Who left , who stayed?

Recently, I received an email and recognized the sender. It was from an old friend with whom I spent my teen- age years in India. We’ve seldom seen each other since and have no direct contact. More like, ‘Likes’ on Facebook and via via news. Our parents were very close friends. I say ‘were’ only because most of them are no more.

On the subject of the email was one word – Holland.

I kind of knew what the email could contain. Many friends and friends of friends have got in touch with me when they were coming to the Netherlands for a holiday. I clicked to open it and was surprised.

It was a message from someone in distress.

‘Apart from the horrific rapes etc. here, I want to get as far as I can from this hindu-muslim, congress-bjp, India-Pakistan bollocks that our country obsesses with’.

He said he’d spent a reasonable amount of time in the Netherlands in his years as a top sportsman when he was young. He’d been in big and small cities and way out in the provinces. He had spoken in English here because kids at school were taught it. And now, sick of India, he was exploring the option of moving to Holland with his family.

Who left, who stayed?

Sometimes I see myself as one who left but didn’t leave. Sometimes, as someone who left some parts completely and not others. Sometimes I think, how can one ever really leave?

And because I think I never really left, I was looking at the TV show, ‘The Outsider’ with Tim Sebastian. Along the lines of the ‘Doha Debates’, he does some hard talking in a studio in Mumbai. The episode I’m referring to was shot before the nasty rape of last December.

It’s called India is no place for women. Managing editor of Tehelka magazine, Shoma Chatterjee and women’s rights lawyer, Flavia Agnes were for the motion. Actress and activist, Shabana Azmi and corporate lawyer Pallavi Shroff where against the motion.

At one point Tim Sebastian shot a hard look at Flavia Agnes and asked her if India was such a terrible place for women, why has she not left?

 

To which she looked him in the eye and said, ‘If people like me leave, who will be around for the women here?”

 

 

Tim looked a bit like the sixer she had hit had crashed into his face, lowered his head and changed the subject.

 

 

 

Link to the episode is here

 

Who left, who stayed?

In the book ‘Noon’ (Fourth Estate, 2011) Aatish Taseer , the author gives another turn to Flavia’s view. In it the protagonist, a well to do young man returns from the US where is studying, to Delhi for a holiday. He’s staying at the family ‘farm house’ on the outskirts, a special privilege of some of his class. The peace of his days is rudely disrupted by a robbery in the farmhouse for which all the servants are considered guilty unless proved innocent. He participates in the actions of the police to pin down the robber from amongst the domestic staff.

He talks of his ‘isolation’ as a ‘protective screen of encoded privilege – not simply as money, but as aspects of privilege, English, Western dress, values and manners: the things that put me above caste in India and how this makes ‘injustice and, especially cruelty, of the most casual variety, appear always as the work of others.’ He goes on to say how the educated class bore no responsibility for this and if anything, were complicit in the injustice.

Unable to bear the drama that unfolds in the aftermath of the robery, the protagonist decides to cut short his trip and return to the US. He calls it ‘one further degree of removal, the one that would always stand in the way of myself an the Indian reality: the advantage of retreat, of being able to leave’.

Who left, who stayed?

 

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