Has anyone of you ever had those times that make you wonder how cruel yet how funny this world is? I had one of those today. I was supposed to be at a marking day. It is one of those university tutor sessions where all tutors are put in one room with all the assignments related to the units they teach. I was tutoring a course in Sustainability this semester and we were dealing with transport, housing and waste management solutions for a small lake town called Tonle Sap in Cambodia. So we were basically marking what "first year" students (the super enlightened ones) think should be done with this small town that lives off fishing.
Needless to say they came up with some amazing solutions. Like for example, building catamarans that cost $ 1 million each ( 5 of them mind you), spending about $5000 a month (each) on maintaining them, and charging all the commuters of Tonle Sap $2 everyday to use them. Then comes the clincher. They proposed that since the average Cambodian earns less than $2 a day, according to Cambodian standards, they should pay the drivers of these ships $75 a month!!
It stuck in my head because before I went for this marking job, I was reading 'The Great Indian Novel' on the train and I was bemused by Tharoor's description of how the British redefined "taxes" in various forms in India and how easily Indians accepted it then until someone else pointed it out to them!!
We were reading pages after pages of description of the abject poverty in the region and every two hours the table at the end of the room was loaded with refreshments. So I had to actually mark work that required me to understand if my students understood the concept of subsistence living while I was munching on grapes, making myself cups of fragrant Earl Grey and enjoying them with scones! To make things even more ironical I was being paid for all the time I spent there.
It is really amusing how different kinds of people in the West (well in Australia, I should be geographically correct and call them people of the Western East) think of the East. Some of them give me a happy shock by knowing more about Ashtanga Yoga than I do ( to be honest I don't even really know what kind of Yoga I have been brought up on). Sometimes they make these emphatic statements that Hindus still burn their widows in India and change the subject before I can take full control of my fury!!
The Western woman is emancipated. It is a really cunning word. She is free to choose! She is free to do whatever she wants with her life. In the end though, they all want someone to go down on his knees and propose to them! In the end they all want to have children. They all seem to have the same motherly and feminine feelings that their not-so-free sisters in the East seem to have but unlike their sisters in the East, they cannot guarantee that their feelings would be fulfilled. Because they are all tied down by freedom that they have chosen with such dignity! Too much choice ties you down in strange ways! I feel the same when I see twenty year old kids with backpacks full of different sources of entertainment looking blank and bored.
Sitting there in that cool air conditioned room today, I felt guilty in a strange way and on my way back, getting back to the Civil Disobedience that Mahatma Gandhi launched so many years ago, I also felt strangely grateful to be reminded that there are still people in this world that live on under $2 a day!