India's policies of affirmative action against the caste system have deepened its evils
Once upon a time there was a gardener. His name was Bharat. One day, he was put in charge of a little garden. All kinds of plants, small and big, grew in it. Alas, the garden had been cruelly neglected by its many previous owners. Trees and bushes wore an emaciated look. The well had run dry, weeds sprouted everywhere, and the soil was devoid of nutrients.
Slowly but determinedly, Bharat began to revive the garden. He pulled out the weeds, dug another well, and found a leaky but serviceable bucket, with which he drew water from the well for watering the plants. There was not much water to go around, but he made the most of what he had. He knew that the young plants — the seedlings—- needed more care than the sturdier adult plants. So he reserved most of the water for them. His efforts started to show results. All the plants in the garden perked up visibly and began to blossom.
And then, one day, a well-dressed man appeared at the gate and gazed critically at the garden. "Nice... but you shouldn't treat all the seedlings with the same amount of care!" he remarked. "Trees hog much more water than bushes. Therefore you should give more water to bush-seedlings than to tree-seedlings. Also, don't club all the bush-seedlings together. The ones with light green leaves need more water. And oh, don't waste water on seedlings of bushes with red or yellow flowers, or with thorns; there are too many of them! Instead, save it for bushes with blue or white flowers, or those that will bear fruit!"
Bharat was impressed by the stranger's educated tones. "By Brahma, I never thought of it that way," he replied, scratching his head. "All this while I've been thinking that all seedlings — whatever their kind, be they bushes or trees — deserve the same start in life. I'll change my methods at once!"
Bharat did as the stranger had advised, but to his dismay the garden rapidly began to decay. Some kinds of seedlings died because of lack of water; others because of overwatering. Many adult plants withered away, leaving no young ones to replace them. Parasitic weeds began to sprout faster than poor Bharat could weed them out.
One day, the stranger reappeared at the gate. "Hey, I followed your advice... and look what's happened to my garden!" Bharat cried indignantly. "Who are you anyway?"
"I'm a scientist," the stranger replied loftily. "I have a PhD from the Institute of Affirmative Action..."
[This was first published in Indian Express on Nov 28, 2006, with the title 'Garden of chaos': http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/garden-of-chaos/17429/2 ]