Mitali Saran: Row, row, row your boat

Do you sometimes get the feeling that the country is like a passenger boat on the open water, in a huge storm, and the power is gone, and all hell has broken loose on board? Massive swells tossing the sea, thunder and lightning, helm spinning wildly? Passengers running around waving their arms and screaming, the crew reeling about drunk and giggly with their hair on fire, the captain hiding in a cupboard in his cabin, sobbing into his hands?

That’s what it feels like somedays, when you read the papers. Kashmir is festering like a wound. Actual people are actually marching around, actually trying to detect beef in biryani. Tamilians and Kannadigas are killing each other over Cauvery river water. Women continue to suffer sexual terrorism. Dalits continue to suffer caste atrocities. The Aam Aadmi Party is steadily losing its MPs and its marbles. Everyone is crawling around on hands and knees from chikungunya and dengue. Officials keep treating dead poor people like a public nuisance.   

So it’s very reassuring to get out of the hothouse, drive up to the hills, and realise, afresh, that besides the staggeringly stupid beef thing — which really does put a dent in many people’s dinners and livelihoods — most of India is just going about its business, whether that’s trying to put food on the table, raise kids, beat the traffic, sell something, or make something to sell. Turns out that our boat is going to weather the storm despite the incompetent crew, because of the hundreds of millions of individuals pulling at their individual oars, to move their individual patch of boat forward. It ends up saving the nation and it’s good exercise.

Speaking of going about one’s own business and good exercise, have you been reading about the Paralympics? Back when the Olympics were all over the news, I got back to exercising regularly, in solidarity with our Olympian athletes who have to fight poverty, lack of infrastructure, official neglect and organisational disaster. But it turns out that those guys have it really good: they have all their limbs and physical faculties.

You know what’s even more inspiring? The Paralympics in Rio in 2016. The world’s differently-abled athletes are setting world records that outclass Olympians by some distance, despite the lack of an arm, or a foot, or vision, despite mental disability, despite shamefully little press coverage. None of this has stopped them from doing their own thing, and doing it blazingly well. Here’s the fact that slays: the guy who won gold at the Olympics 1,500m run would have made fourth place at the Paralympics 1,500m. Our own Paralympians have won several medals — Devendra Jhajharia struck gold by breaking his own world record in the men’s javelin throw. He used the derision he faced for his disability to light the fire in his belly that turned him into a champion.

All of this makes you feel like lightning should strike you dead the next time you complain about anything, but, of course, if you aren’t the kind of champion who can use adversity to build character, complaining is vital to maintaining your mental health. That’s my line, anyway, and I’m sticking to it.

Anyway, I did get out of the hothouse and drove up to the hills, and realised, afresh, that besides the staggeringly stupid beef thing, most of us can really just go about our business and get on with our lives. And that might be the best thing about the newspapers: they remind you that, at the end of the day, despite the maelstrom and the frankly lousy boat personnel, we remain the captains of our own tiny shares of the ship. />

Mitali Saran is a Delhi-based writer