Blurred vision

Complacency is rampant in the United States. It largely stems from ignorance, or from living so comfortably that you can’t be bothered (or don’t dare) to question the status quo. In India, complacency is just as rampant, but it’s also a conscious choice.

It took me some time, but I’ve completely mastered the art of not looking too closely. When I first arrived, I focused on the little things on the ground as I walked, because I was used to finding crunchy leaves, snails, and pennies. Instead, I found a lot of spit, shit, and carrion. I’ve blurred my vision and gradually pushed reality to the corner of my eye, because I grew tired of staring at destitution.

There’s a social worker inside me, looking worried and feeling betrayed.

Far above the stray dogs with broken tails, I work in an ivory tower, which looks rather a lot like a sober Soviet block. It was not until we piloted data collection that I realized that the plans we conceptualize up on the 4th floor are being carried out on the ground by real human beings.

A week ago, we trained 13 surveyors, who called me “ma’am” and expected me to know what I was talking about. My first day with the surveyors I stayed busy and distracted, but by the end of the second day, my heart grew heavy. Akshay and I were out monitoring surveyors while they measured street lighting at night. As I watched two grown men conduct the survey, using a methodology I’d helped design, on roads I’d blindly picked on a map, I felt like a child who had been taken too seriously.

For a few days after the pilot, I was suspended in mid-air, unable to understand why I had been granted this much responsibility. With a lot of help from a lot of different people, my feet have touched the ground again. I’m taking small steps now, adjusting to this weight while trying not to be crushed by it.

To the worried social worker inside me, I am still you. I will stop feeling so comfortable and start seeing it all again. This bout of complacency has to go, and there’s no better place than this city to chase it out of me.

Having spent half her life in India and the other half in the United States, Swathi gained a unique perspective on inequality that sparked her interest in understanding and combating poverty in its various forms. After six years of college at a stretch, Swathi is eager to balance the academic knowledge with practical experience in the field. She is looking forward to the rewards and challenges of rediscovering her drastically transformed hometown of Bangalore. Most recently, Swathi worked at the NGO Entreculturas in Madrid, Spain, to support education programs all over Africa, and to develop a global advocacy network on the right to education. She speaks four languages and is trying to decide on a fifth.

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4 thoughts on “Blurred vision

  1. It’s good to know early on in life this: Ideology is always on a higher floor- the first or the fourth. Reality is on the ground. The contrast is almost always intimidating. Seems, it has to be. Change always occurs out of intimidation and the following compromise; both either self made or external. As a socially conscious person anyone has to frequently walk upstairs to KNOW and downstairs to DO. There is no other choice for the mortal operatives in the world. But knowing that hard truth makes one comfortable enough to the extent one can possibly go to, depending on one’s own nature and INCLINATION and end up often tasting SOME success. That success is enough to enable eating one’s meal engrossed in it, taking a nap and feel lost to the world, indulging in whatever one needs to without feeling crushed by the fourth floor and without the ground below making it impossible.
    Life is more college than college is life. I thank life. It is ACTUALLY more generous than college, giving one all the time one needs/wants to take to learn nothing essentially more than ACCEPTING it as it comes.

    1. Thanks for this, Dad. You understand me too well, and you’re damn good at extending metaphors. Love you.

  2. Swathi
    44 years ago in Manchester I saw a banner above the entrance to the Student’s Union at Manchester University. It read ” Apathy does not bother me”. Ever since I have done something about my complacency not translating to Apathy. It looks as if you have arrested your moderate complacency well in time.
    Enjoy the empowerment. On matters new everyone is learning by doing.

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