Isn’t it marvellous how everything is online nowadays? It’s all so convenient, efficient and simple. Want to upgrade your phone? Just log in to your account, choose the model and it will be sent to your door. There’s no need to go to the shop for a humiliating encounter with a young man who knows more about phone technology than you ever will: no need to speak to a bothersome human at all. Thus seduced by the prospect of a comfortable, care-free experience, I logged on, sailed through the streamlined procedure and, soon after, received an email telling me that my new phone would be delivered on Friday between 10.37 and 11.37. My amazement at the sheer precision of the process was tempered, just a little, by scepticism. Was it possible that a man in a van could so precisely predict his arrival at my door?
My qualm was justified when, on Friday, the delivery failed to materialise. I waited patiently until 11.38 before resorting to the website in search of a number I could call. What I saw instead, however, was a cheeky message informing me that, since I was not at home, the delivery had not been possible. Now, I am well aware that the degree of outrage I felt on account of this was out of all proportion to the significance of the situation but, driven by a sense of deep injustice, I felt urgently compelled to tell someone that I had been at home during my allotted time-slot.
I found the phone number in an obscure section of the website and, calming myself so as not to sound unreasonable, called in hope of a sympathetic ear. But the recorded voice on the line was intent only on guiding me back to the website where, for a small fee, I would be able to rearrange the delivery at a time convenient to me. I now felt desperate to regale somebody with this tale of compounded injustice but, still capable of a degree of rational behaviour, I decided not to pursue the issue. Instead, I would leave it to the delivery people to resolve what was, in fact, their problem. Still, I spent the next few hours feeling disgruntled and unhappy.
The delivery did come eventually but it brought with it more problems which, ironically, can only be resolved by my visiting the shop and speaking to a real, live person. I am in no hurry.
Meanwhile, in order to gain some perspective, I devoted a whole morning to the leisurely appraisal of an exhibition of the art, culture and politics of Mughal India. From their power base in Central Asia the dynastic Mughals swept south into India in 1526 and established an empire which, for about three hundred years, waxed and waned over the continent. Despite their Islamic tradition, the Mughal emperors were relatively tolerant of the predominantly Hindu indigenous religion. They cultivated a sophisticated lifestyle for themselves, encouraging painting and poetry, while building beautiful palaces, impressive forts and a bureaucracy to manage their diverse empire.
But after an hour or so of closely examining colourful, intricate (and quite small) paintings I began to feel uneasy. The objects themselves are wonderfully executed but the subject matter is relentless: a succession of emperors and their entourages, decked out in fabulously rich costumes, idealised as super-humans and lording it over the rest of humanity. I could feel my sense of injustice rising and, when I got to the display showing the Emperor Akbar’s ledgers, it went critical. There was documented how everything grown, harvested and sold was taxed to pay for his pompous, self-important lifestyle. He may have been a patron of the arts but he cared not for the poverty, ignorance and deprivation which were the lot of his subjects.
Which goes to show that injustice is nothing new: I’ll just have to get used to it I suppose.