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The other day I was relaxing with some people when one of them remarked,

“The poor are really arrogant these days.”

The observation jarred on my nerves and I turned to look at the speaker for an explanation.

“Imagine. They want to use gas stoves for cooking!”

“And why shouldn’t they?” I put in, mildly.

Well, truly speaking I was aghast and annoyed, but I always prefer to hear people out before blowing my top, that is, in case I absolutely needed to do the blowing up part. So I decided to listen. By the way, this is a matter that has always bothered me, the way some elements of our society think that the goods and appliances in the market that entertain, or ease our life, are meant for themselves and not for certain others.

Take for example the cell phone. How many times have you and I heard people exclaiming ‘kanda andanum adangodanum (Mallu slang for every damn commoner, sort of) has a cell phone these days’?  In that half-joking half irritated observations about the fish-sellers, the nukkadwalas, household helps, auto-rickshaw drivers, bus conductors, the coconut tree climbers, the workers at construction sites, the peons et al having mobiles glued to their ears as they go about their work, is reflected strong disapproval for their owning the same. It of course does not matter that the people who make the observations do the very same, gluing eyes and ears to the phone, day in and day out.

Some years back it was the mixer-grinders that the lesser privileged dared to own that got similar reactions. “They are getting above themselves,” said the securely placed who employed the ‘they’ in question here. “Why cannot they grind masalas the traditional way on stones?” and “They have become too lazy” were other remarks thrown around freely.Televisions and/or ‘cable’ connections also have traveled through similar paths. That access to entertainment had trickled down to the masses was not taken to kindly.

What exactly is the complaint here? Not the money, because people buy goods with their own money. It ought not to be the wastage of time, because even those who criticize waste a lot of the employer’s time surfing the net or talking over the phone to friends while at work. Methinks the *real* problem here is the loss of exclusivity of theirs to those in the lower strata of society that is the main culprit. How can ‘they’ use the same things that I do? Instead of appreciating that the ‘benefits’ are percolating down to even those less fortunately placed, some people give in to resentment. How bizarre.

Getting back to the conversation that started off this trail of thought, the speaker explained that the poor had less money and ‘should utilize it wisely’. Yes, just like us, isn’t it, especially when we take huge loans to buy things we can ill afford and then spend our lifetime trying to repay it all, in installments. Then, why shouldn’t ‘they’?

All of us have the same aspirations: things that make life easier and better for ourselves. So why be resentful and/or critical of the economically backward sections of society wanting to do the same? Is comfort and convenience something only the well off among us are allowed to seek? Are desires and dreams only ours? Besides, and most importantly, it is their life, their money. How they allocate their resources, what they decide to do with the funds in their hands is entirely up to them. I said as much to the speaker.

“I know,” I added, “it is the way we have been brought up, to think of ourselves as superior and more entitled to things than those who serve us, but when such thoughts come, we should try to consciously put them aside as unworthy of us.”

There was a pause as the speaker assimilated what I said, and then she replied justifying her earlier remark,

“What I meant was why use cooking gas when there is so much free fuel source available. Coconut trees are plenty here, and it is a crime wasting all that firewood that is naturally available…..”

My patience was running thin and I cut in,

“So why don’t YOU give up using cooking gas and start using these, let me see,  freely available coconut leaves and branches, for making YOUR meals?!”

The only reply I got was a stony silence. Someone won’t be inviting me to their house for a long, long time. But who cares anyways?!

©Shail Mohan 2014

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