Written By: Rakesh Kotti
We’ve heard it before; feigned concern in their words and their anxious voices brimming with indifference. Once again, he came at 8PM. Once again, our future was bleak; bleaker than before. There seems to be no nadir. None for their insensitivity. None for their incompetence. And there is no superlative for our hunger. An empty belly is an empty belly. It can’t get emptier. This is where our lives end. Plunging our existence into a nebula.
But exist we must. For our own sake. And for the sake of the 8PM-man and his sidekicks. They need our starving bodies for their sideshows. They dine by our side and avow to alleviate our pain. The media blitz prostrates under a glitz. They flash images of the 8PM-man washing our feet or feeding us. Forgetting that for centuries we have been tilling the sun baked Earth to feed the nation. When calamities and misfortune befall us, they are unmoved by our plight. We are provided a pittance as relief. It’s all make believe. And yet, the half-bellied and full-bellied call it doles. That’s our doleful existence. Between loans and droughts, we are indentured. Subject to prejudice. Pinioned to penury. We strive. We starve.
The farmers have no furlough, but we can’t toil no more. Nevertheless, we continue sending our produce to the godowns. While some of our cousins migrate to the towns. They live on the fringes but build the downtowns. Plush plazas, dizzying high rises, meandering railways and roadways, they build it all. All the infrastructure plotted on our development graph. The development that fills our hearts with pride. And our villages with vanity. The farmers feed and the migrant labour scaffolds our collective ego. We do so silently. Inconspicuously. We are not to be seen. That’s why the 8PM-man built walls around us, lest we be seen by the big white man who obliged our invitation. The walls kept us out of sight. But the rich man’s disease caught us unawares. Once again, it was time for the 8PM man to feign concern.
This time, the 8PM man didn’t wash our feet. He told people to wash their hands. All of us, including the unlettered and unwashed. And he washed his hands off the crisis. In the dead of night, we were told to cower into a corner. The half-bellied and full-bellied were told not to come out of their houses, so, there was no need to build walls to keep us out of sight. We were never on their minds, so we are always out of sight. In any case, the dreaded disease knows no walls. It knows no boundaries of faith or the contours of lucre.
We tried to ward it off. For a brief while, the full-bellied, half-bellied and the empty-bellied had something in common. We all had empty plates. We clanged them together as the 8PM shaman asked us to. Once the raucous revelry subsided, the bellied went back into their homes and insulated themselves. We tried too. But this is no country for the poor.
Our homelessness made us culpable of contagion. Unfair. But when was it ever fair? A well-meaning and humble man had warned the nation. But as always, he was mocked and vilified. And the rich man’s disease spread. It spread fast and unchallenged. Like the 8PM man’s lies. As it did, notorious news anchors hummed songs in their studios and awaited a scapegoat. They found it in a congregation at a house of faith. Then, the noxious news-people took over. Uncouth. As they always are.
And as always, we had to choose between bad options. Lockdown or Lockup. The dispensers of colonial justice were out on the streets. The unsheltered were caught and washed in disinfectants. As though we were fleas to be fumigated. The more unfortunate were flogged in the flea markets. The dispensers of instant justice were anxious. After all, if we catch the frightening flu, there would be many funerals. Perhaps more than those during famines. And they want us alive so we can toil in the fields again, lest there be famines. Our squalor can be hidden behind a wall when necessary. We would build the walls too. So that they can indulge in the sideshows when spurious dreams need to be sold. We are indispensable. Like the oppressive dispensers of justice. So, we’re being sent to the dispensaries. To keep us at the cusp of life.
We adhere. After all, the choice is between being fed to the virulent virus or eking out a living at the peripherals of starvation. We strive to starve. It’s better to flicker, than to be extinguished. We persist. We subsist. We strive to preserve our existence, in squalor, behind walls or cower in the fringes. And someday, we hope to find a place in the crevices of your conscience.