What shall we sell next?

What Shall We Sell Next

  • Vijayalakshmi

Come tradesman,

with bulging bags of gold;

They are calling you

to sell  the river, the wind,

the sunlight and the rain,

to sell the beauties of the fourteenth night,

to sell the pure notes of dawn’s music,

for you to buy.

Come, you can snuff out

the beauties of tall, blue hills,

And root out the green trees of the forest.

You can come and pack

the cold and the mist; don’t forget!

They are calling you

with an ironed out smile on the lips,

they who are determined

to make mincemeat of the land

and sell it out

See, they are trumpeting,

you may cut the land

with your butcher’s knife:

But there is more to sell:

The men who adorn their neck

with the trump card of discretion

A hundred thousand men

Even their flesh is worth nothing

who will now come to buy them

Translated from Malayalam by C.P.Sivadasan

Taken from “These My Words” – The Penguin book of Indian Poetry

Edited by: Eunice De Souza & Melaine Silgardo

The word ‘development’ is now in the limelight. Many people want it to happen fast and are not too concerned about the consequences. There is a small segment of population which opposes the destruction of environment and livelihood in the name of development. These are not good times for those folks for this is the time for tradesman. Especially those who have bulging bags of gold. Not that it was very different earlier but the ‘development’ mantra has acquired an urgency now.

Again it is not as if greed is Indian. It is present around the globe. Unfortunately it impacts the developing countries more. The development countries have both the legislation and public opinion which ensure that the environment is not destroyed. Unfortunately in developing countries like India, while laws do exists they can be broken with impunity at all levels. This is something all of us accept. Also the public opinion is not strong enough when it concerns environment and livelihood of people who are far away from us. Infact there is a disdain for the dispossessed rather than sympathy many a times.

I will illustrate this with an example. Once some coastal town was affected badly by floods. People were asked to donate clothes, food, money etc. So many people donated old clothes that a public appeal was made by the villagers that they had more than enough clothes now and that donation of clothes can stop. Reading this a colleague of mine was furious, “How can they dictate what they want? They are like beggars now. They must just take what is given to them”. I was shocked beyond words by his outburst. Again I don’t say that this is the typical reaction but there is definitely a segment with treats those dispossessed with a certain amount of disdain. What my colleague had failed to understand is that those affected were hard working proud people who earned their daily bread by the dint of the effort they put. Pride exists at all level.

This brings me to the dichotomy we see within ourselves. One of the threads that run throughout country is spirituality. Whatever be the religion, there is a strong thread which asks people not to be too greedy. It preaches us that it takes very little to live a life of dignity. Simplicity is always honored and the simple person is always held up as the ideal we must all achieve. Unwanted display of wealth is frowned upon. Living beyond your station is not advised.

On the other hand we have always been a materialistic society. People have gaped at the indulgence of the kings, princes and zamindars and speak about them with wonder. Showing off was condemned and that was because people were showing off their wealth all the time. Balachandar captured this aspect of our lives for the glitz and glamour in his comic classic ‘Bama Vijayam’. With the emergence of more opportunities and more ‘development’ this aspect is affecting us deeply.

We call this ‘peer pressure’ now. I still recall this incident. When I joined my first company in Bangalore my manager used to have a Maruti Omni. He was loath to change it. Those were the times when new cars were coming in the market and I had suggested he buy a new car since the old car lease has run out and he could now buy a new one. He wasn’t interested. It so happened that after a few months a colleague of mine who was part of our team and reporting to the same manager bought a brand new Honda City. This person happened to be a relative of my manager. A couple of days later my manager told me, “I don’t know what car it will be but I need to buy a new car immediately. There is too pressure from relatives after this fellow bought the Honda”

The days of buying one car are over. If you are in the city and you are middle aged, chances are that you would have to buy a second car. As with the Americans, one car per person in the family is slowly becoming the urban upper middle class motto as well. The same is happening to buying of apartments.

The dichotomy for us is that unlike the Americans and others, who celebrate their material success, we are always pulled back by the spiritual thread that binds us all together. Somewhere we start questioning if material success is enough. Somehow the feeling of emptiness starts creeping in. It is with surprise that many of today’s middle aged people view their elders, who in materialistic terms didn’t achieve much and yet they are contended that they fed their family, ensured good education for their children and are now happily taking care of their grandchildren.

This dichotomy is sometimes used by people who can no longer run the race and have resigned to fate. There is a major difference between resignation and acceptance. People who can no longer fight it out use the words, “It is all a rat race. It is all politics” and so on. You can hear the bitterness in their voice. The person who accepts that he has what he needs for life and believes that he/she needs to focus on different things is never bitter. There is an energy which they bring in to do different things.

This urban consumption and need to have more due to peer pressure is a dangerous for a country like India. It is not that we should not grow but keeping our requirements within certain limits is necessary. The spiritual thread of simplicity cannot be broken. For that is what will sustain us in the long run. Else we will all become like the men the poet talks about; Men whom no one wants to buy and who are worth nothing. Even though they may possess a lot of cash.

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