Different strokes for different folks! | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 22, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, January 22, 2012

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Different strokes for different folks!

Isn't it bizarre how, sometimes, life teaches us profound lessons through seemingly inconsequential experiences? My recent encounter with a South Asian lady was one such occurrence. It prompted me to question the duplicitous life many of us tend to live and, imperceptibly, begin to accept as the "social norm."
The lady in question resides in an East European country where her husband is a top executive in a bank. Hardly had we exchanged two sentences, when she started providing an animated account of how her domestic help (also from her native country) had been discovered stealing from right under her nose. The list of stolen items included expensive designer stuff like a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes, a Gucci clutch purse, a Hermes scarf and a Franck Muller watch. Her sob story was punctuated with outlandish comments like: "You know, we treated this guy as family but you can never trust the servant class…they are habitual thieves and lack scruples." The lady declared: "Being a conscionable person I had no choice but to hand him over to the local police. A bit of third degree police thrashing would do this fellow a lot of good." She rounded up her tirade with: "I will make sure that justice is done." This verdict was pronounced with such moral authority that one was led to believe that she had taken on the onerous responsibility of cleansing the world of all evil and was one step closer to her own redemption!
Within nanoseconds of completing the long exposé about her "dishonest domestic," the woman started bragging about her close social connection with an influential politician in her country of residence, in East Europe. It did not seem to bother her that this politician was known to be notoriously corrupt, having compromised his country's interests for personal gains. The "conscionable lady" couldn't stop raving about this person's noble attributes -- the most notable being that he and his wife entertain in a grandiose style with champagne and caviar flowing in unlimited quantities and with the "who's who" in society in attendance! "Of course, we are always on their guest list and they are such great friends," she claimed.
This ostensibly trivial interaction left me quite disturbed. My hidden frustration about the double standards most of us accept, in terms of values and principles, resurfaced. Call me judgmental, but, sometimes, the hypocrisy of the society we live in makes me cringe. We permit all kinds of indulgences to the rich and famous while, for lesser crimes, punishment with hellfire seems to be the lot of the poor. And, I am not totally guilt-free in this regard. I, too, have on occasion dined and wined with people who are loaded but have dubious reputations in terms of monetary dealings. On the other hand, I have been quick to condemn the hired help who succumbs to temptation and steals petty food items to feed her half-starved children.
Perhaps, the most glaring example of the double standards of our world is the impunity with which the so called "financial wizards" ripped-off investors, leading to a global financial crisis. Unfortunately, to date, the main architects of the financial meltdown have mostly gone scot- free, while virtually millions have been robbed of their life's earnings. In addition, the trust base, which is the foundation of the financial world, has been badly eroded. Ironically, the leaders of the financial industry (CEOs, MDs and Chief Financial Officers) have continued to receive handsome bonuses and juicier assignments. Some have retired with their hefty retirement packages to salubrious environs occasionally appearing on TV Talk Shows, offering unsolicited advice on the state of the world economy. Contrast all this to the frequent news items about the zealous prosecution of pettifogging thieves and venal junior officials, and we have a pretty sorry picture of the justice system of the world we live in.
Many of you may say: "That's life. That's how things have been and will continue to be. We can't change much." Does that mean that we should throw up our hands and accept the status quo, even when we know it's grossly unfair? We may not be able to bring about a global revolution, but can't we change our own attitudes and behaviours in small ways? I am not asking that we excuse the crimes committed by the poor because they are adversely affected by poverty. All I am saying is that let us, at least, be consistent in condemning what we believe is wrong. Let us resist the alluring temptation of free champagne and caviar and call a spade by its name, even though it may be a gold spade studded with diamonds!

The writer is a renowned Rabindra Sangeet exponent and a former employee of World Bank.

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