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6-May-2005

Thinking Freedom

 

These days, the person most on my mind is Santosh Yadav, the chanawala at the Marine Drive promenade. Santoshji and I had gradually become known to each other – he watching me regularly and I seeing him regularly on the promenade. Our interactions began with smiles, then short chit-chats and on the last day when I met him, we had a pretty long conversation where he also introduced me to his cousins who were selling sing-chana at Marine Drive . On that day, Santoshji spoke with me about his lifestyle. “I come to the promenade at 4 PM in the evening and am here till 10 PM. I earn enough money and am able to save about five to six thousand rupees a month. I sleep behind the Express Towers . Mornings are for myself. Life is good. Today, a lady from this area offered me a job. She says I will be treated well and the salary is also good. I shall go and see how it is there and then decide.”

Santoshji was recounting how life had become tough for him with the surveillance daily from the Municipality, preventing him from doing dhanda on the promenade. I don’t see him anymore. And perhaps he has taken up the job that was offered to him, not because he wanted to trade his freedom for a regular job, but because the very conditions of freedom for him to do business are increasingly being curbed by the state and he was clear that soon, hawkers would be evicted completely from the Marine Drive promenade.

 

I have narrated Santoshji’s story on my blog before, but these days, my thoughts are wavering on the ideas of freedom and in this regard, I miss Santoshji immensely. Santoshji, when he had spoken to me about his lifestyle, appeared satisfied with the way life was for him. He had no qualms about sleeping behind Express Towers and was happy to save enough money to send to home at the end of the month. Living on a day-to-day basis has perhaps been life for him – not intensely speculating about the future, the concerns of security which haunt our culture.

 

While thinking freedom, I remember also this vivid picture at Marine Drive one evening. I was waiting for Rads outside Pizzeria. Opposite the restaurant were two beggar girls, one beggar woman and two beggar boys. Of the two girls, one was about three to four years old. She was an amazing girl, completely relaxed and basking in the sun. She was lying down, her head on the pavement and one foot on top of the other, swaying the free leg in the air. After a while, she got up and the other girl and she began dancing. I was too tempted to remove my camera and shoot some pictures of the sight – the freedom in their dance, in the little girl’s mannerisms was too tempting for me. But I hesitated, lest my camera bring in pretense or consciousness.

As I think of the girl, I begin to also recollect practices in the local trains these days. Children often come begging in the ladies compartment. Day before yesterday, two ladies in the compartment were lecturing the beggar boys to find jobs in restaurants – “so many children are studying in school in the day and working in restaurants at night. Go seek some job like that instead of begging.” This kind of didactic lecturing is not novel to beggar children and drug addict children these days. I hear these repeatedly, from my own friends and kith and kin. Why does our culture reprimand begging? Is it wrong for some people to be dependent on society and for them to lead their lives the way they want to? What is it that disturbs our society about beggars, drug addicts, etc.?

 

While I write these words and articulate my own thoughts on freedom, I am likely to be criticized about not caring for the poor and being taken up their overt conditions. I am confirming my own thoughts on freedom whereby I don’t want state intervention in my life as well as interventions necessarily from organizations with good intentions to help the poor.

 

When I look at conditions in the city presently, undoubtedly there are strong attempts at homogenizing lifestyles and in this respect, cultures. Management style bureaucracy and ‘place branding’ are today’s mantra. Underlying these notions is the desire for control. The state wishes to bring loose spaces under its control, to curb business practices of unorganized economy because everything must be brought under central control. I am not meaning to present the idea and practice of control in a condemning manner, but am questioning the very sustainability of practices of control. Is that how life works – through centralized control?

 

As I think of Santosh Yadav and the little girl who was dancing opposite Pizzeria, my mind also wanders towards ideas of security for which we are each struggling and aspiring – purchasing property, fixed deposits, bonds, loans, assets, etc. Is this where true security lies?

 

In my experiences as a researcher, I realize that ‘leap of faith’ is a difficult notion for all. But I am convinced for myself that my survival is guaranteed by the relationships which I am constructing and developing with people. Maybe that’s the way life works as well …

xanga

  1. May 6th, 2005 at 08:58 | #1

    Well said once again, but do push your thinking about what disturbs us about beggers or drug-addicts on the street a little further? What do they represent? What does not say about City and our society in general to us?

  2. May 6th, 2005 at 23:59 | #2

    Hi Anup,

    I think what really disturbs us about beggars and drug addicts is that they represent dirt. We look at them with contempt because we think they are dirty. And that they should not be dependant. But what’s wrong in being dependant? I depend on my parents to support me.

    At some level, it is their freedom which is not tolerable to us. As interventionists, we think we want to uplift them to the level that we are. Why can’t we let people be as they are?

    Cheers,

    Zainab

  3. May 7th, 2005 at 15:15 | #3

    Why can’t we let people be as they are?

    I am not sure if I understand you correctly. Should we then be indifferent towards the poor living condition faced by many Bombaites? I would argue on the contrary that what disturbs me is not that the beggers represent dirt, but a section of the society that has not had the opportunity to develop themselves and realize their potential as human beings. In sweeping the train compartments, and begging on the Kurla platform are these folks getting the chance to use their so called freedom? I would like to know what you think.

  4. May 8th, 2005 at 05:08 | #4

    Hi Anup,
    Thank you for your comment. One of the things I have been thinking is about is what is our calculus for wealth? Can there be a universal indicator of wealth and prosperity?
     
    Recently, I read Yazad Jal’s article on rediff where he was commenting on Dilip D’souza’s piece. Dilip D’souza was apparently quite taken aback by the poverty which he had seen in the local trains. Yazad responded in his article by his observations of how more people wear shoes now than before, how people have various mobile phones, etc. I was taken up by Yazad’s article and began wondering whether wealth is all about material possessions. What are our notions of poverty and how are these defined?
     
    Watching children at the railway station indulging in drugs, I have wondered about interventions which social workers make in their life – needing to ‘discipline these errant kids’. How can we judge as a society who needs disciplining and who does not? I believe that these interventions are often attempts at homogenizing lives. By some criteria, we believe that everybody has to be at a certain level. I am definitely not sure about these attempts. There can be different kinds of lifestyles and different people have the right to lead different lifestyles.
     
    For those who are poor, we need to intervene to make their lives better is a belief. The question which I am asking myself is whether charity is the way forward? Also, by what indicators or markers am I judging a person to be poor and therefore unhappy? Is there a link between happiness and money?
     
    About your observations of people at Kurla station and how you think they don’t have enough opportunities to realize their potential, I believe that there have to be conditions of freedom whereby people can choose for themselves – conditions where people’s entrepreneurial talents can flower. How can these conditions be created is what I am thinking about right now.
     
    I still believe that each one of us has the right to be and intervention in the name of upliftment or by the state is not what I want in my life. However, I also recognize these are complex questions and for now, I speak only for myself.
     
    Cheers,
    Zainab
     

  5. May 8th, 2005 at 11:22 | #5

    You ask many critical questions:
    1 Can there be a universal indicator of wealth and prosperity?
    2 What are our notions of poverty and how are these defined?
    3 Whether charity is the way forward?
    4 By what indicators or markers am I judging a person to be poor and therefore unhappy?
    5 Is there a link between happiness and money?

    My short answers some are:
    1. Yes, income is a good indicator of wealth and prosperity.
    3. If you can afford to give, please do. Find your favorite charity, and give!
    5. Yes, generally more money makes you more happy.

    Obviously, I do not claim to know the answers to your questions, nor do I believe that there are any “right” answers. For now I have a few reading recommendations for you, if you find some time.

    * Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen
    * There is a lot of literature on the Science of Happiness or well-being. I do not know what is a good start. Try How not to Buy Happiness by Robert Frank or The Secrets of Happiness by Richard Layard .

  6. May 9th, 2005 at 03:03 | #6

    Hey Anup,
    One of my favourite books is Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. Check out http://www.ishmael.org
    And I believe that wealth and money are totally different. All wealth is not money and not all money is wealth.
    I think one can be happy with less money! And giving is important – because the cycle of the world rotates on giving and recieving – with right intentions!
    Cheers,
    Z

  7. May 9th, 2005 at 05:39 | #7

    Hi,

    with all this study of the society and surroundings, do you intend to make some changes in the society…

    research is a good thing but there should be some target set to it, i hope you agree with me.

  8. May 9th, 2005 at 08:56 | #8

    Wealth and money are totally different.

    Now you are talking philosophy! I would agree at some level, but from a researchable perpective, wealth and money should be taken as meaning the same.

    I think one can be happy with less money!

    Again, research shows that generally people with more money are happier than people with less money. Beyond a certain point, however, especially when money is spent on conspicuous consumption, it no longer contributes to added happiness. It is just “Keeping it up with the Jones'”. I think that we should all be able to realize when we have enough .