Wednesday, November 1, 2006

My day out

My day out
By Narendra Luther

We live in an age of globalization and liberalization. While the term ‘liberalization’ applies to trade and commerce, globalization covers all aspects of our lives. It is a euphemism for Americanization. This process has been going on for a long time. But whereas earlier there was grudging acceptance of the creeping phenomenon, now – except for some fringes - there is an open-arm welcome to it and the wild consumerism which comes in its wake. I have lived through the days when whoever went abroad bought gifts of transistor radio sets or record players. In spite of heavy customs duty which was often in multiples of the price, it was great to have them. The affluent ones brought wristwatches and VCR’s. Ways were found how to evade customs duty on them. It took hours to clear the custom counter. The officials there took perverse pleasure in strip-teasing the returnees and frisking them as the police does now looking for any hidden arms or explosives. The suitcases were opened and the soiled lingerie strewn to public view while the suspicious hounds searched for a bottle of contraband liquor or perfume hidden under the pile of the over-stuffed bags.

Changed situation

My last two trips were a surprise. The customs man merely asked me if I had anything to declare and when I said no, he waved me on as he was doing to many others. Obviously his business was down. And I had become respectable – above suspicion! Now if some one coming from abroad asks out of habit what he could bring for us, we reply ‘nothing’ because we have every thing available here – that is, if we have money. Still, so as not to come empty-handed, they buy something locally before coming. They might as well say they brought it from China, because virtually every thing is now made in China.

There is another, more sinister kind of globalization that has swept across the country lately. It is a cultural invasion. I noticed it some time ago when ads began to appear in the media about ‘Valentine’s Day’ and my granddaughter asked me what I was going to give her on that day. I looked up the Internet to find out what all the fuss was all about and found that we were long past that stage. However, my granddaughter brought a card to me and asked me to sign it. I wanted to read it but she told me it was a surprise. When I refused to budge, she relented. It was meant for my wife and said on my behalf how wonderful she was and how much I loved her. When I came home in the evening, my wife put the card in front of me and demanded whom it was meant for. I said it was self-explanatory. She advised me sternly not to commit such foolery again. She further advised that I should not waste money on something which I could have conveyed verbally, however hard it might be to bring myself to do that. When I told her whose doing it was, the little girl was pulled up for putting wrong notions in an old man’s head. But all the supermarkets and even smaller shops were specially decked up for the festive day and I wondered how many husbands had been snubbed that day. It was all meant for the unattached ones. Then my granddaughter sent my wife a card on the Grandmother’s Day. It said that she was the best grandmother in the world. Millions of small creatures must have sent identical cards to their respective grannies all over the world.

These Americans are great in their inventiveness. Since they could not devise a new calendar, having come rather late into existence themselves, they did the next best thing. They dedicated all the days of the year to different people, occasions and institutions. ‘Mother’s Day was devised to remind every one that they were born of a woman who is called mother. Father’s Day was to blame the person who downloaded them. ‘Thanksgiving Day’ was to thank every one for whatever they might have done to them. Similarly, every possible relationship and institution was disposed of.

In India we have traditionally observed the Independence Day, the Republic Day, Mahatma Gandhi ‘s Birthday and the Flag Day etc. Nehru designated his birthday as the Children’s Day and Radhakrishnan’s birthday as Teachers’ Day.

Seniors’ day

The other day I was flabbergasted to see ads on various papers on the Senior Citizen’s Day. Being one myself, I wondered how I did not know about that. The ads were full of messages from the president, the prime minister, the minister of social justice and some others about how it was the Indian tradition to look after the elders and respect them. It also said that the government was concerned about them and was trying to do its bit for them. There was a joke also for the benefit of the seniors. It announced a run for seniors. How could those who find it difficult to walk, manage to run? Or was it the younger ones who would run for them. They are already running away from them. This business of running on most occasions hardly achieves anything.

There was no scheme or benefit announced for the seniors in the ads. Probably that would come later. Where is the hurry? The later the inauguration of the scheme, the less the burden on the exchequer.

In the West, special facilities are provided for the handicapped and the seniors. There are extra medical benefits for them, physical aids, special housing facilities, and concessions in most conceivable transactions. One reason for that is that the America propensity to participate in wars and even to initiate them has resulted in a large number of handicapped persons. Similarly, the welfarism of the West entailed in their social security system has increased the expectancy of life of the people. In 1950 the population of 60 plus in Europe was 12 percentage. In 2050 it will increase to 32 percent. Already the government and social thinkers are worried about supporting this increasing unproductive group. In India the population of seniors will double from 8% in 2001 to 18% by 2025. However, the number of working people will also double. Already organizations like Help Age India are involved in trying to ameliorate the condition of some of the seniors in need of help. In the West they are a constituency; here we are not yet that. And in a democracy that is a crucial consideration.

I try to work hard, eat less, keep irregular hours and don’t do other things that keep one in good health. I do so that I don’t live long and continue to cast avoidable burden on society. More than that I can’t do without committing a crime. I can’t reduce the life sentence of my fellow seniors. I advise them to do likewise voluntarily.