Something doing the rounds of WhatsApp forwards is of India marching forward with gigantic steps, because a billionaire in India is now the third richest man in the world! From potholed roads, broken bridges, polluted cities, and monstrous slums we praise this feat!
Is that how we measure the financial status of a nation?
A vivid scene that remains etched in my memory, and which, without trying to boast, I was part of, was of old men and women, the poorest of the poor, walking, yes walking out of my installation as president of a club.
These were those who’d stopped walking.
“Stopped walking?” you ask, looking at me incredulously, and yes that was the same question I asked the social worker who told me that in chawls, slums and hutments throughout the city many old people just sat through the day on their haunches or on the ground.
“Why?” I asked, “Are they ill?”
The social worker gave me a sad smile, “Not ill,” he said, “they’ve been harshly told not to get up and walk about, because if they fall, there’s no money to pay for hospital bills, and no one to look after them if they get bedridden!”
“So, they sit still and don’t walk!” I whispered.
“Yes,” said the social worker, as he took me to huts where I peeped in and actually saw the old man, sitting most probably from morning to night, fearful of moving.
And then came my Installation. Committee members suggested different Five Star hotels, “No,” I said, “We’ll just have it in the municipal park, and call all the old people around!”
“Why?” asked my secretary.
“We’ll use the money to give all of them walking sticks, four pronged ones so they won’t slip or fall!”
Like I said, it was an unforgettable scene as all the chairs for my installation in the humid park were occupied not by my Rotarians, but by hordes of old people, some helped, some carried by their children, who came, hoping to walk again .
That is where, I believe, our lavish spending needs to go. Not in showing the world we have private planes to fly us around, or Rolls Royce cars, but in spending that money on the poor or in helping the old. And we have millions.
The other day, while getting out of my car, and walking to a store, a young lady gave me a huge smile, and asked how I’d been during the Covid period. I replied to her questions wondering who she was, and then remembered, she was one of those who had literally carried her father to my installation.
“He’s gone!” she said sadly, “But he walked till his end came!”
I walked away, with more joy than I’m sure Adani feels, when he steps out of his jet..!
Robert Clements is a newspaper columnist and author. He blogs at www.bobsbanter.com and can be reached at [email protected]