Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has requested the Public Works Department to remove the air-conditioners from his new residence in the Civil Lines area. It’s anybody’s guess why Mr Kejriwal would prefer to suffer Delhi’s scorching summer; the electorate certainly doesn’t grudge him a little comfort. Maybe the CM is caught up in the AAP philosophy that romanticises hardship or he’s following the rules of the naturopathy cure he recently sought.
It’s not like the rest of us who use air conditioning are living lives of decadent rock stars but there is a tendency in India of glamourising denial as a great virtue. This reminds me of the hue and cry in my son’s school when the management suggested that school buses be made air conditioned. An overwhelming number of parents protested.
Not because of the minor increase in fees but they felt they grew up like that and it won’t kill the kids to brave the elements occasionally. These are the same parents who now drive around in air-conditioned cars and spend the day in air-conditioned offices, travel business class and sleep in AC’d homes.
I remember the school buses of Delhi in the 1980s. Pre-CNG days there were diesel fumes mingling with dust, a permanent whiff of melting iron and 80 sweaty children jostling for space in 45 degrees. It was fine for a time when our homes weren’t air conditioned either.
For most of these parents the issue isn’t air-conditioning at all. It’s more a blinding terror that we’re raising a generation of overfed, over-indulged, iPad-wielding, Nintendo-playing, soft kids — unfit for the realities of life. The non-AC ride is a half-hearted attempt to engineer grit in the absence of any real adversity. Surely there must be more effective (and healthier) ways of developing perspective among the young besides keeping them uncomfortably hot (if you are fortunate enough to have a choice).
Or is it not possible to learn the values of perseverance and responsibility if you are ensconced in what is considered nowadays, a fairly rudimentary luxury? It’s possible that Kejriwal’s frugal habits come to him naturally. Having said that, living well is not a crime. Nor does personal austerity guarantee good governance.
The Greek playwright Sophocles famously claimed there is no success without hardship. Every culture has rags to riches stories that celebrate the human potential for magnificent heroism. In Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises Bruce Wayne is unsuccessful while attempting an escape from prison secured by a rope.
But when he tries to escape without it, risking death, he makes it out. Maybe the learning is faster without a choice. But like Batman eventually discovers he needn’t fear darkness, we all learn when we have to, even with a safety net of privilege in place.