People have a tendency to spit on the sidewalk here. Chennai rickshaw drivers, naked to the elements on either side, stick their heads out of their vehicles in stopped traffic to empty their mouths of paan-stained dribble. People hock loogies on the street regularly. Gargle and spit. The frothy saliva glints in the sun, a marker.

Someone once told me this theory about Indians: every space that is one degree separated from his person is one degree less clean. So an Indian will be impeccably clean and showered. His house will be slightly dirtier. The gully outside of his house will be a bit dirtier. The street is too far removed for anyone to care. Even someone like me who has been taught better is tempted to throw my wrapper onto the growing pile.

Today, the 26th of January, is Republic Day, the day the Indian Constitution was ratified and India officially became a republic. It is clear that Indians love their country very much. They defend it to the teeth. They willingly give their sons to protect the borders, to be scattered in parts across Kashmir, which, according to my grandmother, is the most beautiful place in the world.

Indians love their country very much, but are in a mutually abusive relationship with it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of the Rooster Coop. The cage isn’t necessary. The jailer is the prisoner. In politics, it’s called a collective action problem. We spit on the road to make a mark. We monitor and attempt to control the behavior of the people around us because our lives seem so out of our own control. We teach each other to oppress. We stay compressed.

Indians love their country very much, but are often fed up with it. They expel their bitterness that onion prices have increased by nearly 300% in the last 10 years. They spit and shout and protest and yell at the television, and then eventually realize that noise is futile and their voices are hoarse. And when this and this and this  happen, they hold candlelight vigils and marches and debates in the press. And then this happens.

And when it happens, I’m disappointed that things are this way. And the disappointment doesn’t quash my anger that things are this way. And my anger doesn’t shut out my hope for things not to be this way anymore. And maybe one day, the Indian pill will not have an aftertaste too bitter to swallow.



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