The luxury of a dignified goodbye

Published: May 29, 2020, 04:27 IST | Rosalyn D'mello | Mumbai

I have been fortunate to have had a chance to close my home of eight years, but the same can’t be said of the migrants who have been uprooted from theirs because of humanity's collective failures

Migrant workers arrive at Lokmanya Tilak Terminus to board a train to Bihar. Pics/ Sameer Markande
Migrant workers arrive at Lokmanya Tilak Terminus to board a train to Bihar. Pics/ Sameer Markande

Even though it looms upon me, I have great difficulty visualising my departure from my apartment in Kailash Hills. I've tried to speculate upon the details. There will be some amount of hustle to get things into a small moving van. In the two days between now and then, we will have emptied the apartment almost entirely.
We'll have in tow about three suitcases, two of which have been packed such that they are ready to be checked in, whenever we are finally able to board our flight to Italy. I'm taking along my writing desk and chair and printer, which will remain with Mona, at whose home we will be living until our exit, along with five books elemental to my research, my diaries, and my laptop.

My air conditioner will go to another close friend's home. I am loaning many functional appliances to friends, just as I've been trying through every means possible, to engineer an ethical move, where, instead of simply disposing of things, I find takers for them.

It's like I've been scattering parts of my apartment in many different homes, and the idea fills me with some joy. I don't know, though, what it's going to feel like, walking away for the last time. Not residing here any longer. Not having my own kitchen, travelling with two suitcases to another continent and reorienting myself to a new definition of home.

I've moved before, between apartments in Delhi, but I've always had some things that have facilitated a sense of continuity. For the moment, my clothes and my diaries will have to fulfil that function of serving as a link between my past, present, and future.

Having gone through the process of having to close what was my home for the last eight years, I cannot even imagine what trauma awaits those who haven't had that luxury. I read in the Thursday edition of mid-day, about migrants who signed off on lease agreements in Mumbai, hoping to take a train and return to their villages in the north, who are now stranded, because the elusive train never came, and they've run out of food.

Who belongs to this country? I often wonder. The structure often resembles a Downtown Abbey. There is this minority of the filthily rich, and all the rest of us are the servants living in the quarters, servicing their egos with little remuneration, grateful to be accommodated, servile about the luxury of being employed.

It must be exhausting to be pitied all the time, to be perceived, always, as a category that must be aided, that must be the recipient of charity, that must appear grateful to be seen. Especially when you know that what you really want is to live a life of relative dignity. You want to be able to earn your bread through your hard work, through your body's labour, and to be able to cook and feed yourself and your families, and to have indulgences, and to laugh and relax, and be.

When Mona showed me a preview of her report for Al Jazeera on India during the COVID-19 lockdown, slated to air over the weekend, I was gutted to see one of her lead characters, a rickshaw puller, standing in line with vessels to receive horribly cooked, smelly food from government officials. To be reduced to a state of not even getting to chose what you put into your belly, to not know when you might be able to afford anything resembling a decent meal, is soul-crushing.

Patriarchy puts so much of the burden of earning for the family on the man, and so much of the task of nurturing on women, and there's almost no scope for equality, or partnership when your primary concern is how to feed dependent mouths.

We continue to wrongly focus our resentment on the Coronavirus. It is not the virus that has disabled facets of our every day, rather, bad governance. We must call it that. And this inconsiderate governance is not unique to the central government and the ruling party. It is what we have historically settled for, because, we have, in our conditioned servility, internalised that we don't deserve better.

This is why resistance work has never been more vital. Those of us who are privileged enough to not feel hunger must exert pressure on civic authorities to perform their duties, to exercise greater consideration and inclusion. It must become our full-time job to question all the false reassurance being handed to us, to resist blindly swallowing the lies we're fed through scheduled television addresses.

We have to stop invisibilising other people's hunger and make it part of our consciousness, while knowing that there is, in fact, enough food in the world to solve the hunger crisis, if only we could summon enough will to check capitalism. We must insist on paying more than the pittance declared as minimum wages. While we are all complicit in the nightmare that millions of people are living through right now, we can all be part of a more dignified solution. We owe each other this much.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx

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The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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