When I Met Karl Marx and Narayan Surve

When I Met Karl Marx and Narayan Surve

“Hello” Lulu, my parrot called. He hopped on to my study table as I nodded and acknowledged. “What’s the matter? I called you twice, you were lost in your thoughts. Silent for such a long time?”

“Silence of a lamb!”

“Ha, ha! That does not matter. Tell me, is your silence regenerative?” Dr. Lulu Parrot has this habit of noting words he picked up from Osho or J Krishnamurty and dropping them every now and then.

“Oh come on Lulu, I don’t understand ‘regenerative silence.’ I was only thinking about a poem I read. Rather I read it again today. The meaning resonated….”

“That must be Narayan Surve…” Lulu looked at Narayan Surve’s book on my table.

“Yes. Surve’s poem ‘Karl Marx.’ It goes like this… “I met Marx during my first strike, and this is how we met…  I carried his banner on my shoulder, in the centre of the protest march, Janaki Akka asked “Did you recognise him? He is our Marx-baba”……

“Meeting Karl Marx! Sensitive people meet Marx often in their life. They meet Marx when they see abject poverty, people suffering disgrace. Some get stunned by the realisation, some smile at him and carry on as if nothing happened.”

“I see unfairness, exploitation everywhere. We should make a film like ‘Lage Raho Munnabhai’. Substituting Gandhi with Marx, and of course with a similar but changed story line.”

“Interesting thought. Looks like your conscience was pricked today.” Lulu opened Narayan Surve’s book of poetry.

“I met a worker who worked as a temporary hand in a factory for sixteen years before he was given a permanent job. Sixteen years as a temporary hand! He told me that he was often given a break, sometimes the duration of the break was six months. He pointed out the insecurity during the prime of his youth, and loss of pride. And his inability to give his family a decent living.”

“I recently saw an advertisement. It announced recruitment of security guards. It also mentioned that the duty hours will be twelve per day! What shocks me is the audacity of the advertiser to declare it – hmmm…no…what shocks is the confidence that he can openly declare an illegal offer of job. Haven’t we seen contract labour and trainees being treated in a similar way?

“A contract worker who worked for six or seven years at a certain factory was asked to work at another factory by the contractor on much lower pay. And he asked: ‘how to survive?’”

“We are in a vicious cycle. People are paid less than subsistence wages, and to earn more they must work more number of hours; for which they must tacitly agree not to protest about it.”

“Sometimes their employers pay for their children’s school fees or occasionally for their medical treatment. By itself it is not a bad thing at all, but it originates from a feudal mind-set. That is bad. These benefits are not given as his entitlement.”

“Ill-treatment is rampant in the industry. Sometimes it is camouflaged by rules employer and union jointly create. For example, in many companies agreements are signed to pay substantially lower wages to new workers in order to save cost. Employees understand unfairness and unjust actions. Why don’t they speak up then? Why do others stand as passive onlookers? I am sure some managers see and recognise ill treatment and exploitation, after all they are usually well educated.”

“I really don’t know. They must be aware. And they are also aware how it hurts. Education does not give you courage necessarily. They see Marx in front of them and everywhere around. Like Gandhi in Lage Raho Munnabhai. But they are fearful of recognising him.”

“They are afraid of his appeals to their conscience. It will mean protesting against some of the established malpractices. They meet Karl Marx, but unlike Narayan Surve, they do not carry his banner on their shoulder – figuratively, I mean. Perhaps managers and union leaders do not raise their voice because they know that they can’t challenge the ‘system.’ That is a fatal mistake. Edmund Burke said ‘Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.’” Lulu fell silent and was in deep thought for a while. He quietly hopped to the window near my desk, looked at me, and flew away.

Vivek S Patwardhan

Photo courtesy: Creative Commons, Internet