My friend Pastor Dimgba Igwe would have been 65 on Sunday May 16, if death had not snatched him. I was reading my past columns when I stumbled on this piece on India. It was written after a journey to India with my late friend. We had gone for a newspaper marketing conference in the Indian city of Hyderabad. From Hyderabad, we flew to New Delhi. and from New Delhi, we travelled by road to Agra to see the beautiful Taj Mahal—“one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world heritage.”
In India, we saw the face of poverty, just like Nigeria. “The poor you will always have with you,” Jesus once said. We saw so much poverty that I was inspired to write this piece which was first published in my “Press Clips” of January, 2, 2010. How time flies! This is an abridged version of my impressions of India, a continent now ravaged by the deadly COVID-19 virus, such that people are dying in apocalyptic numbers and oxygen is hard to find. May God have mercy on India and the world at large to deliver us from this pandemic that spares no one—rich or poor. Here is my piece—my vision of India:
Your name is Mr. Poverty. Your biblical name is Lazarus. Lazarus, the beggar, the sick and the hungry. I know you very well. From the very beginning, I have known you. I know you as a member of my tribe. We are all members of the most populous tribe in the world today. The tribe of the poor. The tribe of the rejected. The tribe that nobody wants to associate with. The tribe that nobody wants to be cursed or stigmatized with. The tribe of Mr. Nobody, which is another nickname and the status of Mr. Poverty.
In the world we live in, nobody wants to be associated with Mr. Poverty because he is seen as a failure. Everybody wants to join the other tribe—the tribe of the rich and the nouveau riche. Everybody wants to be numbered among the small, exclusive tribe of the well-to-do.
I know you very well, Mr. Poverty. The writer, Franz Fanon calls you “The Wretched of the Earth.” In fact, he has a book by that name. Your name is filled with scorn and ridicule. In my tribe, they call you talika or mekunu, meaning you are down, down, there in the valley of poverty. And down there, all you live on is hope. Hope of a better tomorrow. Your singsong is of a tomorrow where things would be better. You are always saying: “Tomorrow, tomorrow. Tomorrow will be better” But then, tomorrow for you is an unattainable zone, a never-never land without destination.
Ah, Mr. Poverty, you who are under a curse. You who are afflicted with an endemic sickness known to economists as the cycle of poverty—a terrible sickness that pushes you further and further into the abyss where greater poverty lies. Ah, Mr. Poverty, I pity you. In pitying you, I pity myself, the journalist who is writing this epistle on poverty.
The other day, I was in India, one of the most populous places in the world today and I saw your face. Your face was everywhere like a cracked mirror poorly reflecting your images in myriads. Down there in India, you number in millions. You are the beggar on the streets of New Delhi, whose hands are stretched out for alms, whose children are let loose to go and torment motorists in the name of begging.
I had come to India to look for you, Mr. Poverty. And there you were, everywhere. I thought Africa, the so-called Dark Continent was your only home. I did not bargain to see you here in India in such a massive, frightening proportion. The other day in my column, I quoted the poet William Blake in his famous tiger poem where he asks: “Is it the same God that made the tiger that also made the lamb?” In the same breath, I am asking: Is it the same God that made the rich that made thee, Mr. Poverty?
I did not come to India to laugh at you. I only came here to write a poem. A poem diluted in the prose of a newspaper column. In India, I saw you in their caste system. I saw you as a Sudra which means the lowest in the Hindu caste system. As a Sudra, you are a slave, you are an outcast, you are untouchable. You are the hewer of woods, the toiler and tiller of a land that can sometimes be merciless and unproductive, when the rains refuse to fall. You are the labourer in the rice and cotton fields. You are the rickshaw puller on the streets of Hyderabad, my first port of call. From Hyderabad to New Delhi by flight. You are the trickster performing tricks with ropes. You are the monkey man entertaining tourists with your monkeys. You are the snake charmer playing music for the cobra to stand erect from its jar of magic. You are the palmist and the fortune teller who cannot make a fortune of your own.
Down the streets of India, I see you Mr. Poverty, in your ramshackle tent, proliferating everywhere and constituting an eyesore. I see you in your three-legged tricycles which we call Keke Marwa here in Nigeria—your gift to my beloved poor country.
Ah, India. India is more than a poem. India is a whole book, an endless book that has been written and would continue to be written. As I write this piece, I still see your face, a face of sadness, a face wrinkled more by hardship than age. Poverty is terrible. It ages a man fast. The rich age slowly and gracefully. But the poor age fast with sickness and ugliness.
A poor man is a poor man anywhere. The poor in India is not different from the poor in Nigeria.
On a final note, India may be overpopulated by poor people, but India is not a poor country. With that population and the power of intellect of its people, there is hope for India. With its education, with its intellect, the poor people of India would free their country from the pangs of poverty.
As for Nigeria and our poor educational system and our poor leadership, only God knows which abyss we are falling headlong into.