Tuesday, September 17, 2013

It lies all around us


I recently visited one of our many 5-star hotels here, and was struck by a thought. On the lobby floor was a huge, elaborate pookalam: a flower arrangement done during the Onam festival. Of course it was gorgeous. The colors of the flowers glowed warmly in the light of the tall brass lamps, the polished marble floors gave off a genteel gleam, and the lobby itself seemed transported somehow back to a more relaxed time.

There were several foreign guests, taken with the sight, who were taking pictures and showing the familiar signs of awe. Hotel employees looked on, indulgently, an almost maternal pride on their faces. 

And there I was. My ungrateful heart couldn't help but wonder if the grace and beatitude would last once these same guests stepped outside. This hotel is indeed a cocoon, presenting the best and the most gentle of our selves to the foreigner. What wrenched at me was the contrast between this cocoon, and the other: the rough and tumble of daily life here, the general failure of politeness or consideration. This difference between the beauty and sophistication of our heritage and the raucous disregard we live in today.

Sigh. I am not India bashing. It's just that the older I get, the more disappointment I feel at this asymmetry. This failure of potential; indeed, not failure, but wastage. And why should I call it potential: we are already a culture of high achievers. (We have ample proof of that.) I long for those times to return, when we applied intellect and self-awareness in all we did; for instance a gesture as simple as namaste is unparalleled in its sophistication and maturity. I see the vanished greatness that lies all around us in ruins, and in the flowers of the elegant pookalam at this cocoon we have such pride in. 

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