The jhopadpattis in Colaba burnt down. Nine-hundred hutments destroyed, my father tells me when we speak, Bombay to Berkeley, via the ether.
I had begun the call grumbling: came back at 1:00 am on Sunday night after attending the conference and had to work on Monday. When I am finished complaining, my father tells me his attendant's hut too burnt down, lost the few pieces of clothing, the few vessels, and now he and his wife are homeless with a 3-year-old and a newborn.
I take in the news, shower, eat breakfast, turn on the computer, start work. At lunchtime I walk by the shoe shop. Buy a pair of black boots and a pair of sneakers. $300. I justify: my sneakers have a hole above the right toe. The sneaker box says, 5 percent of the proceeds go to a breast cancer fund. The black boot I need for a business conference I will attend in Singapore. I think they will notice if I wear my two- year old shoe with the heel worn out. I justify: I can pass my old Nike shoes to my father's attendant. He is small-built, my shoe will probably fit. But I hate myself.
Remember seeing an interview with a neuroscientist on TV. He had used imaging of the brain to show that the rich have less empathy. I consider myself middle class. I consider that I care. But how do I really explain to myself $300 on shoes on such a day when Sheikh's hutment has burnt down? Will forgoing my mint leaf chai latte at $3 make me feel better?
Damn, it is not about me.