16 February 2009

Wild Ducks

Why? Why did I go to that protest? How did it help me? Why did I fight with my parents and grandparents to be part of that demonstration? Did I think it would make a difference, would be an affirmative step forward towards positive change? Did I believe that it was my duty as a responsible citizen to register my disapproval of (rising) intolerance and extremism? To come forward and protest against infringement of my, and my fellow citizens’, fundamental, constitutional rights by groups with retrograde ideologies? To stand up for our right to do as we like and please, as long as it’s under the law?

Well, no, not really.

I don’t think protests of this sort make any effective change. A sustained number of them over a long period of time might just bring about some sort of change, but a single protest of, as this was, less than 25 people has, I think, no effect on either state policy or ideology. Protests in general don’t really affect things- when a rare one succeeds, the system soon reverts back to its old status quo in some new form. Protests of this sort, apolitical, essentially urban middle class, with high, lofty (and, to many, ambiguous) aims like civil liberties are nobody’s concern except few intellectual zealots in Universities and some sections of the largely inarticulate, indifferent urban middle class. Yes, a bunch of college students and young amateurs with simple placards standing silently in one inconspicuous corner of a bylane of a major artery make good centre page bylines and off-peak TV news, but that’s about it- five minutes on TV and then off the fickle public consciousness for the latest on Rakhi Sawant’s antics in some brand new reality show.

As far as fundamental rights and things like equality and liberty which the Indian Constitution and its solemn Preamble so magnificently announce and guarantee, well, everybody knows how the real world works. It’s all very nice and proper on paper, but when it comes to life in the real world, then there are people who are more equal, who are, by virtue of their might, of their ‘power’, first amongst equals. There will always be ‘big’ people and ‘small’ people; the big ones will always have their way with small ones, regardless of the political institutions of that particular society. Indian democracy is in itself a conglomeration of feudal parties, veiled patriarchies or one-(wo)man systems. Indian bureaucracy is a highly stratified structure where, given the rigid hierarchies, it’s almost impossible to have any sort of ‘democratic’ discourse…

The law too is different for different people. You can, of course, sight the odd example and cry yourself hoarse about its impartiality, but everybody knows how easy it is to get around our judiciary. If you have the resources, then it’s very easy to impose your will on people- for one, the state, wherever it’s strong and whenever it feels like it, does that regularly. One of our basic desires as a nation is to be above the law, to show people who we are (tu jaanta nahi main kon hun?): being romantic and claiming that nobody’s above it is just being delusional, not accepting reality as it is. Some people, in fact quite a lot of them actually, can get away with almost anything…

So, why did I go?

I think it was because I don’t wish to let go of my wild ducks.

We all need illusions in life, what Ibsen called “life lies”. For one, they make life incredibly and comfortably simple, give you aims and purposes which you otherwise might not even bother about. The idea that there is God, some divinity which sees that ‘good’ is rewarded and ‘evil’ punished, even if that be in the ‘afterlife’ as eternal glory or damnation, has held together the human race, given a majority of it the tolerance and patience to endure all sorts of sufferings which a minority, taking advantage of these beliefs, has inflicted, directly as well as deviously, upon it. Indeed, the very idea that there is an unchanging, (divinely) sanctioned, and so permanent, ‘good’ and ‘evil’ is one of the primary illusions of this race, as is the idea of monolithic identity: his(and her!)story is witness to umpteen catastrophes which have been consequences of changes which have shattered these illusions…

Our lives are full of all sorts of illusions, all of them vital in their own right. The truth might be something else, but we like to believe otherwise. We don’t know whether ghosts exist or not: science, or at least mainstream science, tells us that they don’t. Yet, most of us, in our heart of heart, do believe in them, not just because the idea is so deeply ingrained in our consciousness as individuals and a collective but also because (as Saurav said) it’s fun to believe in them. We know the knight-and-lady-in-distress idea is a romantic exaggeration, yet it appeals to a majority of us. Most of us get up early in the morning, rush to college, attend classes and go back home, all without knowing where we’re moving towards, or why we’re doing it all…

No, you’ll say: we want to get good marks, and a paying job- earn money and be happy. But then, that is absurd also- money and happiness don’t necessarily go together. Indeed, more often than not, the former doesn’t guarantee the latter. Even when they do, then happiness is usually a nice house with a decent garden, somewhere in a quiet suburb: a little paradise of one’s own to mellow away into the seventh age…yet, this too is a sort of an isolationist illusion- cut off from the hustle-bustle of the world, pretending that one’s own little sphere is immutable, happy in ignorance…

Ignorance, of course, is bliss. It really is, no pun intended. But then, knowledge suddenly thrust upon ignorance is one of the causes behind all tragedies. Desdemona didn’t know a thing about Othello’s suspicions, and so she died. Chamberlain thought Hitler wanted peace, and so came the Munich Agreement, and consequently the War. Nehru thought Hindi-Chini were bhai-bhai, but Mao didn’t, and the ’62 fiasco occurred… clearly, there must be a balance between ignorance and knowledge...

So while things like nationhood and nationality are ideas, they’re also ground realities which just cannot be ignored, as Ghosh seeks to do in The Shadow Lines. Ideas bind individual humans into groups: the idea of family, of belonging and of ownership. Ideas join together those small groups into organised societies- democracies, tyrannies, have what you will. They made Hindustan into the Republic of India, and they keep this Republic from sliding back into Hindustan. Everybody knows things don’t always work according to the ideal, yet the idea that a day will come when they will still continues to inspire and move us all…

I think all of us who went there know all of this: in our heart we all know that there are people who’re more equal. Yet, we, or at least I, wouldn’t have admitted that out there before the cameras and the journalists. Not just because it would’ve been bad publicity to have said that, but also because in spite of being fully aware of the ‘reality’-which is quite illusionary-I also realise the importance of upholding ideas, without which the whole superstructure of society would fall to pieces. Reality without the illusion of these ideas is a brutish beast: ignorance must be tempered with knowledge, reality must be softened with illusions.

And that is why I went to that protest.

4 comments:

Nirbhay said...

What did Rakhi do recently?

Nirbhay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nirbhay said...

'..IN FACT quite a lot of them ACTUALLY..'?! Is rhythmic but grammatically incorrect.

AP said...

I have no idea what Rakhi Sawant did recently. I appropriated her as an epitomy of vulgar entertainment (which is a strong, yet ambigous statement), the sort which most Hindi news channels feed the masses with.