Arti 2001-2004

8 children died in Gaza yesterday when a drone struck a refuge camp. Hundreds of children have died in this incomprehensible war between humans who once lived side by side till some wily politicians who search for causes to ‘espouse’ and ‘defend’ like predators hunt for prey, decided to make them enemies in the name of what else but religion with a big R. Today even killing a child simply because he bows to another God is kosher. To me this is abhorrent and despicable and is something we too have been subjected to by our erstwhile colonisers who handed us freedom at a price, a price that seems to be endless. Today the social network is replete with outraged comments and posts and looks like Gaza is more a part of India than let us Saharanpur as is so well said by one of my FB friends. Gaza is page 3! I was told by a dear friend that a lady was terribly rude to a poor boy in a shop and when the owner asked her why she was so upset she reported without batting an eyelid: Gaza. Btw she was Indian, page 3 I suppose.

Gaza is page 3; Gaza is fashionable; Gaza is the flavour of the moment. My sympathies go to all those dying in Gaza as the death of a child is unbearable but what saddens me is that some deaths of children go unnoticed, deaths that happen EVERY DAY in our own country, deaths that could be avoided if we simply cared.

The little girl in this picture is one of the 5000 children who die everyday of malnutrition in our country. They die because they do not have the immunity to fight the smallest disease and as they often live in squalor, death comes easy. Arti lost her mother when she was a baby and her father who drove a truck barely had the time to look after her and her two siblings. Her sister, barely a few years older was surrogate mom. Their house was so tiny that the father, a tall man, had to sleep diagonally with his fight outside the door. The smell in their hole of a home was unbearable and indefinable. We discovered the little family perchance and they began coming to pwhy. We tried to settle the older ones in a boarding school but the father was not agreeable. One hot summer morning, little Arti came to my office eating a candy floss and sat on my lap as she did every morning before going to the creche. Late morning she started vomiting and we took her to the doctor and got her medicine. We dropped her home as usual but she started vomiting again and by the time the father got his act together and took her to the hospital she was gone. Her tiny malnourished body had been unable to withstand a small infection, the kind our kids sail through unscathed.

FIVE THOUSAND kids like her, between the age of 0 and 5 die everyday in India. Born to malnourished and barely nubile anaemic mothers, they are tiny and sickly. They feed on their mothers poor quality milk as long as possible. sometimes 2 to 3 years, and then eat a diet low in nutrients that makes them prey to any infection, mostly water borne ones as they again often do not have access to clean drinking water. There are places where the families are so poor that the mothers cook the only meal of the day with many chillies so that the ensuing thirst feels the little tummies filled. I have read horror stories about women ferreting rat holes for grains.

I have so often written about these silent deafening deaths but no one has been even mildly outraged or disturbed; no losing temper with the shopkeeper on this one! 5000 children is no match to 8! You may be wondering his this kind of maths works. Wonder if these page 3 types are followers of Godel’s incompleteness theorems, and they may just become so as Godel is mentioned in the Rehman’s book ‘ In the light of what we know’  a wonderful book replete with little gems though I wonder how many page 3 birds will have the ability to read the 500+ odd pages!

We do not need to meet Godel. I will explain the logic that makes a human being go ballistic when 8 children die and remain unfazed when 5000 of their own die. It is simple. The 5000 are not us. They are them. What makes them different is not their religion or caste but their poverty and that is something we do not suffer from and hence I guess we cannot vibe with! They belong across the invisible line that divides poverty from affluence and it is an impregnable though invisible line. Of we see them but as we would a species that we cannot akin to ours. We keep our voice for the fashionable global perspectives that make good cocktail conversations local tragedies are ‘downmarket’. And then unlike the 8 children whose deaths are heralded loud and clear, the 5000 die quietly and are barely mourned as their families have to get on with surviving.

No one will write an epitaph or sing a requiem for the souls of the 5000 who die today, who died yesterday and the day before and the day before…

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