What is similar between a tea-bag and the young-boy who brings us the dawn-time cup, I asked myself?
A fortnight had passed but all that I could gather was a faint idea of the grueling routine that Gopal used to go through as part of his job. I would always see him around as if someone had embedded him in the detail around me. Others were around too, but somehow he became a focus of my attention. I was careful, not to let him know about my observations though, much like a cautious bird-watcher.
Meanwhile a strong voice from within began to disturb me. I wanted to ask him something but somehow I was not able to. So dinner-time, while I sulked in one corner of the Officers-Mess, I called him near.
“Gopal, morning time you gave me a cup of tea around 5 a.m, and its 9.15 p.m now. For so many days now I have been thinking about your working hours, but…..ok tell me when do you get free finally”, I asked? “Sir, morning time I have to start at 4.30 am, and we usually get free by 10.30 pm”, he replied rather grimly. “Twelve….no, sixteen…no eighteen hours of work…, and while I paused to use my mental-calculator, he drifted away towards my fellow Officer-Trainee. I had always found a complaint on his face and his eyes used to shine, whenever he felt I might ask something. There was a feeling of weightless in him, as if he had just had his moment of catharsis. I felt as if he had also been waiting for my questions the way I had been struggling to peek into his little-world of great-suffering.
A few days back, one of our faculty members had been praising an OT from the previous-years batch for having done some innovation in the management of Officers-Mess. Precisely, it was about “saving a lot of money” by contracting-out and getting rid of the excess man-power in the mess, I recalled. Did that innovation have anything to do with Gopal’s eighteen-hours, I asked myself? Stop this exaggeration and extrapolation, I pinched myself. But then why not, it is quite possible!
I was not thinking like an economist, I knew because I was thinking “about” the margins. I was thinking of exploitation. Of the desperation that forces a Gopal to accept a job where he has to work for 18 hours a day without being paid adequately. I was not thinking like an economist for I had no regard for the innovations that over-burdened a poor-mans shoulders so as to safeguard the rich-mans pocket. I had no under-standing of the cost-benefit analysis, no appreciation of the rules of business. I knew I was more of an idealistic moron than being a man bestowed with practical wisdom. I exerted hard but somehow I was still unsuccessful in thinking like an economist to plot Gopals life on a supply-demand curve. How could it be about a “curve” for it was clearly about that “line” between the haves and have-nots of our country, I wondered.
Now I realized that Gopal was him-self not much different from a tea-bag. He was also being dipped and squeezed, day-in and day-out. “Law, administration, justice, IAS, IPS, sensitivities, change, choice, voice, training, development, all this jargon upon that we are fed upon, appeared so meaningless and distorted when I tried to see through Gopal’s spectacle.
Gopal personifies both tragedy and triumph. Triumph of the man and the tragedy of a society whose scaffold and steel-frame we are about to become. We need to do something for the millions of Gopals around us. At least notice them, if nothing else.