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Monday, September 3, 2012

‘The Illicit Happiness of Other People’ by Manu Joseph - Harper

Poverty

"Ousep is startled by the laments of women. There are about twenty of them, village women, who stand in a swarm on the other side of the road, behind the wooden barricade. They are facing the fasting ringleader, the man who has the table fan beside him. They are beating their breasts and wailing, but they also show the mild wonder of recent arrival. They cry in a distracted way, throwing glances all around, even looking up at the sky, though they know it very well. They are in tattered saris, blouseless, their hair tangled in brown dirt. Most of them are old, some are very young, but in a bestial way. Their wails are composed of the same three words, which probably have no meaning when not delivered in a dirge. They keep kissing the tips of their fingers. It is as if they are begging for food from a man who is fasting to death. But then a woman shows him a banana and it is now clear that they are asking him to eat, they are begging him not to starve to death. They are probably from his village. Someone must have told them that a son of their soil has decided to sacrifice his life for the Tamil cause. So the gang of malnourished women have descended to dissuade this man, whose full belly sits on his lap as if it is something dear to him. He looks at the women with valiant gloom, and their laments grow. He is probably trying to suppress a laugh now, so his face turns more serious. Then, in a master stroke, he turns the table fan towards the women. In the burst of air the women break into giggles. They try to cry again but their lungs are tired now, and they soon fall silent. They sit on the road and start chatting among themselves.'

"All this will go one day, this animal poverty, it will vanish. And future generations will not know, will not even guess, the true nature of poverty, which is the longest heritage of man. Shouldn't this be preserved somehow, like old colonial buildings, shouldn't abject poverty be preserved as historical evidence? That is what socialists are trying to do in this country. Everybody misunderstands their intentions. They are noble conservationists, working hard to preserve a way of the world."

(pp. 70-1, 'The Illicit Happiness of Other People' by Manu Joseph – Harper)

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