By Suma Varughese
Being an underdog is a valuable opportunity to learn acceptance, patience and many skills
It may not be much fun being an underdog, but there is a lot of value to it. Take the case of our nation, for instance. As a member of the ‘Third World’, we were derided and looked down upon by the more economically sound nations. We simply did not count in the broad worldscape. The result was that we learnt a great deal about the dominating cultures, first Britain and then the US, thanks to the gift of the English language donated to us by our former imperial masters. We read their books, rocked to their music, studied their science, and embraced their civilization. At the same time, we also used our languages, lived our cultural and spiritual lives, and partook – no matter how little – of our own civilization.
The result is, to my mind at least, a far richer palette than theirs. Our knowledge of the world is more profound than theirs, because it includes their world as much as ours. We Indians can speak a minimum of three languages, and an average of four or five, which must be doing amazing things for our brains! We integrate multiple cultures and worldviews reasonably successfully. In addition, the spiritual basis of our civilization has made us much more comfortable with uncertainty, given us more dexterity for multi-tasking, and made us a provenly successful case in assimilating different religions and cultures.
We are now reaping in the benefits. Our largely English-speaking workforce is spreading across the world. Our skill with computers is well- proven and the West is coming to us to learn how to become tolerant. Most of all, the values of our civilization are peaking all over the world, as humanity becomes more and more spiritually charged. I believe that it is only a matter of time before our enriched worldview will flower out into a tremendous creative renaissance. Our arts, dance, music, literature, cinema, blogs and so on, will vibrate with a tremendous creative energy that will stun the world. The West, on the other hand, is increasingly being felled by its top dog status, which has bred complacency and arrogance. Moreover, its status was based on material factors such as wealth, power and so on, all arrived at by unfair and heinous methods. In the New Age of love, compassion and service, the values of their civilization will have to be redefined before they can belong.
In the same way, women have been underdogs for millennia, reduced by the patriarchal culture into subservience. As underdogs we learnt to serve, to take care of men and children, to sacrifice uncomplainingly, to put up with any amount of emotional and physical abuse. Our underdog status made us strong, resilient and enduring. In addition, when the women’s liberation movement gave us the opportunity to work outside the homeplace, many of us have been shouldering the almost unbearable burden of two full-time jobs – looking after the household, cooking, cleaning, taking care of the kids, as well as going to work. Mostly, we did this without the help of the menfolk, which must have ensured that we enhanced our gene pool with tremendous capability and capacity. It is little wonder that the new generation of women is shining in everything including academics.
Another section of the disadvantaged are the poor in any society. Often hungry, usually pushed around, abused and used, theirs is a tragic lot. And yet, in my experience, I have found many to be remarkably fine in spirit. Many have no craving for wealth, for their cutting-edge lives give them insight into the real wealth of life, which is relationships. I have no wish to romanticize them, but I have often found them to be much more caring, sharing, loving and giving than their more prosperous counterparts. They are under no illusions that they can survive without others, and therefore, they actively build a network of relationships which support and benefit each of them. For instance, in Mumbai, if the milkman or the dhobi want to go on holiday, they install one of their family members to do the job until they return. I wish I could have access to such a service!
Similarly, the blacks in the US, the dalits in ours, and other disadvantaged societies will also find that their underdog status has given them perspectives, worldviews and skills denied to the top dogs. Their time too, will come.
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