game on

Could the virtual world of Pokémon Go be used to help rich Indians see real struggles of the poor?

If users could be made to hunt for Pokémon characters in slum clusters and fair-price shops, maybe the elite would become more aware of those on the margins.

I spent the period between January and March reading about the rise of the welfare state in many parts of the world, especially in England, where it was cemented in the 1940s and ’50s. An important thread in my reading was around the evolution of a consensus – fragile and difficult, though it may have been – across conflicting sections of society.

One factor, among many, that led to the creation of the welfare state in many parts of the world was World War II. In the case of England, it brought home the fact that when the bombs fell, they would not distinguish between the rich and the poor and that everyone was in it together.

Another side plot related to the consensus and World War II was that in September 1939, a few days before England declared war, 3.5 million children were billeted, or housed in safer places, away from the cities that could be targeted by bombers. This meant that poor London kids went to live with posh families in the rural England and so on.

Among them were children who refused to drink milk, because they had seen a cow being milked and thought it was urine. Other children were unaccustomed to using toilets, so they would soil the carpets of affluent. For the first time, England's rich encountered the conditions of the poor, and to some extent, this helped them develop empathy towards their condition.

Closer home

In theory, India is a welfare state, one in which the government is to play a key role in the well-being of the people through provisions regarding health, education and the like.

However, the hostile atmosphere in which the debate on a welfare state in India is conducted is quite striking. The lack of empathy is among the powerful elite is bewildering – for instance, most recently, viewers and readers accused media of politicising the issue when they reported on Dalit atrocities in Una, Gujarat, where four Dalit tanners had been publicly flogged by self-styled cow protection vigilantes.

I wondered about this lack of empathy among Indians who have made it towards those who are struggling.

One reason for this seems to be that they are shielded from the harsh reality of a large part of the population.

We live in our busy little bubbles. The media, caught in the race for TRPs and controlled by corporations, is not able to adequately perform the role of information sharing. Social media, which can potentially be more democratic, is sadly not within the reach of ordinary people.No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald, on American whistleblower Edward Snowden, I was struck by one remark in the book. Greenwald says that for Snowden (and apparently, for others in his generation), video games have played an important role in the development of a moral compass.

Game on

When Pokémon Go – a“location-based, augmented reality game”in which players are alerted to virtual Pokémon characters in their vicinity, using GPS – hit the headlines and generated wide discussion, I wondered: couldn't the developers use the game to draw privileged Indians out of their air-conditioned bubbles and be forced to confront an ordinary Indian’s life?

Couldn’t the characters be hiding in bastis and settlements rather than in Delhi’s malls, forcing players to (wait-wait-wait) for DTC buses to get there and walk among basti residents as they queue up for water suppliers? Or maybe, Ivysaur could be tucked under one of Delhi’s flyovers so that players can see the variety of people and activities they shelter?

What if a judge (who is hooked to Pokémon Go) could be dragged to a Public Distribution System outlet to catch Butterfree, so that he can see that biometric authentication based on Aadhar numbers, instead of reducing corruption in the system, is actually opening the doors to it?

Couldn’t Charmander appear in a local anganwadi, say, in Odisha, where children are fed nutritious eggs and provided pre-school education?

In Uttar Pradesh, Zizagoon could hide in a local government school, where a privileged Pokémon Goplayer shows up to see a teacher pacing the classroom, a cane in hand, or where a Dalit child is beaten up without reason.

What if Pumpkaboo and Gourgeist were to sit in a field levelled by labourers who worked under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme, so that gamers may see that “gaddhe khodna”, (or digging holes, a term that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had used last year to criticise the United Progressive Alliance's flagship scheme) can be productive in some contexts?

The lives of others

The possibilities are endless. These are just some of the wide range of experiences in store for privileged people if the game was slightly tweaked. In some places, we see how government interventions are working, and in others, they might be a disaster.

Many members of the online troll armies feel embittered and cheated as tax payers.As the trolls try to swell their armies in search for Pikachu, they may have a chance to see that sometimes, tax money is put to good use. And when it isn’t, who knows, this may compel them to engage in more constructive ways?

Though the social media campaign to by Syrian activists to tap into the popularity of Pokémon Go may not to go too far in saving the war-torn country's children – the economic interests in dropping bombs are stacked high against Syrian babies – perhaps the game may help in pushing some Indians out of their cosy cocoons.

Could Pokémon Go do for us in contemporary India, what the billeting of kids did for England during the Second World War?

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Expressing grief can take on creative forms

Even the most intense feelings of loss can be accompanied by the need to celebrate memories, as this new project shows.

Grief is a universal emotion and yet is one of the most personal experiences. Different people have their own individual ways of dealing with grief. And when it comes to grief that emerges from the loss of a loved one, it too can manifest in myriad ways.

Moving on from grief into a more life-affirming state is the natural human inclination. Various studies point to some commonly experienced stages of grieving. These include numbness, pining, despair and reorganization. Psychologist J.W. Worden’s 4-stage model for mourning includes accepting the reality of loss, working through the pain, adjusting to life without the deceased and maintaining a connection with the deceased, while moving on. Central to these healing processes would be finding healthy ways of expressing grief and being able to articulate the void they feel.

But just as there is no one way in which people experience grief, there is also no one common way in which they express their grief. Some seek solace from talking it out, while some through their work and a few others through physical activities. A few also seek strength from creative self-expressions. Some of the most moving pieces of art, literature and entertainment have in fact stemmed from the innate human need to express emotions, particularly grief and loss.

As a tribute to this universal human need to express the grief of loss, HDFC Life has initiated the Memory Project. The initiative invites people to commemorate the memory of their loved ones through music, art and poetry. The spirit of the project is captured in a video in which people from diverse walks of life share their journey of grieving after the loss of a loved one.

The film captures how individuals use creative tools to help themselves heal. Ankita Chawla, a writer featured in the video, leans on powerful words to convey her feelings for her father who is no more. Then there is Aarifah, who picked up the guitar, strummed her feelings and sang “let’s not slow down boy, we’re perfectly on time”, a line from a song she wrote for her departed love. Comedian Neville Shah addresses his late mother in succinct words, true to his style, while rapper Prabhdeep Singh seeks to celebrate the memory of his late friend through his art form. One thing they all express in common is the spirit of honouring memories. Watch the video below:

Play

The Memory Project by HDFC Life aims to curate more such stories that celebrate cherished memories and values that our loved ones have left behind, making a lasting impression on us. You can follow the campaign on Facebook as well as on Twitter.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of HDFC Life Insurance and not by the Scroll editorial team.