Heaven and Hell

“Heaven and Hell are right here on Earth.“ My  father repeats this over and over again, but it takes drastic, hard-hitting doses of reality for me to grasp and absorb his wisdom.

My friend Ajay, a journalist based out of Mumbai, just sent me this: Hell in Mumbai.  

I read it and intended to relax around for the evening but a volley of thoughts has flooded my mind, and they must be put down in writing.

Ajay rightly says that the Indian Government has failed its own people. But they’re not the only ones – so have the police and civic services, and above all, we the people.

We have failed those whom we depend on time and again.

At the risk of inviting the wrath of others, I think that a large part of this inertia that stops us from doing anything despite being faced with abject poverty day after day, is that we explain it away. And the more intelligent we are, the worse, because our intellect can help us come up with increasingly creative explanations. (Sidenote: I have a growing list of intelligent phenomena that are negative and hurtful, and that list is expanding and exploding out of control).

A large part of this is due to the perversion of the idea of “Karma” and its use and abuse by the average Indian. In a Hindu majority country, where religion is tightly intertwined into our lives, we use Karma to explain to ourselves why those born at the bottom of the social ladder deserve it.

It doesn’t matter whether or not you believe in Karma, nor does it matter whether or not you’re religious. I’m not religion bashing, nor am I blaming the concept of Karma – that is too easy. It is just another way to blame something or someone else for existing misery. Whatever you chose to blame: the person in misery, karma, religion, your conditioning, or theirs – this is just shifting blame, it is just an excuse to not act. Blaming Danny Boyle for romanticising poverty and exposing the underbelly of our cities, saying that this is not the face of real India, is also just shifting the blame.

We have such deep economic disparities that the numbers that would stun anyone. Just because they don’t make the headlines every day doesn’t mean that these are not real problems, it doesn’t mean that they are not ticking time bombs. The fact that this misery and poverty is normalised does not make it normal.

My mother teaches deaf and mute children to talk without using sign language. Spend an afternoon with them, help them articulate how they spent their day at school, and you will wonder like I do. You will wonder why we who have two hands and legs that are still working, all our senses intact, and a functioning brain, still manage to shift the blame and not act.

When we understand that Heaven and Hell are indeed right here on Earth, and that they are products of our own making, then perhaps we will get up and act. Then, maybe, we will stop waiting for a God or a saviour to come around and help us.

Before you accuse me of blogging in my comfortable bed in a pretty apartment in Western Europe: I will have to ask you to wait a few months and try and say that to me again. Then things will be clearer.

Ajay also said to me that “the women get the worst.” I do not want to begin to imagine what little girls go through in these parts of my city every day.

Just yesterday I was walking around in Amsterdam with a female friend, the weather was quite pleasant, which gave some tourists additional reason to get drunk/stoned out of their minds. There was a group of boys, one of whom tried to forcibly feed my friend some chips from a bag that he was eating from. That was bizzare, and we ignored it, walked along and then turned back to go elsewhere when we encountered them again. We walked past them without looking and a minute later one of the guys was standing in front when I realised that another one of them had forced himself between my friend and I and put his arms around us while the guy in front took a picture. Lecherous screaming from a third guy followed, which is when I lost it and screamed at them to “Get away.” We kept walking but a volley of abuse continued, which included “You talking to me bitch? I will break your head off.”

This was a minor incident, but there were about 15 people seated at a cafe that we passed. They were watching this whole scene as if it was completely normal. What really stayed with me was the violence in the guy’s words. They were drunk/stoned I know, but the words were sharp and acrimonious anyway.

I turned to my friend once we were a safe distance away and said “I don’t understand why these people think they can get away with anything. I don’t want to know what the women who work in the red-light district here have to go through. If they can talk to respectably dressed girls on the street like this, imagine what they think they can get away with when they are paying for a service.”

This is not totally unrelated to the rant about Dharavi above. Combine deep poverty and misogyny and the worst possible humanitarian crisis unfolds before your eyes.

Many will tell you that the women who work as prostitutes are opting to go through the kind of abuse that sex workers face every day. Saying that they’re earning it is the same thing again: shifting the blame.

Wheter you practice Metta like me, pray, send good thoughts, or whatever else you do – don’t forget the slumdogs of our world. Especially not the girls.

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16 thoughts on “Heaven and Hell

  1. Raam Das says:

    I try to explain My Mom, How to Improve Karma. As those Underprivileged people could be in state because of their karma, But elite or Privileged can improve their Karma Further by Donating to them. -:)
    You are right in Pointing toward Underbelly & Citizens responsibilities to Improve their standard. I heard In Gujarat CM Start Public / Government Partnership Program for Malnutrition Kids by Donating Milk, So very Interesting Period in Future.
    Till then you are Right Directing metta will definitely work wonders.

    • mehtaamruta says:

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts Raam.

      Whatever the promise of politicians and policy, I find that there is much room for us to be better overseers and watchdogs, to make it known when things (that we are personally passionate about) don’t go to plan, or when the money disappears.

      And I find that there is another level, the one you mention, of beginning at home. My experience has been that when one voices a political concern within the family that meets with resistance, the action taken to overcome that resistance gives us all the strength we need to go out in the world and do what is necessary.

  2. Ajay Kamalakaran says:

    Disgusted to hear about your incident in the “civilized” West. As for religion, it has been misused for time immemorial. “God’s Will” is what the monotheists say for many a situation where things can be done.

    Please also remember that the civil services and police are arms of the government.

  3. Mark Nesbit says:

    We all rationalize our emotional choices in order to justify them : “I *need* a new car (because the old one might let me down), I should get a BMW because buying quality makes good financial sense.” … is the way we rationalize the basic irrational emotional desire generated by a car’s marketed-image. We cant face up to being driven by our emotions, so we simply re-express the situation, and rationalize our behavior after the emotional choice has been made. It seems to me your idea of the perversion of Karma is governed by the same mechanism. We also retrospectively rationalize the world around us to justify our decision to “avoid” choices and realizations that we don’t want to make. Rationally no one can accept poverty, but it exists and the emotional burden of that realization is high, so we re-shape the situation to provide a rationale for it that avoids facing the emotional consequences. Maybe ?

    • mehtaamruta says:

      I think you’re right Mark. It is the fear of having to face reality and our own notions of the world around us that stops us from really seeing things as they are, and from doing what is necessary. The fear of our own reactions, the fear of the truth, and ultimately the fear of fear itself.

      As for your statement about the fear of having to face up to being driven by our emotions, this, I find, is where emotions begin to be labeled negatively. When in fact, if we follow them deeply and face up to them without indulging, we can begin to uncover our fears.

  4. uberschizo says:

    I feel like i am repeating myself 🙂 but.

    1. Death due to violence, poverty, Hunger, all of these are reducing with time.
    2. Poverty is more visible now, because of urban migration/slums
    3. Intractable Poverty still remains a very tough thing to get rid of
    4. We Need some sort of denial/coping mechanisms to go through life
    5. Public display of poverty porn is unlikely to affect change, it has been shown only to feed to our baser instincts.
    6. Passion, like you show in this post, usually arises from experience, thought.
    7. today, more than any other time in human history, you, and I can do something that can matter, tangibly to those we care about, be it the deaf, or the dying.


  5. Vasu says:

    This is a good blog topic, Amruta.

    I have thought long and hard of all the injustices, inequalities, and perversities that happen in the world, and believe every one of us has a small role to play in correcting them.

    The first step is to pretty much acknowledge where the problem areas are, rather than bury them under the carpet in various names: Development / Growth, Karma etc

    Subsequently, my personal view is to pick and choose what matters most to you. I am an average selfish guy in many ways: I like to earn my money, travel the world, enjoy the pleasures of life, have a family etc, and I do not see how I can correct all problems, especially where the institutions are so rotten. In many ways, the system / institution /government in efficiencies can only hinder us to a certain extent; if we decide that I am going to solve this particular problem, come what may.

    The nature of the problem, and the scope of the solution should be our individual discretion. For example, I may take up women’s education as a project, and see if I can contribute to the education of a few girl children in the country. This may not solve all problems, this may not prevent sexual harassment in many cities, and this may not get rid of corruption. But this may make a big difference to the 2-3 girls who get a chance to study, and this may be a realistic target for an individual citizen to achieve in his lifetime.

    Depending on each of our appetites for time, effort, and money, most educated Indians are capable of picking any cause they find meaningful and dedicating a good part of their lives to that.
    I would be glad to hear more details of what you, and other readers plan to do. When we blog and discuss about them, this helps spread awareness.

    Vasu (Awittytwit on Twitter)

  6. MarkNezBit says:

    Ok, here’s a comment that out-grew the box … Action and Reward, a tricky balance : http://www.marknezbit.com/wordpress/?p=107

  7. […] friend Amruta posted on Heaven and Hell on her blog and it prompted me to comment. The comment out-grew the box, so I posted it […]

  8. […] her blog Heaven and Hell, my friend Amruta talks about “the perversion” of the idea of “Karma” in […]

  9. MarkNezBit says:

    A doctors appointment the other day triggered some thoughts on the rewards of direct action http://www.marknezbit.com/wordpress/?p=134

  10. Vidyut Kale says:

    Well said. I agree with a lot of the comments here. Don’t have thoughts of what is right or wrong so much as the impact on us. Your response to the stoned tourists hit me hard. As a woman, often having been in vulnerable public situations in the past, I could relate with your telling them off, and disproportionate aggression in the response. I have no answers on what should be done, but I find that it had a great impact on my perceptions of safety and willingness to challenge wrong or willingness to let go of my freedoms to remain safe. I find it is always somewhere in the middle, and it keeps changing.

    Not much is said about our response to things beyond our control. Possibly because few are okay with contemplating their vulnerability. I have a vague idea that our response to the world we experience is possibly the only thing directly within our sphere of influence with the power to change the world.

    Rather abstract comment. Not going for logic as such. Posting it anyway.

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