Lest We Forget!

By Soham Mukherjee

Yesterday was May Day. Workers of the world unite and all that. Not right now! Stay at home if you can afford to; if not, this is about you. (Although, sadly, I know very well that most of you will not be able to read this.)

This day commemorates a revolution. It commemorates a day when the workers were fed up and finally rose up against those that oppressed them. It’s a beautiful, glorious and inspiring story. But what of it? What does it mean? More accurately, what does it mean now?

This is an elaboration of a topic I’ve already talked about in a previous article (read rant). It is, in fact, a pet peeve of mine. It has greatly to do with privilege and a middle-class sense of entitlement. We, the middle class, generally accept that the upper classes, the rich, the masters of industry and what not are bad people. We consider ourselves to be their victims as well and thereby absolve ourselves of the guilt of any victimisation that we might commit.

There is another method that salves the wounds of guilt. This is the celebration of those who are forced to do their jobs at their own peril during times of crisis; for example, farmers during a food crisis of some sort, or soldiers in times of war, or, more obviously, healthcare workers today, in the middle of a wildly unprepared-for health crisis. They are all heroes now – farmers, doctors, nurses, police personnel, etc. Even teachers who are using various video conferencing tools to take classes have staked a claim to a similar heroic status.

We are celebrating them now; banging pots and pans, letting off flares, rockets, (still highly dangerous) sky lanterns, making memes, posting statuses, and doing a whole plethora of things to show our love for these people. Incidentally, all of these people are simply doing their jobs, as effectively as possible, despite the constraints and, in the case of healthcare workers, mortal danger.

It is important that we don’t forget them.

I’ll let that line stand alone; because this is important. We spend our normal lives taking for granted that our maids will cook our food, our buses will take us to work and our pizzas will get delivered in 30 minutes. Oh, and, when we get sick, our doctors will save us or our family members might just break a few of their bones. Also, have a think about how the food your maids cook actually reaches your table. They don’t magically appear in a bag on your doorstep (even though with home delivery apps it might seem like that). Some farmer somewhere, along with his family, has put in days of hard sweaty labour to bring to market that potato or cauliflower, that you so love, on a very crowded train’s even more crowded vendor compartment.  

So don’t forget them. Yes, there are certainly bad seeds. There always are. But most of them are good people trying to survive. Yes, doctors get paid a lot. They make a lot of money, especially ones with private practices. But they are doing a very important job, made even more so in a country whose governments do not seem to want to improve healthcare and make it accessible to more people.

We must remember to not find heroes only when we need them. We must acknowledge their heroism in the everyday. That is what the 1st of May stands for now. It’s not just another public holiday. It’s a day to commemorate the hard, thankless work that millions of mostly invisible people do to make the world go around – lest we forget.

Soham Mukherjee is an amateur writer who loves football more than most things. His first book, a collection of short stories, was published last year.

We welcome your articles, stories and poems (in বাংলা and English) at letters@timesofcorona.com 

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