Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. Musings from someone who sees stories everywhere.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Sab chalta hain to hum bhi age badhte hain

Despite the challenges of rampant corruption, disorganisation, bureaucracy and inefficiency, India manages to keep going. We Indians seem to have excelled in making our lives work. We survive, and even thrive, in adverse conditions. We deserve a pat on our back for our determination and resilience.

Recent personal experiences forced me to think deeper about our attitude to life. As a reader of my published essay suggested in response,  "we have to change the attitude of indian sab chalta hain to yeh sab nahi chalega..."
But do we really need to change our attitude of acceptance, and of continuing to perform our duties without stressing upon expectations, foreseen rewards, or brooding over the grass being greener on the other side? After all, isn't this attitude of ordinary Indians like us, keeping us alive and moving forward despite all odds?

India is a land of contrasts and contradictions. We’re colourful, confusing, wonderful, and at times, simply obnoxious. We are like this only, but what makes us so? How have we maintained our character, spirit, and that intangible but unique Indian identity amid all the chaos? Daily life in India is rife with challenges. Rapes, robberies, murder and mayhem make lack of law and order the order of the day. Yet India manages to keep functioning. Tenacious people have found a way to keep things limping, if not running. Indians somehow make their lives work. They survive, and even thrive, in adverse conditions. ...
Our ancient philosophical heritage of tolerance and acceptance has been distilled into today’s catchphrase ‘sab chalta hai.’ This philosophy makes us unique in our acceptance of the most outrageous and harsh aspects of life. Powers above us have decreed how life must be. It is not for us to challenge, but to accept and continue to do our duty without expectations. We take in our stride man-made and natural adversities, put behind us the gravest injustices and crimes, and get on with our lives. It is this shared attitude that binds our mish-mash of ethnic, cultural, regional and linguistic identities under a broader identity as Indians. Scams, scandals, bribes are happening everywhere. Everyone has a finger in the pie. Why waste our time and energy fighting what fate has willed? ‘Sab chalta hai’. Let’s accept it and continue with the business at hand, rather than wallow forever in the muck.

I personally experienced the unifying nature of our common philosophy recently. I also realised its positive and constructive aspect. I lost my father, and had to do the mandatory rounds to get the death certificate. An official helpfully offered to spare me the bother, if I would pay him an advance of Rs 800 for his services. I promised to think it over. I then directly approached another office, to which the papers had been forwarded. There, after several fruitless visits, I felt as though I was chasing wild geese. “Nonsense!” said other applicants waiting with me in queue. “The certificate is issued on the same day. They must be after money, but don’t tip more than the going rate of 80 to 100 rupees.”
“Why don’t you flaunt your press connections and jolt them into working,” advised a friend. Easier said than done. In a world which refuses to look beyond appearances, I cannot live down the impression I give of a soft-spoken, muddle-headed eccentric with hair like a bird’s nest. A relative offered the most pragmatic advice. “Put yourself in the official’s shoes,” he said. “The poor fellow has to pay under the table to put his kid through school and college, get the garbage in front of his home cleared, and even just to stay undisturbed in the same job and not get transferred to Huliyurdurga or Periyapatna. With salaries being low and disbursements often getting delayed, how else can he make ends meet?”

‘Sab chalta hai’

When I see things your way and you see it my way, there’s a chance that we can work things out without conflict. This is at the heart of our national character. Like most of my compatriots, I’m tolerant, peace-loving and somewhat shiftless. I firmly stand by our time-honoured philosophy of live-and-let-live, simply because it’s the path of least effort and resistance. “Sab chalta hai,” I said to myself with a shrug, hinted at a ‘little something for his trouble’, and got the certificate promptly. I could have troubled the overburdened Lokayukta with a formal complaint and the headache of dispensing with yet another petty case. But, being a typical easygoing, tolerant Indian, I chose to expend my limited energies constructively on writing this essay instead. See how our ‘sab chalta hai’ philosophy can bear positive fruits? I left the office with my certificate and a feeling of comradery towards the man who had at once seemed to me to be an enemy of the people.

Our ‘sab chalta hai’ mantra is a rallying cry that binds our radically diverse country. The gaping chasm that divides the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, differences of ethnicity, and a multiplicity of religion and language, are all bridged by our attitude of acceptance. We have retained our myriad differences whilst evolving a national identity which accepts our diversity under its fold.

My complete essay is published in Deccan Herald