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Yashoda’s Curse on TASMAC Viral Pandemic

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Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
The author is practicing advocate in the Madras High Court

Yashoda (name changed on request), was making her daily visit, into our garage, to pick up the dirt and dust collected and religiously packed, as dry and wet stuff, separately. A conservancy worker, whose beat included our street houses, now for nearly 5 years. Whenever I happened to see her, as I was rushing to office, I used to pay her a Tenner or twenty, never more, and which may have been, twice a week. But today, as she wound up, I pulled out a 500 rupee note to handover to her. She was shocked. Her initial response was to refuse. I then showed her the story in an English daily- Tirunelveli city police awarding a guard of honour to conservancy workers and one Mookayi, a conservancy worker in Arakkonam Municipality being singled out for gratitude, when a local couple fell at her feet.

Yashoda: “Saami, a sister working with me, sent a WhatsApp message on the story. It feels good to be respected. But, imagine our plight, when we are treated like beggars, when we seek Inaam, during Deepavali, Pongal. We are chased out. We are told that we have no other work than seek such alms but never do our work sincerely and surely never respond to emergency calls. Saami, if you need to have such a virus, to notice our presence I would rather not have it”. What a solemn and stinging response!

I told her that I felt obliged to contribute my smallest mite. Why can’t she use it to buy some eatables for her children. Yashoda: “Saami, both my children- 8 and 5 y’ears, are with my mother in a Villupuram village. I live alone in a one room tenement as my husband, a drunkard, died some years ago. Instead of all of you suddenly respecting us for what we have been always, why cannot you tell the wretched government not to run these hell holes in TASMAC outlets (The poignant vernacular is beyond my translation faculties). I lost my father and now husband to liquor addiction. Saami, I am ashamed to tell you that my father chose my husband, after he became friendly with my husband, in a liquor vending shop and proudly said that my husband was a ‘super drinker who never got high.’ Why cannot you educated, who are now falling at our feet, and not go fall at the feet of the government to stop this menace?” She could not hold her emotions.

It was tough up tell her that challenges to liquor vending by government, had been nixed by courts. They were held legal and constitutional. Prohibition is tough to implement. Yashoda: “Saami, I understand nothing of what you are saying. Only, if you realise what my mother and I went through, you will understand. I wish there was a viral Pandemic affecting all the drinkers. Then, maybe the government will understand how alcohol virus is worse than Covid-19. Saami, when my father and husband were drunk, they were so mad and bad that sometimes my husband would mistakenly beat my mother and my father me. My husband, and his Guru, my father, drunk themselves to death, from the prasadam from their presiding deity TASMAC.

I did not know how to tell Yashodha that TASMAC was not going anywhere. Not now, tomorrow or ever. She told me the news “…governments were so concerned with the drunkards suffering from withdrawal symptoms that they were allowing liquor purchase on Doctors prescriptions, during the Lockdown. Saami, I can understand private people selling alcohol and making money. But government itself selling alcohol? How can you educated people accept it? Saami, it is not concern for drunkards with withdrawal symptoms – for government, it is money, money, money. Even if the Government gives everything free to us, rice, pulses, dress, and cash- no use. Our husbands/fathers/ brothers and now sisters are also joining them, will ensure that they are never thirsty. Shame Sir, that such things are considered legal and permissible.”

I concluded the debate by telling her “Law is an ass”. She asked me, “Why is it not kicking the bloody drunkards. Why is it kicking us? Next, you will all join and tell us that it was legal for government itself to run prostitution dens with licenses, so that they can make more and more and more money and give us more and more things for free.” I was felled into silence.

I offered now Rs. 1,000/-, assuming it may help her better. She said, “No Sir, I am now living alone. I now work for 16 hours instead of the usual 12 hours. Some Maharaja or two like you, give us some money now and then, to help me manage, with my take home salary of Rs. 8,000/- per month. Saami, I have one request. Tell all these people who are treating us as Covid-19 warriors and so on, that we have been doing this for years together. Only now, you have opened your eyes and ears, because if we do not clean daily, the dreaded Covid-19 may come visiting you. So, you are suddenly feeling generous to give money and respect us. Have you ever given Rs. 500/- before? Never. You need not. We are not beggars. We are working for a living. Please respect our work. And when we come for Deepavali or Pongal Inaam next time, don’t drive us out. Share a little bit of your happiness with us.” I was stunned by her onslaught, which I deserved every bit.

I apologised to her for the way we had never seen their services. I told her that her services were now being equated with those of Doctors, nurses and paramedical staff. Even essential service workers, newspapermen, grocers, milk vendors, were seen from a different prism. I was feeling so small in front of her. When I asked her one more time to accept the Rs. 1,000/- she said “Saami, do one thing- buy some rice, some vegetables, and biscuits with that money. There are ten families in our tenements. Most families are struggling. I will cook a good meal and share it with the other families.”

Oh My God. What nobility in her thought and expression. She rose higher in my estimation. I went to the nearby Amudham store, and bought her requirements. I was happy to see her beaming face. We have heard of Patriotic Philanthrophy from David Rubenstein, Warren Buffett’s and Bill and Melinda Gates with their munificence and our Azim Premjis and Ratan Tatas, opening their purses, before and now. But Yashoda offering to share what came to her, exceeded all those in precept and practice.

This is God’s own. Yashoda is right. The TASMAC vice and virus is worse than Covid-19 virus, for the latter has hit us with a venom, unheard of since 1918- 20 Spanish Flu. After one hundred years. But this despicable TASMAC virus is hitting us day in and day out, as I wholeheartedly joined Yashodas, in cursing a worse Pandemic on the TASMAC virus genre. Law and We The People can do no more.

(Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan-Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)

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Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
The author is practicing advocate in the Madras High Court
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