What a glorious failure of imagination this has been. What a glorious victory of the brute and the bold. When little men with lots of power have looked at the world, said: “I want this or that,” and proceeded to devour, demolish, degrade and despoil what they desired, with nary a discourse.
Desire. What years of growing desire these have been. It has been sold to us as a virtue in itself.
At best, to desire is to work hard to attain your desires. To work hard, is to be a good citizen. Indeed, a good, moral and righteous human being above all.
The more you desire, the more righteous you are – billboards tell us this every two meters on our way to work and school.
But what should be one’s object of desire? It matters, does it not?
Is the proper object of our desire, aiming to understand the works of a Hugo, a Zola, a Premchand? Or is it sufficient that our desire stop at a Mercedez Benz?
A Mercedes of course. Of what practical use is fiction, except to pass the time?
Should we aim to grasp Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, Aristotle’s Poetics, and Ambedkar’s Annhilation? Or is owning an iPhone enough?
The iPhone by far. We are already free, aren’t we? Of what use is Common Sense in a free millennium? And if Annhilation is available free, is it worth anything?
After all, isn’t price a measure of value? Isn’t how much you earn a measure of how much you’re worth? Isn’t that Capitalism 101?
At worst, desire is lust. Not passion, no. For passion requires a continuing commitment to values, at a time when the idea of value itself has been redefined.
Passion requires an ability to act against the tide, at a time when we feel safer in numbers.
Passion requires the mind, while desire will make do with the groin.
Billboard journalism has not learnt to distinguish between a degree and an education; between education and knowledge; between wealth and prosperity, power and authority or even, money and value.
Those who’ve sold us desire between soap operas and prime-time news, have forgotten the meaning of value.
The fact is, money is only as valuable as the things it buys. And it’s time to ask – what is money buying us today?
Choice. These have been the decades of choice. From four soaps to 20. From one school to five schools. From two doctors in two hospitals to 5 doctors in 15 hospitals.
We doctor shop, teacher shop, school shop, husband shop. We can idea shop on Facebook. Kya achcha idea hai sir ji. Today one idea, tomorrow, another. These are good choices to have. Even great choices. Freedom requires the freedom to choose.
And if we can choose from 140 varieties of cheese, does it truly matter that beef is branded sacred and untouchable? If we can choose from 110 television channels and soap operas, does it matter that free speech is banned?
And if one billion people can roam the streets free, does it matter that a few thousand are branded seditionists, separatists and unfits?
With this great benediction of individual autarkies upon us, does it really matter that some get left out?
Questions. These have been the years of questions.
Development or Freedom? Security or Privacy? Education Or Right to Dissent? A peaceful, homogeneous society or Freedom of Conscience?
These are not trivial questions. They face us today as they faced the constitution makers 60 years ago.
But every generation or so, these questions must be asked and answered. Not in hidden rhetoric and mis-targeted animosities. But straight out.
- You may have 5 star-rated refrigerators and online clothes shopping. But some people will disappear in the night, never to return. Where is Najeeb?
- Neighboring countries won’t come marching onto your streets. But you might hear a knock on your neighbor’s door one night. He will never been seen again. Prisoners may disappear from prisons, people from their homes. But no one may ask how.
- Your kids may go to college, but you may not question us about what they learn, how we treat them, or if some students kills themselves or each other. They must carry on. Education for millions must proceed unhampered.
- You may be showered with government largess. But your money may be declared illegal any day. Your savings may be replaced. Or not. But you must stay calm. Dissent is manufactured. So is aakrosh (angst). What people manufacture is unreal. Only the government is real.
In fact, the only real thing is Calm and Peace .
Peace. These have been the decades of peace. Islands of violence have not bothered us.
Gujarat 2002. Muzaffarabad. Una. Chattisgarh. Manipur. Hyderbad Central University. Orissa. JNU. 60,000 farmer suicides.
We are each, a continent unto ourselves, vying to be a nation united. These islands are pinpricks, irritatingly floating into our consciousness, easily dismissed. They interfere with our idea of ourselves and must be discarded from the larger narrative.
We barter our individual consciences, piece by piece, for the greater good.
The greater good. But hasn’t it always been about the greater good? The needs of the many over the few? Of the majority over the minority? Of the many over the one.
We’ve heard that for centuries now, not just years.
On the right, the Utilitarians have told us “the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the measure of right and wrong.”
On the left, we’ve heard: from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.
We’ve never been told: Who is to measure this happiness? Who shall be the judge of it? The Judge of us? Who shall measure, how much of our ability we are to sacrifice for an un-measurable greater good? Whose need are we to sacrifice for? How much are we to sacrifice? For how long?
Would we rather pay for the education of a bright young kid next door? Or a bureaucrat’s salary? For a park in the local community, or A15s? For Japanese Encephalitis vaccinations, or a political party’s election coffers?
As worlds became freer, these were supposed to be our choices to make.
Yet, today, these choices hardly seem to exist. These questions are forbidden. Irrelevant. Unasked.
Perhaps even, forgotten.
One of the most telling remarks in the recent demonetization episode was, Narendra Modi surrogates saying: the communists should be happy with the move. Modi had fulfilled Marx’s dream of a cashless society. A few days later they went further: Finance Minster Arun Jaitley likened the move to Mao’s cultural revolution. Gold is now rationed. Married women get 500 grams, unmarried-250 gms, men – 100 gms.
New Age, right wing apparatchiks are now to monitor gold; gram for gram, marriage for marriage.
The left and the right have merged. Marx, Mao and Modi look all alike. A dream turned into reality, looks too much like a nightmare.
Nightmares. These have been the years of nightmares. Burnings, lynching, constitutional anarchies. The supreme court passes a judgment legislating compulsory patriotism. In response to an appeal, the court mandated that all cinema theatres must compulsorily play the national anthem before all screenings. “Time has come for people to realize that the national anthem is a symbol of CONSTITUTIONAL PATRIOTISM…” These are the exact words of a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra.
Yet, when another appeal was immediately filed, asking that the anthem also be played in the court, a bench declined to hear the plea. Seeming to say:“Let’s not stretch it too far.”
Constitutional patriotism it seems, must stop at the door of the protectors of the constitution.
The nightmares have only just begun. But the choice now is to decide whether to remain asleep, or wake up and embrace daylight.
The comfort of nightmares is, that you can pretend you are not an actor in the play, just a spectator. However bad the nightmares are, we can safely say: but what can we do?
The problem with daylight is we have participate in our own lives, however little that part might be. It might just be to wake up, breathe the air, shake our fist at the those who sold us rotten dreams, and tackle the day, one day at a time.
Or it might be more.
Both Thomas Jefferson and B.R. Ambedkar believed that subsequent generations are not required to bear the burdens of their predecessors’ choices. That every few generations at least, a people are required to ask some fundamental questions, answer them, and make their own choices. Perhaps even, make their own mistakes. The burden of history can start afresh. The idea of India was once defined for us in 1947.
Perhaps it is time to redefine it now.