With the Delhi assembly elections having gone off peacefully and exit polls predicting the return of Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party, I see a glimmer of hope for India – that we might yet see the rise and growth of a national-level political party that actually works for ALL people, and does not survive by pitting religion against religion as the BJP and Congress do; caste against caste as the Samajwadis, RJD et al. do; or generally everyone against everyone else as the CPI(M), CPI et al. do.
A hope that leads me to wield the cerebral shovel and excavate the following article from the ancient sand-beds of memory: it was published in Indian Express over 20 years ago.
Building sand castles
[Indian Express, 30 November 1998]
The counting of votes is on, and the first results are already trickling in. Across the nation psephologists pontificate, analysts arrive at bewilderingly diverse conclusions from identical data, and assorted academics, political observers and journalists join in severely criticizing the electorate for not behaving according to their predictions.
And, an ancient, battered lorry rolls up a dusty track leading to the dry river-bed, lurching with a snort of relief to a halt amidst huge banks of sand. Three men stand in the empty hold of the lorry, shovels in hand. The driver backs the vehicle till it ploughs into one of the sand dunes; and then two of the men leap onto the hillock and proceed to scoop mounds of the grey-white material into the hold. The third man – he cannot be a day older than 16 – stands in the hold and spreads the fine sand as evenly as possible about the pitted wooden floor. The driver, meanwhile, twiddles with a knob on the dash-board, muttering imprecations, till a dreadful cacophony erupts from the dusty loudspeaker above his grizzled head. He has found the local radio station.
The three men toil away, sweat gleaming on their arms and bare torsos. Now the young man in the hold is practically level with his senior colleagues on the sand dune. Presently, he leaps off to join them in flinging the mica-flecked sand into the hold. A scrawny brown dog wanders up to the lorry, flops down in its shade and falls asleep. On the radio, now the hourly news-bulletin cuts into the music. Electoral excitement is at fever-pitch; all eyes are upon an epic battle between two possible chief ministerial candidates: one a political novice with a clean reputation, the other a seasoned old bandicoot. The music resumes, the driver climbs out, collapses on the sand and dozes. The afternoon sun beats down upon the labourers’ gleaming bodies.
At length the job is done. The labourers pause at an unspoken signal, fling their shovels down, wipe their streaming brows and flop down on the sand next to the driver. Soon they must depart for the great construction lots on the western outskirts of the City; but there is still time to stretch one’s aching limbs awhile, perhaps even smoke a companionable beedi.
The flies drone, the sun sinks lower. The young labourer sits up and listens intently to the news broadcast. And then he turns to the driver. “So, Kaka, will we now have a new ruler?” he inquires. The driver removes the beedi from his mouth, hacks and spits at the sleeping dog but misses it by several inches. “It won’t make a difference to you, will it?” he remarks. The others chuckle, but the youngster is persistent.
“In our jhuggi,” he begins hesitantly, “they say things will soon change for the better. They say that we will all soon have pucca houses…”
“Arre gadhe!” the driver exclaims exasperatedly. “Don’t you see that this is all a natak? Look”, he continues in a kindlier tone, “the fate of poor people is akin to that of the river: doomed to follow the same path forever, crushing the rocks into sand and sinking ever lower. And just as politicians come to us poor people for their votes, so too men come to the river to haul away the sand; they mix the sand with lime and cement and make buildings and bungalows so that the rich among them may live in comfort.”
He pauses, his rheumy eyes far away. “Yet in time the desert winds will blow, hot as a sigri, and the great walls and roofs of the rich will crack and fissure. And then the rains will beat upon their edifices, and this happens again and again, year after year, till slowly but surely the sands are washed away into the gutters and drains, to find their way eventually back to the river. And then again the minds of the rich will turn to the river, and upon a monsoon the river will breach its banks, and when it recedes there the sand will be again…”
Presently, the men board the lorry and it roars off in a cloud of dust. The dog gazes mournfully at the receding lorry, and then wanders off. A stray breeze brings the faint voice of the news-broadcaster, announcing that the seasoned old bandicoot has won.