Friday, May 20, 2011

The power of one

“What can one person do?”

This is the theme song of India, circa 2011. It is there in our airwaves, living, breathing and engulfing the citizenry in a convenient cloak of invisibility and irresponsibility. The system is bad. The British left behind a servile mess. Corruption is a given. What can one person do?

And yet I have never seen Indians look so good and potent! Is it Manmohanomics or the Cricketing empire come lately or Bollywood gone global? One has to just lean back and take in a critical eyeful. There is something new about the 'desis'. A degree of self-assuredness, a level of ease with their layered culture and ethos. Some kind of a balance has been struck between a world view and a provincial preoccupation. An international education and ancient traditions no longer seem mutually exclusive. Indians are better dressed, equipped and kitted than I remember.

But of course, in the truest of local spirit, we have not chucked any of our old habits. We continue to be plagued with that typical disrespect for each other. We are intimidated by money and power. We strive for contacts and connections. A man devoid of all of these is as good as Casper the ghost…cute but useless. As to this thing called development, who is to decide what its definition proposes to include. A large segment of India believes they are developed and have been so for long. Traditional lifestyles sans displacements have kept man alive in this part of the world for centuries. What brand of development does this country need to wear is a moot point.

Incredibly, under an evolving national self-belief and the race for power, peace and energy there still pulsate those fatalistic four words, “What can one do?” There is an abdication of personal responsibility in our cultural subconscious. We believe in our hearts and not too very deep down that we are truly powerless in the larger picture. So much is going on in the average citizen’s life, where is the time for some pointless civil affairs. What is one incident of civility going to achieve? The typical household in the country is seesawing between power outages, voltage fluctuations, menopausal cable connections and temperamental domestic help. Dry taps and poor service kills whatever spirit is left at the end of the daily rotor blade spin.

Then again, not everyone has reason enough to turn Citizen Journalist. It is the few and far between who have fires of reformation licking at their vitals. After all, one has got to be connected and at it to be a twitter activist. Blogging again needs time and application and engagement. The mere chore of getting through the day in this heat is enough to sap the edgiest home-grown. The popular mandate says that unless laws are implemented fairly and squarely, what can one person really do.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Try being the only one to slow down at the minor zebra crossing red light. Magically enough, you will smell burning rubber as the vehicles following you sheepishly come screeching to a halt. Had you sailed through, the city grand prix would have gone on unabated. In a room full of windbags doling out ‘gyan’ on how the country stinks, hear a lone voice beg to disagree. Indians scramble in the face of dissent….the bluster dissolves like lipstick left on a sunny dashboard when challenged. Protest bad service over the shop counter and see the metamorphosis of indifference into supplication.

Every heartfelt gesture, every honest word spoken with conviction, every letter written from the heart has an incredible domino power.

When I look back, the events that stand out in my mind are those that had to do with lone rangers.

We all live our humdrum lives, gong to work, driving back, getting to bed, fighting sloth, making an effort and believing we are not in much of a position to influence all that much.  My memorable vignettes however, have all got to do with individual people who touched my life in special ways. 

A colleague who welcomed me warmly on my first day of work when the rest made it clear that I would have to make my place. A mere acquaintance that reached out and held my hand in a moment of crisis. A family member who did not judge but stood beside me when I was in a spot. A friend who kept her word and did not let me down. An email from a college mate that recharged my battery. A time when every adult present was grabbing from the table and a child stepped up to ask if he could help get them anything! A phone call from a parent saying their child loves my class.

One thought, one word, one person reaching out, one grand effort……the course of mankind’s progress or regress has always been determined by one person to begin with. The laws of motion, the discovery of zero, the fall of Rome, the invention of capacitor and the atomic bomb, the civil rights movement, the concept of human rights, the idea of evolution….the power of one.

It is always one! The one.....

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