With economic considerations always weighing heavy on our minds, as a country we were never prepared ‘to care’ for people, no matter how emotional we feel about the situation.

COVID-19 crisis Money is always on Indians mind compassion hardly isVolunteers packing food | PTI
Voices Philanthropy Wednesday, April 08, 2020 - 12:46

One of the ways you can be prepared for something is when you have been thinking about it all your life. This may have led you to actions and decisions that eventually put you in place to make the most of an opportunity. As Indians, economic considerations weigh heavy on our minds. A lot of Indians, simply put, are poor. Others who have made it to the comfortable side are still poor in their minds and therefore never stop thinking about money. The same goes for the wealthy, they spend lavishly but they constantly think about making more, to safeguard themselves during bad times.

Bureaucrats, politicians, businessmen and celebrities, secretly at least, never seem to forget the poverty or hardships they encountered on their way to wealth. So they keep hoarding, creating fallback after fallback plans, and finding new investments and business ventures. These people occupy prominent roles and exert a great deal of influence and it’s no surprise that this deep-seated insecurity plays out in the course of their lives in one way or the other. I believe a lot of wealthy individuals donate to philanthropic causes so that their well-being is maintained, either by ‘karma’ or by the god that they believe in. This isn’t always the case, but our temples do collect far more than our NGOs.

So if money is always on your mind, you are most likely to make the most of a situation when there is an opportunity to make money. Of course how much you make depends on the exact circumstances of the deal you’re making or the business you’re venturing into, but you do make money, even if it’s a little bit lesser than you expected. Now when as a nation we collectively think like this, you can see why economically at some point India was ranked among one of the most rapidly growing nations.

So what happens when a country like this is presented with another kind of ‘opportunity’, where thinking ‘money’ doesn’t help but thinking ‘people’ might play a role in helping its citizens make the most of an opportunity?

An epidemic is just that. It’s obviously wrong to phrase it as an opportunity, but it’s a test that you could easily pass if you had always thought about people in the first place instead of money. Conversely, it can bitterly expose your apathy towards fellow countrymen.

The truth is that even welfare states are struggling with this. Imagine a country which never cared for its masses in the first place! A country that was never prepared ‘to care’ cannot overnight demonstrate affection, no matter how emotional it feels.

For a country that touts its diversity while attracting tourists, we have a long list of outcasts. People with disabilities, senior citizens, religious minorities, Dalits and OBC, members of the LGBTQ community and so on. I refrain from continuing the list because I’m certain to miss out somebody or the other. In summary, we are not always thinking about others, we’re not high on empathy or compassion. So how can we suddenly become all of that? Even if we are overcome by emotion after seeing the news or a story on Insta and we decide to act, where is the machinery that is required to put into action what we think?

Even if a welfare scheme or aid package is declared, most of it will not land up in the right hands. Again, middlemen will think about making money. After all, money is always on everyone’s mind. Compassion never was.

This should not stop people from acting now, but our memory should not become skittish. This pandemic should burn into our collective memory one unassailable truth: that the solution to the biggest trials that we face begin with compassion and we need to be thinking about it all the time: while framing laws, building infrastructure, planning new cities, and not merely when dealing with a crisis.

In better times, the arrogance of wealth and the possibilities it brings intoxicates us, but nothing like the ‘smelling salts’ of a social crisis to awaken us to the chaos that can result from a country so ill-prepared to care for its people.

A writer, director and Ad professional, Mayur J Raol lives and works in Bengaluru. He consults with various citizen groups and helps them devise their messaging and communication campaigns. He also helps brands reach out to wider audiences.