Coming around the corner to my home the other day (and imagine! I had my camera out and ready), I spotted these two little girls busy at work plucking flowers from the bush that hangs over our boundary wall.
They were so intent on their task they didn’t notice me sneaking up from behind to snap their photo.
But when they did finally realize I was there, they looked – well – caught in the act.
Though not exactly guilt-stricken.
And why should they? Whose flowers are they, anyway? One of my neighbours has no problem answering that question: On a walk through my neighborhood a few days ago, I came across his friendly, neighbourly sign. In case you don’t read Hindi, it says: “I am a thief. Therefore, I steal flowers. My mother, my father – indeed, my entire family – are thieves.”
I happen to know this man. I won’t say all that I know about him, but one thing is obvious because it’s right there in front of all of us. He is himself a thief, and a much more egregious one than any random flower plucker.
The sign he obviously put so much effort into typing, printing and posting is sitting square and proud on a fence which has no business being where it is. Meaning that this gentleman has encroached on public property to plant the little garden he then objects to people helping themselves to.
It’s common enough. Just about everybody in Vasant Vihar does it. Zoning laws require that homeowners observe standard setbacks: your property extends to here; beyond that, you have no right to. It’s public property.
Yet homeowners here persist in fencing the property beyond their own boundaries, planting gardens or setting up dog runs and then proclaiming them as sacred and off-bounds, accusing those who dare violate them as thieves and marauders.
This, of course, is only the most obvious hypocrisy. There is more. The flowers, for example, have neither been planted nor tended by the man who posted the sign. They are there because of the toil and care of the mali – that guy who arrives each day at dawn and who works without thanks or recognition and who never gets to share in the glory of the garden he has created. He is underpaid (you can count on that), under-valued and routinely exploited – expected to clean up after the dog, the children and the partying adults. The morning after Diwali, up and down our streets I saw malis sweeping up the remains of the burst firecrackers and empty liquor bottles and sweets boxes their employers had left scattered around their gates the night before.
So when I see children plucking flowers from the bushes in my garden, I think: good for them. Share the wealth. There is plenty to go around. And anyway, their parents are most likely the ones who nurtured those bushes into existence. Their parents are probably the ones who tended and watered and pruned them to the state they are in today. Who but their children deserve to pluck those flowers and carry them to school to give to their teachers – who, after all, may be the ones who free them to question the whole system of servitude and despair their parents are trapped in?
Thieves? I don’t think so. I really, really don’t think so.