Unearned Luxuries

This afternoon, after my second glass of tea, I sat in a garden outside a library with my feet propped up on another chair, reading Alice Sebold’s The Almost Moon. I only had to leave when the mosquitoes had left my feet raw and bitten.

Outside, the roar of the traffic had been replaced by what sounded like gunshots. Protestors raged and whooped alternately, and three hundred metres off campus, someone had set fire to something on the street. There were rumours that a shady man on a bike had entered campus, bearing party flags.

This was the second bandh in my city over the last two days. The first had been part of a nationwide strike, not for better wages, but for being paid the bare minimum that people were entitled to. This one was about the right to getting enough water – a right that ironically, they are fighting the poor of another state for, instead of pointing out the massive wastage of water by the elite.

I remember how much I used to love bandhs as a child – it would mean a break from my teachers, and both parents were home, and I would get hot chocolate as compensation for ‘wasting’ a ‘holiday’ and not going out. As an adult with a cloistered campus life, they are not even an inconvenience as my privileges are intact. My family and I do not depend on my functioning today for their sustenance, so having an actual day off is no big deal for me. All I have to do to survive today is confine myself to the red walls that curve protectively around my living space, and I can have a safe, happy day.

If I shall wake up tomorrow to news of violence, it will be anecdotes that will make its way onto Facebook through posts – the mainstream  papers wouldn’t take up an incident unless it caused significant outrage or involved people of different religions. It is highly unlikely that anyone I know shall have perished, because all of us are cocooned in our homes, sipping fancy beverages and mildly complaining about the inconvenience caused to us by the agitation. We do not have people docking our salaries for not showing up for work, but are blessed with understanding employers who will grumble about the death of productivity and the ‘roadblocks’ in the ‘progress’ of the nation.

But there are people who will possibly have to brave the stones and the insults (and, in the case of the women, catcalls) being hurled at them as they head to unforgiving employers who fatten their bellies. They will have to sweep out our hostels and clean our shit, and make sure the library is up and running so that we can “get our moot on”. They will have to travel long distances without the luxury of cheap and safe transportation.

I say have, even though both bandhs have passed, because this happens each time, and, at least until we manage to persuade the administration otherwise, it is something that will continue to happen every time the city shuts down. And as long as their stories are ignored by papers in favour of the “immense losses” suffered by our precious slave-to-white-skin I.T. firms, I shall continue to seethe inwardly.


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