11/07/2016 8:45 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST

My Crimes Of Convenience

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There's a lot of buzz around the big American election. Trump or Hillary, stupidity or the same old story. Someone quipped, "It's not about whom you like more, it's about who you dislike less." Hillary has no charisma, Trump consults himself on foreign policy, and it's easier to find faults in people whom we will never really know. I can ridicule them, but I can't ignore them.

People -- the crippled, the sick, the old, the dying -- pass themselves off as less than human and we... believe this less-than-humanness.

When faced with the choice of education or entertainment, I often choose the latter. It's a convenient choice, one unresisted by the restless mind. It baffles me, how an actor's views on her ex-boyfriend's film are more important than the famines striking countless districts in a country of farmers. While we exercise the luxury of numbing our brains, of stuffing our stomachs, of liking what we do not know, of validating what we do not value, we forget -- no, we choose to ignore -- the plight of those that we shut out of our gated communities. Suffering, like everything else in the world, can now be boxed in a space I choose to enter when empathy is in vogue, to exit when the next episode of my favourite show is on, enter to sign a petition, exit to order in, enter to share a two-minute video, exit to avoid a two-page report. My 10-year-old self, with the honest passion that fuels future dreams, wished for a particular kind of world "when I grow up". This is not that world. We build walls instead of breaking them.

What I believe determines what I do. At a traffic signal stand vehicles of metal, plastic, rubber, smoke, air-conditioning; the sedentary cow; a sporadic bullock cart; honk, stare, breathe. Amidst the resting are the movers, sailors of the streets, pirates outcast from the respectable, plastering chapped hands on windows, drugged babies on doors. Begging is a business, one which succeeds on disgust, displaying what owning nothing -- health, pride, beauty -- looks like. Indian cities and the people in them have set a fine example of how to treat its most destitute. People -- the crippled, the sick, the old, the dying -- pass themselves off as less than human and we, the drivers, passengers, the passers-by, believe this less-than-humanness, depriving them of the acknowledgement and respect every person deserves. We look away, shut our windows, shut our minds. Sometimes, we give them something before shutting the windows of our minds; the shutting is neater, less rusty that way.

To deny change by justifying inner inertia is my crime. What's yours?

I acknowledge them with a helplessness that is suffocating. It ties me down, forcing me to accept my higher status. Entitlement awakens discomfort. My father ensured this discomfort the first time he walked my brother and me through the slums of Jangpura. When he shook me out of my dreams on a 5am Sunday I fumed at the deprivation of sleeping in on a December morning, the nippy kind where thick, cotton-stuffed blankets are safer than a mother's womb. Get dressed, he gruffly declared, silent on where were going. Like my steps, the thick fog crawled groggily. The air grew staler by the second, until we reached a concrete enclosure. A garbage dump. A young boy wading through the refuse, picking up plastic bags from the stew of peelings, shit, used sanitary products, and other rotting, unidentifiable items. I remember speaking to him, yet I remember nothing of what we spoke. What I do remember is the docility in his eyes, a resignation, and an intense feeling in my blood, a curdling guilt. This young boy was a hard-worker, I was lazy. He was a good person, I was not. His poverty was noble from where I stood. My wealth was criminal from where he stood. It was one of many Papa-led excursions that bore into my dreams, my nightmares, my wakefulness.

I see now that there is nothing noble about pain and hunger and injustice, a cycle I help perpetuate through actions big and small, a cycle I try (and fail) to curb through actions, mostly small. To deny change by justifying inner inertia is my crime. What's yours?