Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The times I hate myself

I was standing by that golden car ready to head back to Patna when she came up the road. A vaccination worker, Anita had walked from the bus stop on the main road carrying her cooler of vaccines and assorted notebooks. She stopped to chat with the stranger in her town, and I covertly observed her while talking with her.

That foggy morning, she was clad in one of those synthetic shawls that are sold so cheaply on the streets in India-the ones that try to make up in glitter what they lack in warmth. I was doubly warm in a hand-woven wool shawl rich with woolen embroidery and a drab but highly effective fleece (one stolen from sis, and the other stolen from husband. But how was she to know that?). Next to her, I looked rich and pampered. Next to her, I was.

Perhaps this is what prompted her line of questioning. 'What department do you work in?' she asked. 'I don't work for a government department, actually.' I replied 'I work for a magazine that writes about water and publishes on the internet'
'What do they pay you?'
I named a figure that was roughly one-half of what I do earn, knowing even this to be more than her salary.
'This is yours?' she asked, pointing to that eyesore of a car.
No! I don't have a car, I hastened to explain. And then I went into how my office pays for travel, but how its mostly public transport, and how this was for lack of time and too many places to go, all with the excessive detail born of guilt.
'Get me a job in your organization' she said.

Now I field these requests all the time. And usually saying something like, we are a small team, no plans of growth, so sorry, is enough. But this time, it stung.
See, the question is not just one of an English education. Even if her daughter was studying in an English medium school, I think its unlikely that she would get a job where I work. A first generation English scholar from a school in rural Bihar will not have the fluency, the exposure to literature that the job requires. She will not have the 'water contacts' that make obtaining content possible. She will not have the deep enough pockets that serve as my Plan B in case travel goes awry. Accumulating all this requires generations of educated and relatively affluent people.

My job stinks of privilege- it is something I've inherited rather than earned. And I enjoy it, revel in the experiences it offers me, and would not exchange it for Anita's.

Times like these, I don't like myself very much


nadi said...

Your writing is emotional without being sentimental. Your sensitivity about people comes out through your writing.
Please post more often

nadi said...

As for privilege, those of us who know you outside the blogosphere have seen your struggles, the sacrifices you have made for your work- for the life you chose.