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Care, Comfort, and Culpability


A thought to begin . . .


It is paradoxical that though the world alters every moment, those who live in it have this inherent loathing for change.

Some of them are temporary transformations. We realize this and are comfortable with them. With changes that are of a permanent kind but happen over a long period of time, we demonstrate our disturbance at their occurrence in the form of care towards affected entities and attempt to reverse the trend. When the situation appears to have gone out of control and the advent of a new regime that is sans those familiar representative things of the era gone by seems inevitable, we begin to apportion culpability for the transformations to give vent to our ire and disappointment.

Perhaps, acceptance would help us find our bearings in the new age that is about to dawn . . .


Care, Comfort, and Culpability


There was certainly a great improvement in my situation from the days when the cell phone had not become a ubiquitous piece of equipment. The landline telephone receiver being close to my workdesk and I having started to work from home, the burden of answering phone calls was primarily on me those days, given my proximity to the instrument. Some days, there would be a deluge of calls - that there were two children at home in their late teens then would explain it all. I even had to suffer the ignominy of being an abused unpaid page in addition to being a computer software consultant.

I had prayed for deliverance . . .

Apparently, my faith was strong, my entreaties were ardent, and my desire was just. God caused the cell phone to be created and made to proliferate at a rate far greater than what humankind would ever hope to. Every other member of the family became a proud owner of this enslaving apparatus.

I alone held out. What else would one expect from a double Leo. Slavery was anathema. Being bound to anything was an abomination.

I would not touch a cell phone, if it could be helped. The antique landline receiver with its prehistoric ringing chime was good enough for me. Even that would jingle only very occasionally. People were largely aware of my dislike for unnecessary conversation in general and banter over the phone in particular, and called up only in an emergency, which in my line of work or social associations were very few. It was an oasis of bliss that I worked and lived in until . . .



A fellow bird-lover's article in the Sunday edition of the newspaper lamenting the disappearance of house-sparrows, caught my attention. This sad phenomenon was primarily attributed to the proliferation of cell phones. There were also many other human activities listed that contributed to it - like decline in vegetative cover, loss of unpaved mud surfaces in and around human habitations, radical changes in house construction design, material, and techniques, which eliminated cozy niches that birds of many species built their nests in. But all these together probably accounted for much less than the single largest contributor - electrosmog, created by the pervading waves of energy that carried messages between millions of cell phones.

The report said that it wasn't just the birds, but that the bees too were vanishing from apiaries across farmlands in the city outskirts and the chief culprit in this case too was electrosmog.

It had been forty years since we had moved into the house that we lived in. During those early days, I could count upto forty species of birds around the place, which abutted a big lake. There was a healthy combination of land and water birds in that count. The days would be filled with the melody of the various song birds, while the nights would echo with the hoots of owls and the whoosh of busy fruit bats.

Gradually, however, both the population and variety of birds as well as butterflies and bees began to diminish, in proportion to the increase of human habitation and its density. This, I suppose would have been the story all over the world. But in India with a human population of 1.2 billion and perhaps the highest population desnsity for a country of its comparable size (it occupies 2.4% of the world's land area but supports 17.5% of its population), the transformation was glaring, particularly in cities.

My first reaction after reading the report was a feeling of vindication - at my persistence in resisting the lure of the cell phone. My ego triumphantly declared that I had contributed my little might towards stopping this appalling trend. I almost felt like the mythical Greek Perseus (or his clothed version), swaying in mid-air on winged sandals, holding the severed head of Medusa the gorgon. But my saner alterego quickly blew this vision away with an irritated "hmph!" What followed was a bitter battle between my alterego and me, as terrible as the one I had envisioned minutes ago, must have been.



O"n what basis do you absolve yourself of culpability?" asked my alterego, sternly.

"I haven't touched a cell phone; ever," I replied, dourly, but proudly.

"What about the time when your cousin called you on your daughter's cell asking for help?"

"I thought you were grownup enough not to interpret words literally. My statement was more figurative," I said, defensively and then added, "It was not I who asked him to make the call. I was only extending him the basic courtesy due. You don't expect me to refuse to take the call in such a situation, do you?"

"Spoken like any imagination-less, petty criminal attempting to wriggle out of having to accepting guilt," declared my alterego, disdainfully.

I was greatly incensed at this accusation.

"How dare you equate me to a criminal! Not only do I not use a cell phone, I use public transport for all my commuting, which reduces pollution; urge those that I know to follow my example; make it a point to use only bio-degradable packing material avoiding plastics, adopt a minimalist life style that conserves energy and all other limited resources in general. What more do you expect from an individual?" I demanded.

"Very impressive credentials!" exclaimed my alterego, but the condescension in its tone and manner was certainly not lost on me. "But this is keeping aside all those supposedly one-off instances attributable to emergencies and courtesies extended. There must have been quite a number of them to make the phrase 'one-off' meaningless, I guess."



I glared without countering. There was truth in the statement just made. The story of a man from Bethlehem who saved a harlot from being stoned to death by asking all those assembled to do so if they themselves had never sinned, swept through my mind. I had heard this when at school many decades ago, but it was ever fresh. But from the perspective of a duel, this lowering of guard on my part proved a disaster. My alterego had found the chink in my armour to exploit and go for the jugular.

“When it comes to flouting norms, it does not matter how many times one does it. A person doing it the first time is equally to blame as the one who has done it many times. You are equally responsible for the state of affairs, despite your claims to the contrary. Every one of us is responsible,” roared my alterego.

“What about those who renounce everything and lead the life of an ascetic. Surely they are blameless,” I said, attempting to deflect the blow. I knew it was a futile exercise and it was only a matter of time before I was on the mat, comprehensively vanquished.

“Perhaps, but they and their pursuits are irrelevant to our arguments. Also, they are not entirely isolated from society; needing food, clothing, and shelter to survive. When they partake of the produce of the world they seemingly shun, they too are equally culpable. If they don’t, they die and so anyway remain irrelevant.”

“But surely, true ascetics acquire extraordinary powers to change the course of happenings, don’t they?” I squabbled, clinging to my last straw.

“If they could, the world wouldn’t have come to this pass in the first place,” replied my alterego. Its voice had become subdued now, for it knew that I was in my last throes, as far as this duel went, and compassion filled its heart. It was after all a part of me.

“Are we then to definitely lose the world as we knew it?” I asked, deeply saddened. The misplaced euphoria of not being a party to the transformations having long evaporated.

“The answer to your question is in the query itself. Yes, we may lose the world as we knew it. Guess we already have. But a new one is rising. It is just a matter of identifying ourselves with it and everything will look bright and sunny again,” advised my alterego.



"But the birds and the bees . . ."

"There will be other things that would evolve in its place. The problem with man is that he looks at himself as being removed from nature; as being an independent centre of power. It is not so. We are part of nature and so is everything that we do. Nature, Destiny, God, or Time - by whatever name you may wish to call it, has wrought this change for a purpose using the human species as the means. Once we accept this, we can confidently look forward to a new beginning with its share of joys, sorrows, challenges, and adventures."

A pigeon hooted by the window, as I conceptually lay on the mat licking my wounds. It was one of those birds that had taken over the city in large numbers, displacing most of the other species that had by now disappeared. This was followed by the sound of a horde of fluttering wings, as some disturbance cause all the birds perched along the ledges of the multirise to take to the skies as a group.

I walked up to the window to see them fly together in formation across the setting sun with the thought that all was still well with the world. It was only a matter of getting used to a new reality, a new world, a new me.

* * *




How do you look at change?

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