Do you still remember our friend from the Red Fort in Delhi? The charming character in the Religion Talks at Lal Qila post? The fine young man from Jharkhand region. Well, I have to admit that I have been thinking about him. Not because of our religious exchange but because I am a tiny bit ashamed of myself. This may be hard to explain but I will try.
At one point during the visit to the Red Fort our friend stopped walking and looked at my parents who were a few steps behind us. He looked at them and asked me “are you parents farmers?”. For few seconds I didn’t say anything but then I cracked up laughing. Soon I was laughing so hard that I was crying. I translated the question to my parents whose reaction was pure astonishment. They looked at me for an explanation and the situation grew awkward. They asked me if they look like farmers and if their clothes made them look poor or something (indeed they were wearing some worn, old clothes…).
I found the situation –the question of our friend and the idea that my parents own for example cows– funny. I continued laughing but at this point my friend was overwhelmed with shame. He looked very uncomfortable and started apologizing millions of times. I am sure he would have disappeared if he could have.
Eventually I had to stop laughing and told our friend that there is no need to apologize. He kept saying “I am so very sorry” but calmed down when my parents started laughing too. In the end we were all laughing and for the rest of the journey I jokingly asked my parents about their (imaginary) cows.However, ever since this funny incident I have been feeling a bit guilty. Why did I crack up laughing? Why did I find it funny that my parents could be farmers? Why did my parents feel the same way? Were they influenced by my reaction? Why did we all feel as if being a farmer were an insult? Why do we perceive that farming is something old fashion and therefore inferior to how we “should” make our living?
Furthermore, how much of our initial reaction can be explained by our background: that Finland was an agrarian country until very recently, and that agriculture is often associated with the period before modernity (i.e. associated with the period where no one wants to return)?
Lastly, was our friend biased, too, because he comes from one of the poorest regions in India where farmers probably belong to a lower social class?
Whatever the answer, I feel bad because I behaved against my beliefs. I truly believe that agriculture is an integral, vital sector of the economy, everywhere in the world, and should be treated with respect. And respect is not what I showed when I cracked up laughing.
What is your take on this?
Some background: I am a principal author of a policy-handbook publication (http://www.oecd.org/investment/psd/ImprovingSkills%20(3).pdf) that aims at improving the agribusiness sector in the Kyrgyz Republic by different means, and one of the means is to market agribusiness as an attractive career option.
Marketing something begins with small steps, and one of them is to show respect and admiration to something.
Again, shame on me.