Friday, June 18, 2004

The Tree-Climber and Diamond Earrings

While I am often bothered by the nature of disparity, I was particularly moved by something that happened this week. I went to bed reading the story of a panaiyeri nadar, a tree-climber in my home state of Tamil Nadu, a story typical for many in his profession. His job is to extract date palm jaggery from the trees, for which purpose he has to climb the tree, extract the juice with a knife, and on to the next tree. He has no safety harness or other protective gear, and a fall guarantees death, or worse serious injury that could spiral his family into serious debt. He often has to climb upto 150 trees, each at least 15 to 20 feet in height. That's about the same as climbing 250 floors up a staircase, except he has no staircase or even ladder - just his bare palms and legs. He starts working at 3 am in the morning, and gets done about 6 in the evening. The fruits of his labor? About Rs. 5-8 (under US 20 cents!) a day ... oh and muscle pains, asthma and a host of other ailments!!

I woke up the next morning, and turned on my TV to discover it was National Splurge Day - and we were being shown how we could splurge (if we had the money!) ranging from caviar to $200,000 diamond earrings to a Merc wheels that set you back close to 400 grand! Sure, spend, revel in luxury ...

This bothers me a whole deal, and I'm no commie or leftie! I don't believe the Government should necessarily be a constant presence in our lives. But I do believe that we are humans, and humanity is what distinguishes us from the beasts of the jungle. How can people not be bothered by the extreme poverty that besets so many in the world? And I don't mean just the rich. How far would the $2000 you spent on a home theater system gone in those parts? How many palaiyeri nadars would have had access to a more supportive system?

Yes, governments are supposed to do that, but it's obvious that for many in the Third World, governments have failed them. But ask yourself, if a loved one where in need of medical attention, and the state-sponsored medical system (Medicare in the US) refused to provide any assistance, would you turn a blind eye to their plight?

Religions love to talk about the great attributes of their leaders. And yet, how is it that so many who tout the virtues of Christ, Mohammed, Rama, Buddha fail to attempt to replicate their compassion?

How about envisioning a year, nay a day as a panaiyeri nadar?

2 comments:

livetamil said...

Hi karthik...can i know the name of the book that you ahve read ? I too a nadar by birth. but few of the nadar's are doing the so called palmira climbing now..most of them are doing grocery shop business in the cities..the famous t-nagar is an example..saravana stores..rathna stores of t-nagar are of nadar's..

Karthik Narayanaswamy said...

Livetamil,

Sorry for the delay responding - the book is called 'Everybody Loves a Good Drought' by P. Sainath. Incredible book - a must read!