Sometime in the 1960’s a cricket test match was in progress at the Eden Gardens in Kolkatta. At a very tense moment in the match the umpire gave an LBW decision against an Indian batsman and with this the match went out of India’s hands. The crowd that was obviously rooting for India erupted in rage and a riot ensued.
Soon there was fire in the wooden stands. The police rushed in. As the situation escalated, Conrad Hunte the West Indian opener climbed up the steep slopes of the stadium roof to rescue the national flags of the two contending countries risking injury to himself.
There was much praise in the media the next day for this brave action. I however have a different take on Hunte’s action. It is this—people are guided by more than personal material pursuits. People can exhibit a range of behaviors apart from rationality – the irrational, the animal instincts, the emotional, the noble, the savage, the primordial, the creative…it is a long list.
I have heard people say that ‘it is all about money’ as if there can be no motive other than money. This may be true for some people some of the time but one has to be aware of the many other motivations of people. In thinking and decision making we tend to overlook a simple aspect of human behavior— that the other people affected by our thinking and decision making may not have the same priorities and value systems as ours.
Conrad Hunte could well have raced to the safety of the pavilion to be protected by the police and safely escorted to the hotel. One saw such scenes in the recent terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team in Lahore when helicopters landed on the cricket field to carry the team away to safety. No one would have criticized Hunte or for that matter the Sri Lankan team for putting their lives ahead of any other consideration.
But the Hunte action brought home to me the tendency of human beings to be motivated by considerations beyond self interest and material gains. It opened my eyes even then—as a school student– to the many facets of human behavior. The incidents in Nandigram leading to the Tata NANO car project being shifted from that location to Gujerat reminded me again of our inability to even try and understand what motivates others involved in our decisions.
I was discussing the Nandigram incident with some people at a gathering in the U.S and later in Mumbai. The recurring theme was – the Nandigram people do not know what is good for them .How can they spurn job opportunities? This was their chance to escape poverty, for their youngsters to get modern jobs. Look at how pragmatic Gujeratis are. Is it any wonder that Gujerat is a prosperous state while West Bengal is about bas bad as Bihar? It’s all about politics really. Mamta has misled the people.
It is perhaps true that Mamta scored political points and provoked violence to consolidate her vote bank with an eye on the elections However it would be simplistic to reduce the issue to this deduction.
What is missing is multi dimensional thinking in which we make a creative effort to uncover what motivates others affected by our actions and being willing to admit and accept that what motivates us may not tally with what motivates others.
In Nandigram it is easy for us –middle and upper classes –to say that the people are foolish not to see what is good for them .The assumption is that jobs and money are what is good for them simple because these are good for us. Multiple dimensional thinking might have led them to reason as follows:
• No doubt they are poor but maybe they need a way out that is not restricted to offering jobs.
• Maybe they are threatened by change in much the same was as we are.
• Maybe they are attached to land since this has been their home for thousands of years.
• After all changes in laws, technology, competition etc unnerve even the Tatas who however are in a position to adapt to these changes but the poor are not similarly equipped.
• There is need for a mechanism to help the poor people handle change that —to them—is heart breaking, threatening their millennia old lifestyles and values.
• Maybe we ought to involve rural leaders, anthropologists, psychologists in understanding the people affected.
In India more than in any other country we have seen over thousands of years that anyone entering our scene has HAD to necessarily adapt to India to make himself acceptable. Christianity and Islam have adapted in varying degrees—witness the way Sufism has taken roots in comparison to Salafi Islam .The former is very much in tune with our ethos. Notice how McDonalds succumbed to the lure of India’s culinary traditions by introducing the McAloo Tikki!
The Tatas had missed these lessons. I do not deny that material gains are strong motivators even for our rural poor but our approach ought to have been less brazen and more humane .This may call for accounting for the beast and the best in people. As for the beast in us here is an extract from a recent article on the Gujerat Riots.
Not content with instigating a mob that burnt down Muslim shops, homes and any Muslims they could get at hand, they inserted a live wire (rod) into the pucca house where 33 Muslim labourers (including women and children) had huddled in to escape being burnt to death. Patels in the village said the 2,000 strong mob “knew” BJP legislator Naresh would come later to throw water on the house — which he did — electrocuting its inmates to a pre-planned ghastly end.
As for the best in us here is an example from my family. My ten year old niece told her friends that she enjoyed going to bookshops in Chennai, only in my company. When asked why she insisted on my accompanying her she said ‘My uncle is an author of three books. He gets a lot of RESPECT in the bookshops. I like that!’ A ten year old kid valuing respect! Would we have factored this in any decision involving a ten year old ?