“Dirt is a thing people make too much fuss about”, writes George Orwell in his book Homage to Catalonia. He says this in the context of war, and moves on, while I immediately am thinking of the profoundity of that statement when analysed in the general context too.
The idea of dirt, or in other terms of sanctity is a highly hierarchical and deeply ingrained superstition in many of us. Superstition, not in the sense that we go about performing rituals, or other extravagant futilities, but a state of mind wherein an obvious discretion is deep rooted in our thinking, and being.
A personal anecdote clarified this myth with more clarity to me – an instance that instigated an awakening in me.
In a recent Free Software workshop, about 150 participants were stuffed into a huge lab and as a requirement they were asked to leave their footwear outside. Understandable, because cleaning will get arduous, after running in the fields etc, and is followed in most institutions. A couple of footwear stands were placed outside, but weren’t adequate to hold all 150 odd pairs of footwear. So, a large number of the footwear were scattered all along the pathway. More footwear stands were brought in, but the participants were all busy coding in the lab. I did not want them to get out and sort it out, so volunteered to move the scattered footwear into the stands, and subconsciously I was walking into those pairs, one pair after another and was stuffing into the newly brought stands. It was ineffective, but if undisturbed I would have continued to do it all the way, using my feet. ‘Hand’ling footwear of others, as a subtle habit in me was perceived to be ‘dirty’, but walking into them and doing it did not seem so.
A double discretion becomes evident: Firstly the hesitation to grab footwear by hand, while at the same time a sanction to use my feet to do the same.
It would not have come to my cognisance, if my teacher by example in this case, hadn’t proposed to grab it in hands and place them in the stands, and later to wash our hands. And at that instant, almost instantaneously I realised the hypocrisy in me.
I hopped onto doing it by hand, more effectively with his help and was pondering on this inconsistency in the ‘self proclaimed rational being’ that I am supposed to be.
Generally perceived gradient of sanctity that decreases from top to bottom in our body, with head being hailed the most ‘holy’, while the feet as ‘dirty’ in a subtle sense did exist in me, until that instant.
Dirt in the sense of germs or soiling is not what I am talking about – a mental barrier that holds different parts of our own body at different levels of dirtiness/holiness. The hierarchy of dirt/holiness in society -castes, position, order, stature and other nuances of life which do not seem all that obvious, but are in many ways metrics of the shallowness of one’s preachings.
Equality does not begin at home, but from within oneself!