Even Mark (yes, Zuckerberg) appreciates how well Modi-ji manages his social media. During his visit to the FB HQ, the Indian PM was emphatic about the role social media has played in getting him elected by helping him overcome some personal limitations in the areas of knowledge, information and such, and says it continues to be a useful tool for governance as well.
Check out the link here:
Mr. Narendra Modi has been more progressive-minded than most Indian leaders in having taken the steps he has recounted in this exchange, among many others.
That said, this post is and isn’t about India and its history. The exchange at FB took a sharp turn when Mark veered toward his ‘connection’ with his family, something he says he has in common with Modiji, whose affection for his mother Heeraben is well-known. Heeraben is over 90. That’s almost a century, I say to myself, while realising that some 25 years ago we were learning a programme called Lotus (or was it!!) at school when the first-ever batch of personal computers had been delivered and installed in its computer room.
So this talk was found to be remarkable not for Modi’s oratory but for his pauses in between. There is speculation that he cried, but he did clearly stutter and pause as a little emotion balled up in the back of his throat as he told the world, and especially tech whizzes at FB, of the suffering his mother went through to raise them single-handedly. And he chose to hang this emotion on the peg of doing laborious work of cleaning dishes and such in and around their neighbourhood in a small town of Gujarat, where he too, as a child, used to sell tea.
Even Modi’s harshest critics chose to give him the benefit of doubt since so far in his political journey, this now most powerful man in the country, he has been extremely shrewd in his mass communication strategy. Why he chose to do this in front of Mark Zuckerberg perhaps goes to say something in favour of the theory that people find it easier to confide in those who seem to have no relation to you or your situation, or total strangers. Back home, perhaps this would have been taken as poll-driven histrionics, and it may not even be very much off the mark if you remember Rahul Baba’s ode to his mamma – his “mere paas maa hai” moment in Bihar.
So that was genuine emotion. And there’s no doubt about that. After all, Modi went to touch his mother’s feet immediately after coming on top at the centre. And his mother is the one person for whom his affection is on display. This is also very much in keeping with the moral norms and expectations of the Indian polity. If you look around, in India, the likes of Nicolas Sarkozy belong behind closed doors. Most of our leaders are elderly, a large number of them at the very top are unmarried or without a partner for whatever reason, and they lack a personal life (Nehru, AB Vajpayee, Mamata, Jayalalithaa, Sonia G, Rahul G… veritably all of them). So, mother and motherland are the two obsessions we allow our leaders.
Which is perhaps why Modi wasted no time in adding that just like himself, there are many more Narendra Modis, whom their mothers are struggling to feed and provide a secure future, doing whatever work they can lay their hands on. Yes, it’s a hard life doing manual labour. There’s suffering involved. And so is indignity. Enough to move a 100-crore-plus strong country’s prime minister to tears almost. I don’t question his love for his mother, nor the sacrifices she made to raise her children, nor the idea that his drive for development may be inspired from this passion to move away from manual labour and the indignity it involves.
I question the indignity itself. I question the society and the rules it has made. Why is it undignified to do the dishes? What is so undignified about domestic work, be it at my own home our outside of it, done for money? After all, I swear my mood, my day, and my very optimism suffers the day my domestic help calls in for a long leave. I know many women who say they can wade through neck-deep waters of the big, bad corporate world with their maid by their side. And men, well, don’t even ask. For all our stereotypes are worth, men find it a lot tougher. Which is why, the concept of wives. That life-long maid, butler, caretaker, nurse, baby-maker and baby-sitter (among other things). You might think this too harsh but it’s not. Marriage is nothing but modern-day slavery for a vast population of the country that has no voice. For us urbane lot, a maid is indispensable. Good maids as precious as gems. The show-stopper. So why the indignity?
The mind turns in a vortex of questions and answers:
Because they are uneducated? But, wouldn’t this lead you to think, ‘Would they be doing this job if they were educated?’
I recently rode in a cab whose driver is an M.Com and is working on his English-speaking skills to better his prospects. I asked him if he liked what he was doing. He said he did but he could, possibly look for something more respectable.
Again, I have the same question. He’s an educated young man, on the lookout for more respect. Because taxi-driving is apparently undignified. Here, his being educated made no difference.
Same goes for all those engaged in guarding, cleaning & maintaining, cooking, domestic care, babysitting, etc. All the things that “educated, dignified, and rich” people slog through their lives to pay for. Salaries we dole out to our domestic helps are at times higher than educated youngsters drawing at various call centres, in service sector jobs, and in certain other back-office jobs. Not to mention 2-4 leaves every month. Advance when they need, which is often let go of, and two festival bonuses at least. Not to mention free food and other such consumables.
And yet, the indignity. That indignity is very much a reflection of a society that does not see any kind of work as work, and an individual as an individual. That indignity is by which this society acts out worst of its egocentrism around power structures towards preserving it. The question is poignant particularly where women are involved. A woman from a well-off household who is not engaged in making money will find it very easy to get vacuumed into doing housework as if by default. While that is hardly a bad place to be, she will more often than not, encounter indignity in the face of it. That indignity is the mark of judgment that the society places on people who are not mighty enough to resist it.
You lose your agency. People think you do “nothing” at home. People take your need for rest, repose, and recreation, and most of all, your fatigue, completely for granted. People, otherwise mobile and independent, call on you to perform the pettiest of tasks, all the while heaping scorn and leaving you out of ‘important’ decisions and times spent together.
Perhaps this is what had our Prime Minister get all emotional. It’s a problem that needs attention and a lot of action. It could begin with teaching our people to become more and more independent with regard to ‘life skills’. Cooking, cleaning, mending, sewing, etc. Perhaps this would grant us greater social dividends than a digital India.
On a lighter note, perhaps the PM could push for a ‘cheap’ desi dishwasher. I wonder if it could be placed on the poll plank. But then, the question would be of 24-hr power and water supply. 🙂 There’s so much work to do, Mr. PM!