is a huge blame game tossed over to his handicapped parentage. This then becomes the reason why the person cannot hold a job, why marriages are broken or why drugs and alcohol become a way of life. They also take to pseudo spiritual adventures and flaunt many a half- baked knowledge combined with a life of scanty discipline. Many companies have products that cater to such folks and so do many popular spiritual leaders. The latter ache to control and lead the minds of the vulnerable. 


They however live in a land where, when I travel, I know that if I need small and urgent anything, I can stop at any 7-11 or minimarkets and find them. Gas stations all have restrooms and while travelling are signs that indicate how far the rest and nourishment places are. Entering any downtown,  I am bound to find fast food places in strategic spots and stores selling commodities, apparel and wares that are common. Predictability and certainty accompany travellers here. Looking down from a window of the airplane, I see fields and rows of vegetation in geometric patterns. Cities both urban and suburban like model towns have roads and homes arranged in a neat fashion. I find orderly ques in banks, post offices and check out counters, cars ply the roads like ant trails within the white lines and there is courtesy at intersections.  All these are signs that point to a love for order and plans. It also shows that folks follow laws that apply to public behavior  subconsciously perhaps and many a transaction is dotted with phrases such as an excuse me, thank you and you are welcome.


Resilient minds in a damaged system


In India where I come from, often a young person has had to suffer severe financial difficulties, loss of family support due to death and has to struggle for an education and a career. Strangely I get to know of such a person’s handicap only after prying or after a lengthened friendship. I have run into so many families where a brother of a widow will stay single and take up the role of a father for his sister’s children. I have known many mothers who willingly take on the wayward child of a relative in order to ease the situation and straighten the boy before returning him to his home. Amazing how marriages remain strong even when the spouses have jobs in towns far away.


Yet there is worry written on many a face at the bus stop and railway station. The source is not personal history but rather it is connected to the daily interactions he or she has to endure with a system of governance that may be best described as bordering on an archaic hierarchy and bureaucracy. Push and shove is the way to get to counters here. Streets are laid out helter skelter. Pedestrians cross roads anywhere, dangerously dodging the traffic.  The average citizen’s callousness towards public hygiene, his ready acceptance of bribery, his lack of fear of consequence, the ease in which abuses are received and inflicted and most of all rampant dishonesty and corruption all point to a mish mash of laws and public infrastructure.   


In one land, maintenance of  honor among family members is practically nil, while behavior in the public is generally law abiding and courteous, in the other, a strict code of behavior within families is still maintained, while stepping out into the public, rules if any can be ignored or even broken.


January 11, 2011, Trivandrum

enlarged amabahouse main strip
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