A few weeks ago I was asked to travel to Mysore for work. I’d booked a taxi for the journey and was picked up at 6:00 in the morning. The driver and I exchanged the usual pleasantries and I settled down for a quiet ride. Not being good at initiating conversations, I didn’t expect to have much to talk to him about during the journey. He too seemed content to just drive.
I ride to Mysore often (it is home) and so, 30 minutes into the drive, asked him how often he drove to Mysore and if he enjoyed it. By some alchemy, that question got him talking about himself, where he was from, his family, friends, schooling, work and his ambitions. By the time we reached Mysore, we’d become friends.
Two of the topics I found very interesting; one was children and the other corruption. I have been wanting to write about him for a while now but hadn’t found the time. It is a Sunday and I’m done with ‘work’ for now. So here is a summary of (what I remember of) our conversation.
About schooling, his thoughts were that children in cities had an advantage since they saw what education could do for a person. Children in villages, he said, do not value education and so don’t stay in school. The only educated people that a boy in a village saw or met, led lives not very different from everyone else. This leads to the perception that going to school doesn’t do much to improve one’s life. He suggested that they should be brought to cities, shown places like corporate campuses, and told that this lifestyle was within their reach only if they stayed in school.
What was interesting to me was this: he hadn’t once mentioned what some educated folk consider to be the greatest benefit of education - the training of one’s mind, for example: the ability to enjoy a book. In all probability, that aspect didn’t interest him at all. Education, to him, was (probably) only a means of achieving prosperity.
As we crossed Mandya, we saw posters of Ashok Kheny (NICE) and I asked him what he felt about the controversies surrounding the B’lore-Mysore infrastructure corridor. A tirade concerning a former PM followed. His anger was something many people share but what was interesting was this: corruption in itself was, in his opinion, OK. He was only angry at the fact that one man’s greed was so large that he’d created problems for others and stopped initiatives that would help poor people.
When asked why he felt corruption was OK, he answered by telling me about himself. It wasn’t his fault that he’d grown up in a village and so hadn’t got an education. There were many like him who, for no fault of theirs, could never aspire to be well-off. Such people see everyday the kinds of lives that rich people lead but have no easy (honest) means of ever achieving them. Business, politics and ‘Goondagardi’, he felt, are the only ways that such people have of achieving wealth. Of the three, business needs capital and so isn’t an option. And politics seemed a lesser evil compared to the last choice.
If ever he became a politician, he confessed that he would first make enough money to lead a comfortable life. Then make some more to provide for his friends and relatives. Some he would spend on ensuring he stayed in power and the rest on society. This level of corruption he felt was not wrong.
…not too difficult to understand, is it, this reasoning? Or to agree with.
The book ‘King Rat’ by James Clavell tells the story of a POW camp. Ethics, principles, the trappings of civilization all suffer as each person learns that to live, he has to take from someone else. A good but disturbing book.
Perhaps ethics are just luxuries that a well-fed stomach and an idle mind conjure up.
P.S: I hope this post isn’t misunderstood. But just in case: This wasn’t a lament about other people’s lack of ethics - only doubts about my own.