Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Impatient Indian

The greatest thing about reading books is that they transport you to a place far far away. One such book, that had a great impact on me as I read it was The Sicilian.  Written by Mario Puzo, the author more famously known for his Godfather series, The Sicilian is a side story to The Godfather. It describes the events in Sicily, when Michael Corleone is spending a four year exile. The protagonist of The Sicilian is not Michael Corleone himself, but Salvatore "Turi" Guiliano.

Turi is an intriguing character. For the first 20 years of his life,  he lives the life of a normal, sweet, and loved-by-all kid, who is over-shadowed by his more dominant friend Pisciotta. But when confronted with a challenge to his principles, he stands up for what he believes in, and ends up murdering a caribinieri. This incident leaves a mark on his life, and his hidden characterestics of dominance, fearlessness, and decision-making surface, soon converting him into a dreaded bandit. A good writer etches the characters of the novel so well that each reader will relate with the characters of the novel. Reading The Sicilian, I likened myself to Turi, and imagined myself as some one who is usually calm, but will stand up when a principle I believe in is threatened. I was of course cushioned by the fact that living in a democratic country like India, I may never face such a situation. I was sub-consciously convinced that revolutions occur only in fiction, or in History text books.

But then, looking at the events of the past two years, my assumption that I will not have to put my secret fantasy to test was proved wrong time and again. There have been so many people who have stood for what they believe in the past two years that TIME's person of the year for 2011 was 'The Protestor'. These protests were not restricted to far-off places that hold no importance to us, a few of them were at our own home. There are indications that people around us have much more to protest, varying from occupy movements for internet freedom to price rise and anti-corruption protests. There are many things to wonder about internet freedom, censorship,price hike and other issues, but I am more concerned about the anti-corruption protests here. Granted, I am about 10 months late in writing this, and there is almost no point in bringing it up now, but I just had to get this out of my mind.

A little more than a year before, the country was hit by continuous reports of  corruption in the Central government, as well as various state governments. From literally nowhere, activist Anna Hazare sprang to the national scene by declaring a hunger strike in protest against corruption. Suddenly, the whole country found a vent for their hidden tendency of activism. People all over the country found a way by which they believed they could really contribute to the society. The protest was so widespread that skeptics were labelled as anti-national. Here was probably the closest opportunity I could probably get to stand up for the country's good. Here was the chance to bring out the "Turi"-like determinism in me. Yet, I chose to sit back, and just watch how it turns out to be, instead of walking to the beach with an "I-love-Anna" cap. My reasoning was very simple, and probably wrong. I will not join the anti-corruption movement until I can follow the traffic signal.

Driving a lot around the city in the past two years, I have realized that the operational traffic rules in the city, and probably the whole country is very simple - never stop when the lights are green. When a signal is red, you can choose what to do. When it is orange, you can choose what to do, albeit you need to do it carefully. The instance a signal is green, you need to to race away, or be subjected to severe abuse from the people behind you. Like this wonderful advertisement says, "we are always in a hurry"

Looking at the alarming number of people who do not care to stop when a signal is red, I took a simple personal oath, that I will never jump a signal. Believe me, this seemingly simple act is extremely difficult. For someone riding a vehicle in the city, the temptation to jump a signal is always there, and I have often succumbed to it. There have been numerous times that I have been abused for stopping when a signal is Red. Just a week back, an aged two-wheeler rider watched me stop at a signal which was red for a long time. He came to me, and whispered "poidunga sir, adhu work aagathu" (Move on sir, the signal doesn't work). Just as he finished saying this, the signal turned green. It is often that we feel we are more mature than a stupid signal post, and are capable of making our own decisions. It is not unreasonable for us to get the impression that all rules in this country are  ill-thought out, made by people with less wisdom than us, and hence cumbersome. In our impatience, we feel it is only right to bend them for our own convenience.

I firmly believe that it is this impatience that leads us to corruption. The desire to get things done fast is manifested into corruption, and from what I have seen, almost all of us have this desire. Corruption is in our genes, and it cannot be eradicated by passing a law against only a certain strata of the society. The irony of the whole Anna Hazare campaign is that Team-Anna, and its supporters have shown this quality of impatience in abundance. They have even went to the extent of trying to blackmail the Government to follow their whims. They need to understand that our country will be free from corruption only if we all are ready for it. They also need to understand that corruption is not the only hindrance to the betterment of our country. There are far more important issues to be concerned about.

So in case you are joining Anna Hazare's fast today I wish you luck. I will not join you, at least not until I can confidently say that I don't jump signals.

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