I visit a very upscale hair salon. Lately since the moolahs has been rolling in, so are the aspirations, and superfluous needs. Anyways, that’s beside the point.
This upscale salon has some really underpaid hair-stylist one of whom is my new friend Ahmed.
Ahmed is in his early twenties and lives 20 kms away from the place where he works. He takes one of those dingy buses to commute. And, he does so because he can save some money, which he couldn’t if he took the faster and more comfortable metro.
For a well-mannered and soft-spoken person that he is, he doesn’t really talk much. However, now that he knows that I am one of the regulars and one who always tips generously, he has gotten more comfortable. He is not very educated but he is a very good hair-stylist, and he often says proudly “Sahab, I haven’t studied much but I know what kind of styles you educated folks like, and I can do it. Isn’t that enough of education”. I wonder. But, I do know that a lot of folks that I have met are literate but very few are educated. If that’s the scale, then I think Ahmed is pretty good on the education front.
Once, I asked him how long he has been a hair-stylist. He told me that he has been working for five years. Of the meager salary that he makes, he saves half for his sister’s nikaah, one quarter he runs his household which consists of his mother, his sister and himself. The remaining he saves for his dream. One day, while he was styling my hair, I asked him what his dream was. I should have guessed the answer – “Sahab, I want to start my own hair salon”.
Just to continue with the conversation to pass my time, I said, “You have been saving for five years; surely you would have money to do so by now”. Ahmed replied matter-of-factly, “Not in the place that I want to”. He went on to tell me that in the neighborhood that he lives in, he can afford a shop but he wouldn’t get his upscale clientele the connoisseurs of his talent; and in the place that these linger, he can’t afford a shop.
It was then that it struck me.
Ahmed was hit by corruption, in of its many forms. Just like space mafia scammed off difficult-to-develop satellites; telecom mafia scammed the nation off bandwidth; coal & fuel mafia scammed the poor folks off cheap fuel and burnt alive the guys who tried to resist it; caste mafia scammed the people off development funds to build ugly, tall, and blue elephants; sports mafia scammed the young folks off the only remaining form of drug-free entertainment; Similarly, land mafia robbed the people off the land on which they walked- well not exactly robbed, they sell it for a premium.
With a country of more than 3 Million square kilometers, Ahmed can’t set up a small shop – maybe not in the heart of an upscale district but not even close to it. With the money that he has saved and with the prices going through the atmosphere, he wouldn’t even be able to buy a grave for himself and his dreams.
That’s where Anna Hazare and his revolution come in. Anna doesn’t know Ahmed, and perhaps Ahmed will never ever know who Anna is. But strangely, Anna is fighting for Ahmed.
He is fighting against the corruption that unlike God – in these days – touches each and every one of us. And that’s why Anna’s fight is our fight. When Anna’s says that this is India’s second freedom struggle, I agree. And, what makes it even more apt is that it’s been led by one of the men who have seen the first one too. He is perhaps the only one who knows that peaceful mass movements can bring the biggest of dictators and strongest of governments, to their knees.
You and I – the people reading this – are the new generation, the Gen X and the Digital natives. We sit in our plush workplaces, and yet, we too have a Ahmed lurking inside us. Because we too at one point or another have given up to the power of a corrupt bureaucracy, we too have acquiesce d to bribe in order to facilitate a job, we too have felt let down when folks financial stronger than us have pushed us aside through the sheer power of the purses.
For a man who owns nothing (and doesn’t really care either), he really understands our malady. Because, he knows that we are disease stricken.
Although we want to, but we rationalize why we can’t be at Jantar Mantar or why we can’t protest in our own cities. We like this drug, it’s our fix, and we believe that if we keep working and forget this every day drama, we will make a few extra bucks to bribe the cop in the night when we return home from a drunken party, pay in black for the dream home we want to buy.
Anna knows this disease. He knows that it’s a generation that’s been made addicted to the drug from the time it was born (and in some cases even before it – is it a boy or a girl?).
And yet, to fight this demon and to light that fire, this frail old man is ready to burn himself. How apt, because he is one the men who have seen 6o years ago, some other men burn themselves to fight off another disease, and awake a nation to a drug-free sunrise at midnight.
This is our time to decide. Do we want to continue with the drug which will probably give us a “high” as long as we want it to, but we’ll always be that hamster. Or do we want to be the ones with the clear vision, the army of beavers which takes on the mightiest of rivers and dam it (pun intended).
“Dhara bech denge, gagan bech denge, kali bech denge, chaman bech denge;
Kalam ke pujari agar so gaye toh, Sansad ke juari watan bech denge;
Us waqt aap kya karenge?”
One starving 72 year old man waits for his nation to answer this question…