By Suma Varughese March 2007 For those of us who are convinced that the consumerist culture is an aberration, there is a sense of exquisite torture about living in these times Since this special issue is devoted to a dissection of present-day India, perhaps it would be in order to dwell on my own experience of living through these times while brandishing the spirituality flag. Ever since I woke up to the spiritual dimension about 16 years ago, I have been convinced that the purpose of life was growth and happiness and not the pursuit of money, fame, power or other material temptations. And even as liberalization unfolded in all its multitudinous splendor in ’94, I woke up to its damaging consequences on the individual, society and environment. It has therefore not been difficult for me to adopt simplicity as a philosophy in every area of my life. Except for the fact that I now have Quaker oats for breakfast (brought on by poor digestion), liberalization has left me only marginally changed. A friend was talking about how complicated her life was before liberalization – boil drinking water, fill it in bottles, buy milk and boil it, buy wheat and send it to the chakki for grinding – and I had to laugh out loud. She was describing my present lifestyle. I don’t patronize malls or supermarkets because I believe that they are against the small independent businessman. In America, all the small pop and mom stores that catered to local needs had to close when the behemoths moved in. Why enslave these self-employed people and force them to become wage earners? I don’t own a vehicle, I don’t set foot in a five-star hotel (unless drawn there for a meeting hosted by someone else, never me), I totally refuse to spend Rs 100 or more for movie tickets in multiplexes (except when the movie is superlative, but even then I rarely see more than a couple of movies a year), and I refuse to buy brands. I wear no make-up except for kajal and bindi, and don’t dye my hair (save one regrettable time). I am not besotted with clothes and buy them only when I need to and then I stick to natural fibres. Jewellery, I don’t possess, save for some small pieces of silver and costume jewellery, so I am immune to the blandishments of de Beers and Co. I am determinedly low-tech and own neither a washing machine nor microwave. I do own a refrigerator and a TV, but I look forward to the day when I can dispose of both of them. Food is a weakness, so I occasionally indulge in this zone. But Providence has now decreed a poor digestive system (karma), so that is ruled out too. I don’t own a credit card, and with due apologies to Life Positive, I am not making scads of money. It is not always easy for me to have the courage of my convictions. When neighbors swish past me in their swanky cars while I wait for a bus, or when the auto I travel to a five-star hotel in, is stopped by the gate and one is asked to walk the rest of the journey, then it is hard to repress a stab of envy or embarrassment. However, such moments are rare and they pass. There are committed Luddites in millions who embrace a far more rigorously austere life than my own because they are convinced that society is progressing in the wrong way. I share their conviction. I am certain that all technology and progress charted by a divided and fragmentary mindset is unwise and has damaging consequences. Already this is proving to be true. Almost every new discovery and technology based on that is creating a problem in some other area. CFCs are generating the hole in the ozone layer. Mobiles and cordless phones are reported to have damaging consequences on the brain. And so on. For those of us who feel this way, there is a sense of exquisite torture about living in these times. One sees through their folly and yet one must allow these times to express themselves. They are a part of a process and suppression will only delay their exit. So we sign an uneasy truce with the present and solace ourselves by creating awareness of a better future where all technology will be holistic, harming no one and nothing, benefiting one and all.
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