This belongs to me
- January 1, 2012
Another year gone by and it is again time for New Year resolutions and “how time flies” kind of conversations. Strange that we measure our successes and failures in the confines of an arbitrary slice of time. What if I want to do that in May or September, and without the pressures of New Year celebrations? Have we somewhere forgotten that little voice, which is only ours? Are all the voices around us drowning our own truths and convictions? Lately my little voice has been bothering me more than usual. I don’t like the films that most seem to like, I am not going gaga about Anna Hazare or Kolavari di, I don’t want to celebrate festivals that have been reduced to a marketing hoopla and I don’t want to write about the last year or the year ahead. With all the cacophony around, I only knew what I didn’t want to write about. To my own surprise the inspiration to write this time came from the unlikeliest of sources-the zoos!
Yes, the zoos… in plural. In a period of 10 days, I took my little son to two zoos, one in Mumbai and then in Delhi. He had begun to recognise many animals in the books, and so I thought it was time he saw the real ones. Both the zoos were spread over large open spaces that were full of lovely big trees. It was such a relief to be in the lungs of a city, but then that is where the good part ended. The Mumbai zoo was much worse than the Delhi one, but this is not about comparing two badly maintained zoos. The animals looked sad, unkempt and fatigued. Their cages were either too small, too dry or too dirty. And many of the enclosures were simply empty. It didn’t take too long to figure out that the zoos were in a bad shape. My first reaction was, of course, to blame the government. But not much could be credited to the citizens who were throwing stones at the animals, entertaining themselves by giving them titbits that were prohibited, foolishly jumping over the fence and defacing the signage. Perhaps the state of the zoo is symptomatic of our relationship with the government. Often the refrain for such things is “it doesn’t belong to me and it is their job to look after it”. I think therein lies the tragedy.
We don’t consider the government an extension of the civil society and in seeing it as the ‘other’ we somehow absolve ourselves of the individual and collective responsibility. Invariably, we either accept their incompetence as “that is the way it is” and become apathetic or react angrily by destroying government property to prove a point. So by thinking of the government as our enemy, we end up becoming our own enemy. Both ways we only harm ourselves. Lest this be read as pro-government or anti-people, let me clarify that this is anything but that. I only write from the desire to bridge the gap in our perception of ‘them and us’. While sitting for a dharna against corruption or lighting a candle at an anti-government rally has a role in pursuing change, we cannot ignore the need for a more direct involvement in the running of public services. We need to raise our voices against all badly maintained zoos, schools, libraries, hospitals, jails, stadiums…, all public spaces that are around us. If we do not succeed in fixing things with the local bodies of the government, then our easy anger against the dysfunction of the government in high places will increasingly seem hollow. How do we make protests, dissents and reactions more constructive? How do we make the shift from no one’s responsibility to each one’s responsibility? In a growingly selfish world, maybe by simply saying, “all this belongs to me”!