Published in Devlok, Sunday Midday, June 22, 2010

As school children, we were told how the wealth of the nation was drained by the British, which is why we had to fight for our independence. Today, when I read reports of the corruption in the Common Wealth Games in New Delhi, I realize India is still being drained of her wealth – this time not by the British, but by Indians.

I am told that for every four grains of rice that the government releases in times of drought, only one grain reaches the poor. Such is our distribution system. This time, even that one grain is not reaching the poor. It is rotting in warehouses. This is also drain of wealth of India, by Indians.

Poverty is fuelling rebellion, crime and separatist politics, in many parts of the nation, forcing our army to wage war against our own citizens, leading to even more drain of wealth of India, by Indians.

I guess we don’t need to be British to drain India’s wealth. We are quite capable of doing it ourselves. All we need to be is corrupt.

Why do we drain wealth? We drain wealth because we want wealth to come to us, and not go to others. Politicians need wealth to fund the democratic machinery. How else does one fund those ugly posters that dot the city of Mumbai celebrating the birthdays of obscure leaders? How else does one fund political rallies? How else does one buy votes?

In mythology, Yakshas are considered wealth hoarders. They are visualized as being fat, ugly and misshapen creatures – clearly a visualization by poor artisans. Beside them sit powerful bejewelled Yakshis (understandably so). They ride not animals like other gods. They ride humans. The king of Yakshas, Kubera, is called Nara-vahana, a reminder of how humans are slaves of wealth, and how in the quest for wealth humans enslave humans.

Kubera once lived in the south, in Lanka, but he was driven away by his half-brother, Ravana, leader of the Rakshasas. So he took refuge in the North, with Shiva, the hermit-god, who has no wealth.

Once, Kubera felt sorry for Shiva’s son, Ganesha who loved to eat. “Let me feed you,” said Kubera, “as clearly your father cannot afford to do so.” Ganesha accepted Kubera’s invitation, went to his house, and ate all that was offered. “I am still hungry,” said the elephant-headed god. Kubera had to procure more food using the money in his treasury. Ganesha ate all that was served and kept asking for more. Finally Kubera fell at his feet and begged him to stop eating. “You are draining me dry,” he cried. Ganesha then said with a smile, “Any attempt to satisfy hunger will never be successful. My father, Shiva, therefore seeks to outgrow it.”

Ganesha watches the world in bewilderment as the hunger for wealth among people increases and few are interested in outgrowing it.  One day, the heart of the hungry will stop beating and the body will be brought to the crematorium. During the funeral rituals, the pot carried by the son on his shoulders will be cracked by the priest to drain out the water, symbolic of all the wealth collected in a lifetime that cannot be claimed by the dead. Then, bereft of possessions, the dead will be cremated. Fire will consume the body and the ash that remains will bedeck Shiva’s body.