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Rated: 13+ · Article · Contest Entry · #2094700
Quote: "Majority - time to pause & reflect" Mark Twain - second place, Project Write World
All Words: 2248

"Hail the new king!" they cried. "Hail the new king!"

The new king stood on the stage, dazzled, as the spotlight followed his every move and thousands of spectators cheered in the auditorium. Back in his home town, a few thousand more people cheered, and his parents' tiny apartment was filled with family members and friends, bearing flower garlands, sweets and gifts. Close-up shots showed his mother, sobbing with joy.

Reality TV had come to India, and how.

This was a singing show, and the final results had just been announced. Viewers had voted (by text messages and phone calls costing five to ten times the regular amount) for ...

Whom had the viewers voted for?

The best singer?

Not by a long shot. The first runner-up had out-sung his opponent in every round of the contest, and every phase of the finale. His voice, his song choices and his charisma were palpably, definitely, the better of the two. The judges, the hosts of the show, the live audience, the viewers at home ... everyone was in agreement on that.

Thus, viewers from the winner's home town had seen the writing on the wall, and banded together. Hundreds of people were given a day's paid leave from work, and pre-paid cellphones, and instructed: VOTE. For twenty-four hours, they did nothing but vote. A few of them were interviewed by the channel. "Yes, yes, we had to do whatever it took to make our boy win!" they said. Visuals on the screen showed crowds, heads bent, voting for 'our boy'.

What chance did the poor runner-up have, against that mighty juggernaut of votes? He had just superior talent, that's all. He didn't stand a chance. His mother was with him on stage, at the edge of the spotlight. Occasional pan shots caught her pointing at her son and applauding. He had one supporter, there beside him.

They were told to vote, and they voted. Their boy won. The cellphone companies were laughing all the way to the bank. The viewership counts for the channel, for the finale and the result show, had broken all previous records.

Only talent lost.

Real talent, real effort, real star-quality. Reality TV undermined all these, because they were told to vote and they voted for their boy. Had they paused to reflect, for just one moment, that lone woman applauding the runner-up at the edge of the spotlight might have had a happier story to tell.

Gone are the days of contests being decided by merit. Technology is here. The social media is here. At a photography exhibition recently, the organisers were, quietly and privately, apologising for one of the exhibits that stuck out like a sore thumb. "The other exhibits were chosen by our judges," they explained. "This one was the one that got the most likes on social media. By our rules, we had to display it." Thus did one truly deserving photographer miss out on being seen, because someone else plugged more people's inboxes with requests for a 'like'. It's easy to click 'like' to stop someone from pestering you with messages. It's more difficult to evaluate the photo and check whether it really deserves your vote. Yes, technology has made it easier to be in the majority and applaud mediocrity. You can click without pausing to reflect. And that, unfortunately, is what the majority does.

Cut to another scene, and another new king.

We're in a school, the teacher is at the blackboard, and thirty-six fifth graders are seated in their places, paying attention.

Rather, thirty-five fifth-graders are seated in their places, paying attention,

One young chap is seated on the teacher's chair at the front of the room, lolling about. Occasionally, he stands up, demands a piece of chalk, and nudges her aside to write on the blackboard.

The teacher, helpless, lets him.

His classmates, resentful, hide his pencils. When he, later, returns to his place to find his pencil-case empty, he sets up a howl. The teacher, not knowing quite what to do, says, "Now, now!" to no one in particular. When he has to go to the bathroom a little later, two boys are sent with him to make sure he returns safely to the classroom. Needless to say, not much work is done in class.

Ironically, this unfortunate boy is the new king.

He is mentally challenged, and is in a mainstream school because the latest buzzword in Indian education is 'integrated education'.

The trouble is, in their haste to implement this 'integration', possibly due to social pressure, schools have taken to admitting challenged students without the infrastructure or the human resources to handle the challenges faced.

So, you have a student-teacher ratio of 36:1 (thirty-six students to a teacher), no special equipment or books, no voluntary help, and a society that has its conscience salved for having forced the school to open its doors to the special boy.

The poor little king learns nothing, his classmates learn less than they otherwise would have, and the hapless teacher carries an entirely undeserved burden of guilt for her supposed shortcomings -- her class is not progressing.

This clueless king clearly cannot speak for himself.

It is up to the powers-that-be in the school, the parents of the young king's classmates and society at large to realise his plight, and the plight of his classmates, and change the situation.

India does have very caring professionals, well qualified to deal with this child and others like him. Not enough of them, not in every nook and cranny, but they exist. Their expertise needs to be tapped to create special-needs schools to nurture these children in their formative years, so that they can truly integrate as they grow, say at the college or at the job. Simply tossing a child and a teacher in to an impossible situation isn't 'integration', it's a farce. A farce that comes from a little reflection -- but not enough. A farce that has consequences for all the students concerned.

In another elite neighbourhood not far away, another farce is being played out.

A fifteen-year-old boy who has just passed his all-important 'board exam' has received a reward. He has been given pocket money (an allowance) to spend for the very first time in his life. And he has it all planned, what he is going to spend it on. He has been thinking of this moment for months, the receiving and spending of pocket money.

He is going to spend it on a tube of 'Fair and Handsome' cream.

You see, this boy has a dark skin.

All his life, he has been called 'Kaalia' ('Blackie'), and now that he has money, he is going to use it to put an end to the teasing. He is going to slather this cream all over himself, and, within ten days, become shades lighter on the shade-card he has seen a hundred times on TV. This, he has been told, will make him the new king of hearts. Girls will fall for him instantly, like they fall for the film star endorsing the brand.

Fairness creams are much in demand in India.

It began with 'Fair and Lovely', for females. Advertisers flooded the media with messages -- if you use our product and become fairer, you'll get a job, get a man, get money, get ... get ... get ... get anything you want. Just use our product

A few years later, the advertisers roped the men in as well. Become fairer to get the girl. Get lots of girls.

Fair skin is an obsession in India.

Children as young as three years of age consider themselves ugly because they are dark-skinned. The advertising agencies feed in to the Indian obsession with fair skin because hey, their clients sell more cream, and they get more commission.

It is debatable what fairness creams actually do. Some say they burn the top layer of the skin right off. Others say they redistribute melanin. Almost everyone agrees that they actually work the way they say they do only about five per cent of the time. They don't work ninety-five per cent of the time.

Until the majority changes its viewpoint, and realises that in a hot country, a dark skin is natural and necessary and besides, colour of skin does not determine either external or internal beauty, the only ones who will stand to gain anything are the manufacturers of the fairness creams, and the film stars who endorse them. The so called King of Bollywood should understand his civic responsibility and stop urging people to live like him by using a fairness cream.

"Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect." - Mark Twain

Thankfully, in India, examples abound of those who have paused, reflected, and made a positive difference.

Take the group that calls itself The Ugly Indian.

Visit their website and you're asked a multiple-choice question: "Why are Indian streets filthy?" The choices you're given are as follows: a. It's the 'system', stupid; b. It's our corrupt government; c. Oh, it's the uneducated people; and d. Because we're all Ugly Indians. Click on any of these, and you find: "It’s time we admitted that many of India’s problems are because many of us are Ugly Indians. Look at any Indian street, we have pathetic civic standards. We tolerate an incredible amount of filth. This is not about money, know-how, or systems. This is about attitudes. About a rooted cultural behaviour.:

The group decided to take on the mammoth task of changing this rooted cultural behaviour, one city at a time. They started in Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore) and quickly spread to Chennai, Kochi, Bhopal, Meerut, Agra, Raipur ... and counting.

What do they do?

They identify a spot that needs fixing. It could be a pavement (sidewalk) that is broken and has become a death-trap for pedestrians. It could be a wall that has paan stains on it and garbage rotting against it. It could be a road that is riddled with potholes. Any spot that has either been rendered dangerous or unhygienic thanks to the activities (or lack thereof) of the ugly Indian.

They then meet up, in the early morning, bearing gloves, shovels, paintbrushes ... whatever's needed ... and get to work before the rest of the world wakes up. The 'before' and 'after' pictures they put up on social media are dramatic indeed. It is amazing what a dozen people can achieve in three hours if they put their minds to it.

There are no kings among The Ugly Indians.

In fact, individuals choose to remain anonymous. For a long time, the group was publicity shy and avoided the media. Only folks who had been invited could join a 'spot fix', and the press was not informed. The group uses social media as a tool to spread the word, but even now, the names of individuals are not revealed. When a member of the group gave a TEDx talk, he wore a mask and called himself Anamik Nagrik (Anonymous Citizen).

(Click here for the talk *Down*)

The 'before' and 'after' pictures not only span three hours now, but months, and, sometimes, years. Spots that have been fixed have stayed fixed. The garbage hasn't returned, the paan stains have been kept off the walls. When those in the majority pause, reflect and aren't crowned kings, commercial kings or clueless kings, things can change for the better, and they do.

One final example. The example of a quiet queen, so self effacing that she would balk if she knew she was being written about here. She passed away on 23 August, 2016, at the age of 83, leaving behind a legacy that proves the power of pausing to reflect.

Mrs. Chanda Shroff.

In 1969, she went to a drought-hit area in Kutch (Gujarat), to help with relief work there. She noticed two things. One -- the people, though in dire straits, did not want charity; and two -- they were wearing the most exquisitely embroidered clothes. She could have, like the other volunteers, just done her stint as a volunteer and gone back home, but Mrs. Chanda Shroff paused to reflect.

Thus was born Shrujan, an organisation that empowers the rural artisans of Kutch by giving them employment. Modern, urban designers work on conceptualising contemporary products, and the women of Kutch bring their nimble fingers and colourful threads to these designs. From one village, and thirty women, Shrujan is now active in a hundred and ten villages, transforming the lives of three thousand women. The products created by these once-impoverished women now reach every corner of India and have even travelled overseas. Mrs. Chanda Shroff has received accolades and awards, being the only Indian recipient of the prestigious Rolex Award.

The video linked below tells of how the Shroff family plans to take things forward, with a living museum (everything here is created by living artisans), research centre and school.


All it took to transform lives, change cities and alter attitudes was for someone to pause and reflect. And thank goodness India has its quiet, title-less, mostly unsung royalty, who emerge from the majority to become unique because they did just that. Paused and reflected.

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