POSTCARD #219: Delhi: Everything comes to a stop when I see this photo, sent by Jiab in Gujarat, West India. All the pain and suffering I’ve experienced recently is suddenly nothing when I see the endeavor of this woman pulling what looks to be the trailer belonging to a truck. Even so, some would say, it’s easy for me to say, easy for me, comfortable in my male middle class security… and I search for words: admiration, respect, deference. None of these seem to describe the way that lady who looks like my Auntie is pulling that thing with the momentum of a short run at it, to get up and over the incline leading up to the bridge, then over the top and holding the weight as the trailer gathers speed on the downside.
When I first examined the photo it looked like there were two women pulling the trailer but the lady in the maroon colored sari just happens to be there, on the left of the one in the lemon colored sari. So Auntie is on her own, I imagine a person with the ability to bring up children, keep the house in order and do this physical work – “Ginger Rogers did it backwards and in high heels”.
It seemed to me, looking at all Jiab’s photos that everyone there in Ahmedabad was/is engaged in some form of labor: men, women and children. It’s worth saying that most people in the West have the idea that the population in India are passive subjects of poverty. This is not the case; everybody in the family is employed except the very young and the very old. Poverty exists because of exploitation by employers and those further up the hierarchy. Cultural aspects come into conflict with Western expectations and standards imposed by two hundred years of British rule.
It’s not easy to accept the truth that wealthy societies exploit ethnic minorities and migrants. In Scotland almost the entire berry picking for the fruit jam industry and preparitory work for the fish products industries is done by East Europeans. In Japan they have the ‘Three Ds’: Difficult, Dirty, Dangerous. All of this kind of work is done by migrant labor. I find it’s necessary to go into ‘reality check’ mode, to make sure the world I’m creating in my head does not exclude these truths.
Theirs is a level of suffering hard to endure. There’s just no getting away from it. Would it be meaningful if I were to address people like Auntie in the photo about choosing the Buddhist liberation, the Path to enlightenment? Aside from a very few cases, I don’t think so. For them, it’s about holding on, not letting go; as long as they have the strength to withstand hardship, it will go on like this. They’re putting their small earnings together as a family collective. They structure their lives around employment and can’t escape from that unless they step out of the earning momentum they’re stuck in, and risk losing everything.
But who am I to comment on their lives? I have one or two classic rednecks in my family and with them I’m stuck at the getting-a-word-in-edgeways stage, or never-had-a-proper-job-anyway statement, and it never ever goes beyond this. So, really how can anything be said that’s not hopelessly hypothetical? Best to have opinions unsaid and instead, have compassion, empathy, understanding.
‘An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it.’ [Mahatma Gandhi]