This little piece was written for the launch of a social action website salaamIndia.in To read it there, please follow the link below
OF TRYSTS AND TRIBULATIONS
You must be the change you want to see in the world- M.K. Gandhi.
This much-bandied quote from a much-bandied man has been haplessly stripped of possibilities over years of (ab)use.
There is a lot of talk of apathy in the post 26/11 world and the knee jerk reactions against it must be taken in armed with a little skepticism at least. The word apathy is described as the lack of feeling, emotion, concern or interest. Inculcating apathy must mean garnering the aforementioned, then. The problem is misguided feeling or interest can cause more harm than supposed ‘apathy’. While on quotations, some lucid Hindi ones from my childhood read, “Neem hakeem khatre jaan” and “Adh Bhar Gagri Chalkat jaaye”; not risking a great loss in translation it shall suffice to say that they warn against the dangers of half -baked knowledge. This is the point at which I should moot the term that we should really be wary of- apolitical.
There was a time in history when the word change had acquired a similar importance in the collective vocabulary of the peoples of the world. Che endorsed a dream that spread into counter culture movements across various key spots in the European subcontinent and included in its folds the legendary student uprising in France. An uprising in an insignificant town in West Bengal called Naxalbari that spread like wild fire through the heart of India, united its ambitions with the larger dreams of a new world. These so called revolutionaries wanted different things ofcourse but the climate across was uniform. Ideology was high strung and fervors infectious. The other significant feature of these uprisings was that it united in its wake the young, the old, the rich, the poor, the intellectual, the artist and the gentry, unlike say the French Revolution that had a defined section of the society rebelling against another. Godard was a product of these times, as were many other French New Wave filmmakers. Cinema nourished dreams of socio-political change and vice-versa. Poems became petitions and apolitical art was all but considered debauchery. Writers wrote in their blood and thinkers lit the fires of the working class torch-bearers on the streets.
Years ago our own freedom struggle was also realized through a collective of people uniting and rebelling across ranks and religions. Doctors, lawyers, painters, filmmakers, poets, thinkers, farmers, businessmen, all joined forces behind the leaders to rebel in seemingly tiny ways against imperialism. The combined effort won us a nation more than 50 years ago, that is still struggling to find its bearing, and worse its collective voice. But what we have lost over half a century may not be as readily retrievable in the aftermath of one terrorist tragedy. For sentiments can be aroused easily but the culture of thought and knowledge is not an instant fix.
Politics is not restricted to being the art, craft and science of running the government, but encompasses the entire complex of relations between people living in society. It is the essence of the thought that informs and underpins behaviour, thought and all its products including art. Every film, for instance, without addressing politics directly has its own inherent political weave, mostly subconscious but not incapable of being analysed or observed. It reflects the attitudes we are taking to our lives and times and/or seeks to influence the same. Despite this, most critical opinion on cinema restricts itself to talking about its cinematic merits, storyline, acting etc. Filmmakers themselves do not wish to consciously engage in the dynamic politics or political ideal of a society in flux. The effect of commerce and its great sweep on the minds of springing generations joins hands with the convenient notions of incorrigible corruption across ranks to justify the lack of a stand among filmmakers and other assorted artists. Art for art’s sake is the fallacy used to propagate art for commerce’s sake. At a time like this meaningless symbols of protests are being crudely invented to reflect the foggy fear that everything may not be fine- candle vigils, silent marches and other assorted tokenism of a shining class that is hurrying back to dream its dreams after spurts of blurry wakefulness. This vague stirring may be a good sign for the times to come but unless a drastic synergizing of faculties and classes happens it might well turn into a call in the wild. The youth needs to empower itself with knowledge and information and then saddle that with emotion to ride into change. It needs to address the concerns of those whose voices are stifled due to their socio-economic status as poignantly as its own. Most importantly the commitment needs to encompass more than time, it needs to encompass the core of one’s life. One’s professional and personal cannot be seen as distinct from political for real change to come about. This is especially true in the case of artists. It is a little amusing to see them light candles instead of committing their medium to their cause. At the same time, Rang De Basanti and Munnabhai should not be guiding our notions of socio-political change. We need to engage with serious written word about the goings-on in the country and formulate original opinion. At a time when dumbing down is an epidemic, books a near taboo and intellect a tool for social ostracization, this may not be the easiest of tasks. But unless lawyers, students, doctors, labourers, artists and godmen all unite and imbibe the spirit of politics doused in thick and brewed informed opinion, making it a part of their conscience and way of life, India’s potential tryst with its complete destiny will remain a partially realized dream forever.