Thursday, October 11, 2007

Looking for a Cause

Leaving a cushy job at the worlds largest hydrocarbon producer (and most profitable corporation), I like to boast that I want to spend the rest of my life fixing my broken karma. Huh? Yes, I know, I don’t quite know what that means either. Is it doing good? Is it helping the helpless? Is it hataofying (try looking that up in a dictionary – I think I just invented a word!) poverty in India? In the world? Or are racism, casteism, misogyny, greed more pressing evils to address? (Well not greed, the non-poor half of the world swears by it nowadays as the source of their non-poverty, but that’s an unnecessary aside.)

Alright, so what is a wannabe do-gooder to do? I could dedicate my life to teaching kids in a neighboring slum in Delhi how to read. But is that an easy way out? After all, with all my literacy and bossy can-do-ness I could accomplish a lot more. What if Gandhiji had decided that converting people to the moral and healthful wonders of vegetarianism would be his sole goal in life? But then, I’m not Gandhiji. And better to definitively accomplish a concrete good thing (you never know, one of the kids I mentor may actually become the next Gandhiji), than to have pipe dreams, however all-encompassingly highminded they may be. Or is it?

There is the other small problem of a confused, deeply ambivalent mind. Getting a masters degree in Economics in the United States has left a nagging suspicion in my mind that economic growth may be the only solution to poverty. But that of course, is quickly drowned out by all the certainties of the evils of inequality and crass consumerism that necessarily come with growth (inclusive growth is a lovely phrase, it makes speeches of politicians sound much nicer than they would otherwise). I look hungrily at the brilliant example of Kerala with its vibrant equalness and much-admired literacy. And Chavez using the west’s own precious democracy to dislodge the putrid oligarchy that existed in Caracas. But then the damned critics’ cynical questions poke me: would there be a Kerala if there wasn’t a Gulf? If the oil price fell to $1 a barrel, would the poor in Venezuela continue to lavish their praises on their savior Chavez?

A lot of questions – perhaps I’m doomed to spend my life formulating questions. Wish I could adopt an omniscient political belief – an opium for the massive ambivalence – life would be much easier. Really.

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