Thursday 12 September 2013

Are You a Consumer or a Participant?

The question was first posed in the Paris of 1968. It was the first time in history when students and workers came together in such numbers for a common cause, to join hands against state tyranny, to urge ‘the revolution is in you’.

It has been forty-five years since. We still haven’t made the right choice. Let alone empathizing with the cause of ‘other’ communities, we shy away from standing up even for our own. What are we afraid of? What keeps us from taking the plunge and becoming active, resisting participants rather than being passive, vulnerable consumers (which is any seller’s dream), except in the form of temporary attendance at protest ‘events’?

In the nursery rhyme ‘Tweedledum and Tweedledee’, the two characters keep on fighting with each other because that is the routine they are familiar with. Familiarity is reassuring. We are the facsimiles of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. The established order is silently followed. The students-workers movement had also asked us to unzip our minds as often as our fly. We forget to unzip. Instead, our minds carry an old, rusty padlock. The signboard reads: Dissenters will be persecuted.

Alternatives are not to be looked for. If found, who would accept them? Accepting them would mean letting go of the old order which is familiar, comfortable and reassuring. The structure may be rotten. Who cares tuppence? We go on replastering. We go on clinging pathetically to the centre, till the very end, so that we know where to come back to. Suddenly, it strikes us we can be safer. We take a short rope and tie ourselves to the centre. Like we tie our dogs. So that we/the dogs do not stray afar.

Make it new, they tell us. But what is new is scary. Discovering new centres means stepping into the unknown. How many people in our generation have witnessed a revolution? How can we recreate something we have not seen? No use getting into the pointless exercise of envisaging how it would have been if our predecessors would have thought likewise.

We might have a thing or two to learn from Jane Fonda when she says, ‘Sometimes, you have to give it all up. To gather.’ We have to open your arms to gather. But they are crossed firmly against our chests. In fear. In defence. In defence of the fear. Because the old blabbermouth of our conscience would not keep quiet. It insists on whispering with its wicked mouth our own weaknesses to us.

But we can put our fears to rest. The knight in shining armour comes to our rescue. We find refuge in cynicism, aka, ‘practicality’. Everything falls in line thereafter.  Marches invite our sneers. Sloganeering passers for empty rhetoric. Long and trying struggles of radical groups get a sympathetic shake of the head, underlining the futility of any attempts at change. Our fervent prayers echo, ‘God! Give us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change.’ The rest of the phrase, ‘and the power to change the things we can’, sinks into oblivion.

When it seems that cynicism cannot be a permanent solace, when we start noticing chinks in its armour, a movie like Rang De Basanti comes. A certain group of young people are deeply ‘stirred’ but hate to admit it. After all, when do these things happen in ‘real’ life? They are quick to explain to their friends, and to themselves, the unrealistic elements of the movie. Another section cries out loud, claps,  cheers, swears and shouts ‘Inquilab Zindabad’, all the right reactions corresponding with all the right moments in the movie. The intensity of passion finds an outlet. Catharsis happens.

We need not hasten to identify ourselves with any of the two groups. We can choose to respond in a different, third kind of manner. We do not have to critique the ‘unrealism’ of the movie. We do not have to act as cheerleaders. We do not even have to watch the movie. We just need to take a good, hard look around and what we see would arouse the same passion, the same rage in us. We can choose to build up the anger, the frustration, the agony. And then use all of it. To fight. To struggle. To build and create. To ‘make it new’. It is a unique experience altogether. Slightly unfamiliar. Slightly scary. Completely exhilarating. Listen to Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night . . . 
Rage, rage, rage against the dying of the light.

The revolution is in you, remember?

First published in Youth Ki Awaaz, 13 August 2013.

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