Two separate incidents got Vicky and me talking a little late into the night, last night.
One, the disappearance of Bruno. The teddy bear mascot of Brown's, Bruno was a gift from Aniruddha to Rahul and I fell in love with him. Some time yeterday or perhaps even late the day before, he vanished and we fear that Rahul chucked him outside, something he's doing a lot these days. Many of his toys have vanished . I was quite sad last night, because I really liked the bear, but it's Rahul's to give away. These toys that he throws outside -- I think some time in the chaos of the last week he's managed to do it more often -- are not even toys that he misses. He has plenty. Nor does he throw them out of anger. He sends his favourites out, the spotted dalmatian, the broken bicycle, and I suspect he sends them to enjoy the freedom that he's being denied.
We've usually got back all the stuff but I think over the last week he's thrown far more than we knew, and I suppose passersby have walked off with them. Wouldn't you? These are expensive toys, some of them, and mostly in good condition.
The other thing happened last night. A security guard at South City pissed V off and I think V's anger was quite justifiable, given the lousy manners these guys think are acceptable. But I wasn't OK with him swearing in public (and psyching out the little old lady in front of him.) Not because I mind the swearing, but because the guard wouldn't be able to retaliate. V says he was misusing his powers, so V could also abuse his own powers. Yeah, I get that, but why?
I don't know how it is in other metros but here in Cal the resentment against the rich is getting a little scary. Some days it plain pisses me off. One night when I was on the road and making careful calculations as to what transport I would be able to afford, a rickshaw-walla tried to justify his over-charging saying Rs. 2 doesn't matter to me. Excuse me? I was in a foul mood already and that lit the fuse. I made him pull up and yelled at him. I'm always balancing, balancing expenses purely because the Rs. 2 does matter to me. Else I'd be in a cab, not a rickshaw in the rain.
Yes, V and I are better off together than I was as a poor student three years ago, but we also have more places to make the money go. In any case, why resent us? Because we have a car in this city of over-crowded public transport? A battered, seven yr-old model we cannot afford to keep smart? Because I wear shorts and skirts and clothes that look expensive? I make each item go a long way. Because our child looks well-fed and healthy and is well-dressed?
And that's where I stop the belligerence. Yes, our son is well-fed and healthy and well-dressed. He has shoes on his feet and enough clothes for it not to matter if one tears. Last Friday, at eleven in the night, when I was coming home from work, I saw a young boy, maybe ten, carrying a baby, maybe six months old, through the mild drizzle as he begged for money between the cars. We were waiting for the light to turn green when he came up and I just lost my temper. I yelled at him to take that child under shelter this very second unless he wanted me to take it away from him. I know the babies are hired and ill-treated, so the odds of it being his own sibling were low.
And all the while I was thinking of my own son at home. At that same age, being wrapped and changed and cuddled the live-long day. At times the difference gets too much to bear. I resent somebody telling me I have it good, so why should I care if I'm made to pay more just because I look like I can. And yet, I know the security guard will not go home to a flat as nice as ours. He will not drive himself swiftly home in a car. He did not just come out of an AC movie-hall. These things surely matter? If he gets his cheap kicks by being rude, I have to remember perhaps that his lot in life is less rewarding than mine?
I get this strong sense of resentment all around. Fifteen years ago places were more fixed. My parents knew their station in life and servants/wait persons or people who generally served, in whatever capacity knew their places and their duties. Now everybody is upwardly aspiring. Aspirations are good but surely not at the cost of losing you your contentment in the life you have? I should talk, because now and then I want to be more than I am -- richer, better-clothed, better-educated, more travelled. Takes me a little time to get my feet back on the ground.
All around me, I find the service is getting worse. A waiter at even the poshest hotels quite frequently doesn't know the basics of filling your plate or clearing it away. Salesgirls don't think it's necessary to be tactful when helping you choose some clothes. There doesn't seem to be much pride in doing one's job well, unless it pays astronomical sums of money or can be boasted about. And there's this resentment. Why hate me? I'm not only not taking anything away from you, I'm helping you earn your salary. As other people help me put food on my table by paying for the services I give them. I cannot understand why speaking in Bengali with a salesperson often gets me looks of disdain when it's quite clear that they cannot follow my request in English.
Why does a human being consider it unnecessary to open a door when he sees a hassled young man with a full trolley approaching? It may not be a part of his job description, but why would he think that it lowers him in any way to show basic decency?
This whole dilemma tears me in two ways: on the one hand I am glad to think Bruno has gone to somebody to whom he will be more than just another soft toy. On the other, this whole neighbourhood knows that Rahul throws his toys out of the window. Yet nobody rang the bell to warn us, nobody ever returns a toy.
And yet, should I not make allowances for those who don't even have it as good as I do? There's a part of me that doesn't want to make allowances for bad manners. And another part of me asks, where would they pick up the good manners? Do they have the same kind of exposure that I do? I was telling V last night, if he'd cussed the guard out knowing that the guy could have returned it in kind, I'd understand and not mind so much. But the guard wouldn't be able to retaliate. Then again, it was the guard who started the whole thing, letting us climb a full flight of stairs before blocking us at the top and saying that the way was closed. Who do you blame? V's not a snob at all, he really isn't. If you ask me, the guard was showing the reverse snobbishness that's coming to bother me so much -- penalising the better off simply because they are better off.
And yet, if you live in Calcutta, you know just how little the other side has. Can I really resent somebody who has the same dreams for his son as I do but has to live out his entire life knowing the two boys will never have the same chances just by an accident of birth? Ought I on the other hand penalise my own son just because he has the breaks?
It's a city of contradictions, this one, and I cannot help feeling it would be a happier city if more people counted their own blessings rather than those of their neighbours.