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Friday, November 14, 2008

Kerala Politics...autorickshaw driver-ishtyle

It's been a while since I had a memorable trip in an autorickshaw (auto). Then again, I guess it would be more accurate to say that it's been a while since I had blogged about the many near-memorable excursions that I had in an auto. Either way, this has got to be the first time that I was roped in to converse about the state of affairs in Kerala, which is touted as "God's Own Country". It's great to be back in my state, and this offers me the perfect opportunity to learn more about "my people" and "my culture". However, it also offers me a snapshot of the political workings of the state; one that I have often compared to some long, seemingly never-ending soap opera. And then, there was this gentleman, an honest auto driver who believes that the best way to live, no matter how tough it may be in the long-run, is to live honestly and not covet that which you do not have from your neighbors. Wow! Such honesty is truly rare in this day and age, in any country. But, as if this were not amazing enough to have found in one single human being, he asked a rather poignant question:

"What good is a 'government for the people' if the ones who end up suffering the most as a result of such governance are the people themselves?"

At first glance, this question has no real greatness to it because the world is rife with people asking this on a daily basis. But, here was an auto driver, a person who during his brief but fascinating rant had put himself on the lowest rung of the social ladder, "breaking it down" like a lawyer in cross-examining mode.

He pointed out that most of our taxes end up paying for a bunch of people, those who have no interest in the fate of the public, to take major decisions that ultimately result in the detriment of said public. To make matters worse, and seemingly helpless as displayed by the sheer hopelessness of the Indian shoulder shrug, it is the public that votes this uncaring bunch of people into power time after time. A bit of a chicken-or-egg situation this. Either this, or the fact that no matter who is voted into power, one can be assured of the negative outcome because of the deplorable state of affairs, well, of the state. Of the nation too, if you watch the news coming out of India lately. The auto driver went on to break down the amounts being paid to these "leaders" and how much, or how little, ever saw the light of day, or resulted in direct benefit to the eager tax payer. He ended by blaming the people, and the dangerously convenient shrugging of the shoulders to convey utter despair in this lifetime and the next. Then, when I told him to pull over because we had arrived at my stop, he asked for the same amount as his meter indicated, and refused to take the couple of extra rupees that I offered him. In fact, so taken aback was I, that we ended up chatting for a while longer, maybe another five minutes in the comfort of his auto. I told him that he was the first auto driver who had not asked for more money than indicated by the meter, like most of them do, usually citing rising oil prices and large families that depend on them for every morsel of food. He told me that he had proudly raised two children, both of who have jobs, and that he would continue doing this work as long as he was able, without trying to "take anyone for a ride", so to speak. I hope I run into him again, and to better my chances of doing so I gave him my business card. Now that I think about it, idiot that I often am, I should have asked for his number instead. Oh well...

Looking back at this, I have to say that the conversation seemed to start of with me harrumphing at his initial question a little bit. Kind of like I was saying, "So what else is new?" And, auto still in motion, he turned completely around to look me in the eye and say, "I didn't mean for that to be funny," at which I kind of decided to give him and what he was saying the respect they deserved. Come to think of it, the turning around thing was kind of scary, and he did it at least seven times from the time I got in until I finally reached my destination. But, he was in control, having had 30 years of auto-driving experience to back him up.

And, I still kind of think about what he said, and how he was undeterred in his choice to pursue that which he thought was right; the universal sense of right which dictates that no harm be done to any living thing, regardless of what may have been meted out to you. You might think me strange for saying something like, "I look up to people like this; those who have lived life as an example for others to follow," because you may be thinking that I was extremely relieved to have gotten back some loose change, finally. And if you do think this, then I urge you to find someone who you can look up to, based on the kind of life you have chosen to lead. It's a myth that all role models have to be "good" in the general sense of the word, because there are plenty of different examples for us to follow. I choose people like this auto driver, who didn't give me his name, and offered me a respectful namaste when I extended my hand to end our conversation with a firm but understanding shake. Because this is what is right, for him. And this is what he would have done a hundred times out of a hundred. Truly amazing this unwavering dedication to that which is right. Maybe I'll run into him some day, and I will see him somewhere else because this attitude would have finally paid off. But that's me and my "small mind" speaking. This isn't about the pay off. It's about the righteous life, and if there's one thing that this life guarantees you, it is that you will never be paid your dues. All you are assured of is a struggle, like a constant test of resolve. And that, in and of itself, is the beauty of such a life.
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