Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Guest column: To inconvenience and be inconvenienced

To inconvenience and be inconvenienced, that`s the Indian way

Some years ago I was sitting next to an Australian tourist in a coach headed to Kovalam. First, they showed a movie, with tinny sound turned up to full volume. Those of us not interested in watching the 80s movie kept silent because other passengers might have welcomed the distraction. After the movie got over, a tape of songs was put on, at full volume again…at 2 am. There were muffled murmurs of dismay but that was all. The Australian turned to me and said admiringly, it`s amazing how you guys put up with much inconvenience, quietly. Maybe it’s the Indian way?

There was no comeback to that, so I smiled enigmatically while shrugging pragmatically.

What I did not tell the visitor was that we excel in inconveniencing others, too. Take the activity of construction, my personal bugbear right now. It isn’t enough that the kerbs and roads outside the new construction is heaped with sand, cement, granite blocks, random pipes of separate lengths. There also is present a supervisor of sorts whose incompetence will match his lung-power. Which makes for a peace- disturbed locality   from start of work to end of work, every day; given that it is a rare gem of a builder who will actually finish the project within deadline, this means years of inconvenience.

Side by side with grandiose statements like making our cities siblings of Singapore/ Vienna/ Edinburgh, of making our highways as smooth as the cheeks of the Dream Girl, of  equipping every locality with wifi, is one indisputable fact: many of these projects are not, will not,  be  completed. A start is made with much ribbon-cutting, fanfare and attendant publicity, much digging up of roads… and then it all dies a quiet death.

If the residents of those localities and the users of those roads are inconvenienced, there are sundry squawks of protest, a clutch of complaints filed at the nearest police station. Then, nothing. It`s that pragmatism again. Or something.

The authorities gift dedicate cycling lanes to a city but the machines that sweep those lanes can`t get around the plastic bollards to do their jobs, so cyclists have to navigate piles of sand and silt on the track. Come the monsoon, people drown in open drains, vehicles fall into sinkholes…and life moves on, after that seasonal surge of anger.

Come the festival season, the megaphones blare in full- throated glory, and it’s the protests that are muted…you can`t take on religion in this religious nation of ours and win.

Now, the pandemic has brought along another big inconvenience, that those who wear their masks below their noses or on their chins bestow upon the vulnerable population.

Inconvenience others, get terribly inconvenienced. Sab chalta hain.

This appeared in the Sunday Express Magazine of 8 August 2021.

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accepting inconvenienceguest columnSunday Express magazinethe art of inconveniencingTNIE

Sheila Kumar • August 8, 2021


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