I've always been interested in stories. I guess it began with the bedtime stories snoozily crafted by Papa when we were kids. Stories of people who withstood scary Skeletors. Carefully personalized for children. So there was He-Man, running alongside the warrior goddess, Teela Radhika. Stories of Himalayan heroics by grandfathers. Growing up in Bengal meant the inevitable fascination for the Durga Ma, the Mother Goddess, gentle, nurturing & benevolent unless provoked. She has the potential to be a positive pain in the you-know-where for the bad guys. Batman came along much later. As we grew older we discovered our own stories. And scripted a few of our own.
Over the last few years I've been out & about. Searching for something. Shakti. Soul. Shiva. Shanti. Whatever you wanna call it. I don't know yet. All I found were stories. Sad stories. Strange stories. Stories about strangers. Everyone has a story. You only gotta have the time to listen. I try to write these stories whenever, where ever I can. Some are scribbled onto the nearest available ATM slip long-forgotten in my wallet. Or on some god forsaken bill tucked into a book. Or typed onto my recently-chewed up 'smartphone'. Of course I've forgotten some, and have chosen to forget others. But I know that these stories have marked me. Subtly branded a little image in my mind's eye. And whenever I came across a new story, it added yet another lens to my perspective of the warped, wild world.
I've been working weekends of late, struggling to juggle commitments foolishly made with no prior consideration of inherent laziness & the failure to check unprecedented euphoria of working on your own time. Anyhow, comments on my character aside, (stop sniggering!) extravagant beach lounging Sundays have been replaced with watching films & chasing tales. I saw the highly homoerotic bromance, Gunday (we're currently in talks with our in-house director Deepu to produce our own improved Goan version soon). Inordinate hours on the internet trawling through research essays on alternate lifestyles and long conversations with grass-roots correspondents who've been creating change in their communities have been interspersed with impromptu painting sessions in the Sunday sunshine streaming through my bedroom window. Now that I've jumped on the consciousness expanding bandwagon (albeit a bit late), I'm discovering newer perspectives to stories. And I'm beginning to believe that it's time to start sharing these stories. Put them out somewhere. So whether it's theories of toast or the benefits of being disinherited, I hope I'll have an opportunity to craft correctly a perspective for you to find a place to fit in this world of broken hearts I'm caught in.
All of us are essentially flawed. As human beings. The concept of being human is a flawed one, because it is built on the basic premise that we're smarter than anything else in creation. (Having a larger brain doesn't automatically mean you use it, moron.) And in our flawed, egoistic selfish world, we forget our innate, natural instincts. Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes how, centuries of suppressing our innate nature has made us forget to love, to run free, to be wild.Yes, I know this premise will be perceived as flawed by many of you. It's because we humans are saddled with the unfortunate need to communicate through medium and have adopted multiple means to communicate, instead of learning to savour silence. Every form of communication is essentially flawed. Basically, no matter how you express yourself, there's someone out there who will misunderstand and judge on the basis of stereotypes we've been taught to believe in. However, given our need to express ourselves through blabberghasts we imagine to be communication, we alienate our essential funda - to be free. Because, like everything else in this world, when you fight for freedom, you pay a huge price. Loneliness.
Like the child born on the banks of the Narmada in the '80's. Born into a bitter site of battle, this child will forever be alienated this 'civilised' world. Yes, s/he will have his/her fellow fighters standing by, standing in silence, in non-violence, hoping that someday, somehow, this world will notice their silent struggle. Their struggle to be free. From the shackles of 'development'. From corporate greed. From the vicious cycle this material world is slowly sinking into. Free to savour the land, the air, the forests & water they have lived with in harmony for generations. You will accuse me of romanticizing their rustic lives. Trust me, I love the comforts one is confident of when living in a city - electricity & washing machines & internet[i].
The people belonging to the Narmada Valley have been born to this battle & know nothing but to fight for freedom.[ii] The people of Fakodih, Hazaribagh are caught up in a conundrum I hope to hell you never find yourself in. To live. Or die. You ask why? Oh. The exalted, much admired Tata Company is operating a coal mine to the left of them. And Central Coalfields Limited, to the right of them.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Strangled by these two great harbingers of 'development' in the mineral rich state of Jharkhand, the people of Fakodih have no clean water, no edible food & nothing worth living for. The fires that burn in Fakodih may be extinguished soon, when the people die of hunger, thirst & sheer fatigue. You ask, why don't they just leave? Well, where? Where do they go? To the 'rehabilitation' camps set up for them? The thin tin sheets & cramped quarters are sorry excuses for homes. To become unemployed beggars? To live in cities, to sleep on pavements, and do menial work as servants? To shit on the streets & negotiate their way through the complicated, flawed monetary system that thrives in the cruel, cruel cities of India? These people were proud farmers who lived & worked their own land. They were the people who walked free in the forests & knew which plants are poisonous or which ones had the power to heal. They planted their own fruit trees & fed their families by farming which has sustained them for generations.
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
And Fakodih has filed PILs, approached courts, National Tribunals. Thousands of shocking, horrifying, heartbreaking videos have been made about their plight. International organizations have signed petitions. The world has condemned the coal mining. But Fakodih still stands alone. And when the people of Fakodih die, they shall die alone.
Do you know what the most fucked up part is? The coal which is being mined, is NOT utilized for their benefit. The electricity being generated is SOLD in OTHER cities across the country. The development damn denizens of India.Take Angul in Odisha as an example. The city is constantly clad in a cloud of dust. There are highways being constructed to facilitate the easy transportation of all the coal required for the multiple power plants that have sprung up in their city. Angul itself is allotted about 3 hours of electricity. Kalahandi, Odisha saw some of the worst droughts in this decade. And countless people starved to death. I remember a friend from Kalahandi saying that the year in which most deaths occurred, Odisha was one of the highest exporters of food grain. Look the current battleground of the proposed POSCO site. Along the bay, this site is home to a few thousands of villagers who farm betel nut & prawn and earn more in a year than I have earned in the last 6 years of earning money. And POSCO is bringing their beautiful shiny steel plant there. And will give these 'poverty-stricken', 'illiterate' villagers a 'chance' of living a 'better' life by employing them as labourers on the site, or as security guards. Mind you, these security guards will be there for the sole purpose of keeping away protestors from their OWN village. Once the construction will be complete, these dust-inhaling, now-homeless ex-farming labourers will have no jobs, no homes, no land. No place on this earth for them. The security guards will be replaced by contracted uniform clad goons, who will then beat them away from the site.
The villagers living along the tributary of the Mahanadi asked the government for electricity. The government suggested the villagers invest in solar power as installation of electricity poles & lines would 'destroy' the jungle behind their village. The very same government then sanctioned over 100km of land right beside this same village to a power plant to dump their fly-ash. So, you generate electricity on someone's land, sell it elsewhere, dump the waste & destroy that very same land, water & air they need to survive. What a fucking joke. THIS is 'development' yo.
This list is endless. There are thousands, no millions of people who do not matter in this 'developed' country of ours. In mid-2012, as I was travelling through Chhattisgarh, I was told of how thousands of villagers in South Chhattisgarh had left their homes, their meagre belongings in a matter of weeks. They were fleeing from the three-pronged menace of the Naxals, the Salwa Judum & the most benevolent State. No one knows where they went. Rumour has it some turned Naxal. Some say they died. I hope they did. I hope they died and never had to see their beloved land being turned into a battlefield or their few surviving clan members who made the mistake of turning to the State for aid. These few were shoved into State sponsored 'rehabilitation' camps to be raped, beaten & to die slow painful deaths due to malnutrition & disease. One guy who tried to help them with legal aid was hounded out of Chhattisgarh. The other was jailed for 22 months & tortured. Another woman had stones shoved into her orifices by the police. Yes, by Ankit Garg. Who was later decorated for gallantry by the State of Chhattisgarh.
Even as I write this, there are people immolating themselves, and marching in protest, and being arrested & beaten, and displaced & dying. What a terrible picture I paint for you. And ironically, every time I stand in the sour-smelling auditorium of Inox, I have to 'respect' the Indian National Anthem as some celebrities wail on-screen with pride for this development damned nation. Yes, I pay 200 INR to watch over-paid star kids cavort in exotic locations to senseless, stolen compositions every weekend. Because I need a break. Because sometimes, just sometimes, I need to stop being broken hearted. But, shaitan ko kabhi shanti nahin milta. And as I walk out of Inox, the beggar at the cigarette shop eyeballs me with hunger crazed eyes. And the old, withered uncle limps out from behind a parked scooter asking us in English for some food. Sometimes I just don't have the energy nor the strength of heart to ask him his story. It'll just be another of those filed away on a scrap of paper, to rage at in the silence of my lamp-lit bedroom at night.
I remember accusing a beloved professor of ruining my life by adding a feminist lens to the already long list of warped perceptions I have of this world. I say ruined, because armed with these multiple lenses, I stand on one end of this spectrum, unable to understand mankind any more. Because as I read and write about rape culture, I fend off unwanted propositions from creepy 'friends' who disguise these very same propositions as a 'joke'. Every time I tell them off, I am the loser, because I am the one without a sense of humour. When I politely asked one of them to drown himself, he asked if I am gay. To be uninterested in an ugly man, (and I don't mean physically ugly, but ugly because he is one of the most idiotic, narrow-minded morons I have encountered in my entire life) but obviously must mean I'm not interested in men!
And so, similarly, I'm mad at all of you whom I have encountered while listening to your sorrow soaked stories because it is you & your lives that makes it impossible for me to be excited at the prospect of Reebok announcing a 50% sale. And it's your fault too, that I unable to chase that gorgeous Goan stranger to engage in some mindless sex. It is you, from Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Kashmir, Odisha, Assam, my very own Bengal & every other fucking corner of this love-forsaken country who have left me standing alone, because as I write, and write, and write some more about the appalling lack of freedom in this fake secular country, there is no man yet willing to stand beside me. There is no man yet who will 'allow' me to be free. In the purest sense of free. To move where I wish, to pick the battles I want to side with, to choose whom to be answerable to. And it's really twisted that it took yet another of the 200 INR films at Inox, to help me realize this innate loneliness. My film-critic friend analysed my melancholy a few moments after I told him I was depressed after watching Highway.
(Yes Sid, I fell a little bit in love with Mahabir Bhatti)
And so, as the power packing Priyanka Kashyap, SP, North Goa, controls an enraged mob, she stands alone. Her current agenda of crushing the police-peddler nexus in Goa renders her alone, the lone wild wolf who hasn't kow-towed to power & politics. And the child born in the disputed hills of Latehar has had to give up riding his beloved wild horses in the hills he loves with all his heart, because he has to now spend his life stopping the State from building a giant firing range.
It's not easy, this war. It's not easy to see friends get sidelined into selling their souls & objectifying women and write reams about the amount of cleavage being flaunted by actresses instead of believing that every little girl should have a chance to be A Mighty Girl. It's not easy to snap the neck of the man trying to rape you. Or to be right in front when your protest march is lathi-charged. But it must be done. It must be done by those who have dreamed of a destiny different from the one scripted by our benevolent State. It must be done by those who refuse to be daunted by unimaginative, fettered souls languishing in the lap of luxury, utterly unaware of the world beyond their BlackBerrys. (Yes, I have one too. Mine has been eaten. It no longer qualifies to be a phone.)
As our mighty nation is hovering on the brink of yet another electoral fiasco, we who dream of a life worth living have now changed our weapons of war. Armed with art, music, technology & social media, we are raising awareness, exposing the lies & naming the naughty netas. There are thousands of us today, who are essentially alone, because our deepest desire is to be free. To be free to live on the land we choose, to drink the water we have built our homes beside, to roam the jungles of our own minds, unfettered by social hypocrisy. Many of us haven't chosen this destiny for ourselves. It was scripted for us in the stories we were told as children. Of warrior goddesses waging war to find peace. We lived them when we stood shoulder-to-shoulder as we squared up to bullies or beat up people who hit our dogs. We're drawn to our destinies like moths to flame ~ burning up our souls, little bit by little bit. I guess some of us are just born to be broken hearted.
Note: names may have been changed to protect privacy