|He never knew his birthday|
would cause so much misery
But I couldn't have borne the burden of being a Hypocrite! Last year on Gandhi Jayanti, Shashi Tharoor tweeted about how illogical, rather insulting, it is to not work on the birthday of a man for whom work was worship (or something like that, I can't recall his exact words!) and I sided with him. Now when I had the choice to work or not, I couldn't have backed off my own (OK, borrowed) stand.
Before leaving home I called a colleague to understand the status quo. He painted a gloomy picture for me. That was more of a reason to go!
When I eventually reached at the Metro station at noon, it was literally deserted but for the army of rickshaw-pullers. With the day being a national holiday, passengers were as rare as good, logical policies in the UPA-2 regime!
Kamla Nagar is very close to my Garage (and my heart!). Being the hub of Girls' PG (paying guest accommodation), it seemed an Oasis to me! I thought, maybe the girls will venture out to shop or meet their friends/boyfriends giving an opportunity to earn something. But so 'caring' are guys these days, they don't even let their girls to move; they come to the PGs on their Pulsars and FZs and Bullets.
In the movie "Shawshank Redemption", Tim Robbins said, "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies." I am almost sure that none of my friends has ever seen the movie or even heard the name but somehow they just know these immortal lines.
Despite knowing fully well that it's Gandhi Jayanti and everything is closed today, they still hoped that they would be able to earn enough to eat and pay the rickshaw rent. And that's why, while questioning my decision to come so far to pull the rickshaw on a holiday (and calling me an idiot in the process), they themselves played the bet in which the odds were pitted heavily against them. And I know they will be hoping the same thing again and again for this entire week (1st-7th Oct) when the Delhi University is vacationing.
"How much did you earn so far", I asked my friend kallu, at 1:30 PM? "Rs 20", was his prompt reply. Make no mistake, he is my idol when it comes to 'picking-up' customers at Metro station. He is prolific at the art. On other days he averages 500 rupees if not more!
Another Bengali friend, who was playing game on his mobile to pass time, hadn't even done his 'boni' (the first earning of the day!). He was waiting for the glimpses of his "celebrity" sawari for the past 2 hours!
In the evening, when I met this 76-year-old friend of mine (yes 76 year old!), he was quite nonchalant on this day of misery (no offence Gandhiji!) He had only earned Rs 60 so far but however meager it was, it belonged to him. Because thankfully, he owned the Rickshaw and needed not to pay 40 or 50 rupees rent to anybody.
This is the Birthday Gift of Gandhi to the poor of India - more poverty, hunger, starvation, worry, stress and exploitation! A man who spent his entire life in a dhoti; a man who held poverty as the "worst form of violence".
I can't help but recall 'Gandhi's Talisman' which is there on the very first page of every NCERT book. It says -
"Whenever you are in doubt... apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything by it? Will it restore him [her] to a control over his [her] own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?..."
Did the government ever apply this test to itself before declaring his birthday a National Holiday? Did they ask themselves if this step would be of any use to the poorest, weakest man that they claim to be so concerned about?
I just hope that we find a better way to celebrate the birthday of 'the man of the millennium' which, if doesn't respects his philosophies, at least doesn't flout them so brazenly!
PS: and on a personal level, I hope that the Rickshaw garage owners, who are fully aware of the hostile conditions, (and themselves have seen the days in the past) show some sympathy and reduce the rent by 50% for this week.