Dreamless People

I wrote this post when I first thought about starting a blog, but I didn’t publish it because it seemed far too serious for something called KabCity.  But I’ve been inspired by the latest post on the incredible Tomzanian, and since this follows a similar theme I thought it would be a good time to share.

Dreamless People

Back in Mirambika, when I was probably seven or eight years old, our class was asked to draw our present and future selves.  For my present self, I drew a kid in a red shirt playing football.  For my future self, I drew an astronaut.

Around the same time, an uncle asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up (a favourite adult question to kids), and I told him I’d like to be an astronaut but I was worried that it was a dangerous vocation, so I might chose something safer like professional cricket or Bollywood superstardom. My uncle laughed at my response and I returned to the room where all the kids were playing.

At some point, I wanted to become an engineer, then, during the internet bubble years, an I.T. genius. My drawings of my future self have changed, but even during my most existential moments I’ve never truly stopped thinking about some kind of future me. Even if it was one-week-in-the-future me, there was still some consideration of how my decisions will affect my future.

For the last week, I’ve been working in a very poor village in north-western Odisha, studying the well being status of people, especially the gap between the general population and people from scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.  What has really struck me is the complete absence of dreams in this community.  People just don’t seem to care about their own or their children’s futures. There are many problems in this village, like an understaffed school, poor access to government services, corrupt medical structures etc, but when we asked people about changes they would like to see, they simply had no response.

“In a dream scenario, what would you like to see your child grow up and become?”

“I don’t know…”

“Do you want her to stay in school?”

“I don’t know”

“Is there any way your village could be better?”

“I don’t know.  Ask the panchayat leader.”

So we asked the panchayat leader. And the Anganwadi didi and ASHA worker and school headmaster and farmers and shopkeepers. And none of them had any dreams.

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lesson 1: how to order tea

My first few months living in India after spending the last 11 years away have been very educational.  One of the things I’ve learnt is the art of ordering tea.  Regardless of where the ordering is being done (roadside tea stall, coffee shop, fancy hotel), just saying “tea” is not enough.  Specific instructions must also be added.  These instructions can be fairly straightforward, like “less sugar” or “extra strong”, or very complicated like “add 3 partly opened cardamom pods, take them out after 3 minutes, then add the sugar”.

If one has no specific preference for how the tea is made, it is advisable to add arbitrary ornamentation with adjectives like “special” or “extra special”.

“What would you like boss?”

“Chai.”

“Ok, chai”

“Actually give me a bumper chai.”

“Ok, one bumper chai. Anything else?”

“Do you have any special snacks?”

“No sir, we only have special tea.”

“Ok, I will take the extra-special tea.”

“Ok.”

Half full or half empty? Doesn't really matter. Is it a special chai? Good question.

Next post: Either lesson 2: malaria and postmodernism or Elephants or something else.