Monday, March 1, 2010

Be careful what you wish for

India is a nation famous for having upto 16 official holidays on account of various festivals. This year, however, almost all those holidays fall on the weekend, so we have only  6 days off. The holiday on account of Holi fell on a Monday, and I was looking forward to a three day break. Had it all worked out- one day for resting, one day for catching up on housework, one day for enjoying the festival with the kids.
Not to be. A Board Meeting was scheduled for Monday, and since it was followed by dinner, I was going to be out of the house the entire day. The finals of our annual inter-project football tournament was scheduled for the Sunday before the Board Meeting, so what should have been a three day weekend had become a truncated single day weekend. It was not that I was not looking forward to the Interzonals- it is always a pleasure to see the kids on our programme come together for a sporting encounter- but I did wish it had been some other weekend.

Early Sunday morning, I got a call from a colleague. Pretty sure that she was calling me to remind me about something I would not have forgotten, I was almost tempted to ignore the call. I am glad I took the call. There had been a fire in the slum community where the tournament was being held, and the finals had been called off.

A hundred and fifty houses (each little more than shacks) gutted, two casualties- one a girl of three, several burn injuries- the sense of helplessness washed over me again. Three months back there had been a fire in the same community. We had pitched in with whatever help we could. All the things we had donated may well have been consumed by fire this time. Last time there had been no injuries- this fire was obviously worse (or maybe it caught them unawares at night).
For the last four weeks, the same community has been reeling for lack of water. They have not had a single drop of water in their taps, and have been forced to buy drinking water at five times the market rate. For all you know, this fire spread the way it did because there was no water to douse the flames. And yet, since the slum is built on land outside the municipal limits of the city, there is absolutely nobody to petition regarding their condition.
When and how a solution will be found, I don't know. All I know is that this is no way for people to be forced to live. And I am astounded that despite everything, the people continue to believe they can pull themselves out of poverty. Some even succeed.

And I got an unexpected holiday on Sunday. But spent the entire day feeling guilty about wishing for it.   


Patricia Stoltey said...

This kind of tragedy is hard to deal with because no matter what we do or how much we give, we never feel as though we're doing or giving enough. The water situation you describe is overwhelming, even without the fire. I see why you feel as you do.

Ann Elle Altman said...

I totally understand what you're feeling. I see a lot of what you're seeing down here. It's sad. A Mexican friend told me yesterday that if you're lying on the road drunk, the police will come along and beat you up because they think you're worthless. Not saying I condone drunk behavior but I don't condone police brutality. Question for you: do the Indian newspapers display dead bodies in full view on the cover? They do here.


Jan Morrison said...

oh, I'm dreadfully sorry that this tragedy has happened. It is so hard for us to understand why things that seem so straightforward and solvable are left until drastic outcomes happen. As to your guilt - please unburden yourself as it is not helpful (I know you know this). You didn't wish for this to happen - you wished for a well-deserved break. If your wishes were magic do you think only the ill-wishing would work. Why I know if your wishes were magic those people would have had the water they needed. True?

Al said...

Don't feel guilty about wishing for some peace on a day off.
You give of yourself continuously in your field of endeavour. It is only right that you have time to recharge your energy levels.
I know from working with homeless people, that no matter how rewarding the work is, it is still exhausting. Especially when there is some tragedy.
So do not punish yourself. In the end you cannot help anyone else if you burn yourself out.


Publish or Perish

dipali said...

That was so sad. But feeling guilty never helps, so please don't torment yourself.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Patricia - It is almost impossible to imagine such grinding poverty, isn't it? I keep asking myself why everything keeps happening in that one place, but if there is so little there, isn't it prime target for everything?

@ Ann - that is really sad. I wish the police everywhere realise that their first duty is towards protecting the helpless. All the rest should flow from that.
And no, the newspapers in India display a little more sensitivity than that. After the tsunami, they did have pictures of disjoined limbs on the cover page, but the public reaction made them realise it did not work.

@ Jan - You do have a point. If we could have our wish, everyone would have all that they need, and would give as much of themselves as they can. The world is so far away from that ideal.

@ Al - You are totally right. Working with the marginalised is very emotionally draining, and then you give the same amount of yourself to your kids because you don't want to short change them. And at the end of it all, you are left with very little for yourself.

@ Dipali - I know it is useless feeling of guilt, because I am not guilty. But the helplessness is something hard to shake off.

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