Monday, 12 October 2015

Courage & Compassion

In conversation with the Believer a few weeks ago, he said to me, "Whenever something bad happens, everybody keeps saying 'God is watching'. There's this assumption that God will 'fix' everything. What if I am meant to be God's warrior? Maybe I'm the one meant to avenge all the bad shit in this world."

His anger wasn’t misplaced. He’d just finished working on a horrific, disturbing story, and this inclination to begin believing that violence might be the best way to ‘punish’ violence seemed to be his only source of salvation. What was disturbing was a gentle, happy-go-lucky, God-loving soul gnashing his teeth in rage and frustration. Destroy the demons.

A few days later, I found myself standing on the other side of a glass door, squinting at a 150 strong crowd of social activists crammed into a conference room. Sickening curls of claustrophobia. So many people. Such a small space. Deep breath, step inside. Walk past the crowd. Slowly, DON’T run. Silly grin stuck in place. Cheeks hurt. Ears burn. ‘Namaste.’ ‘Johar!’ ‘Kaise ho?’ Eyes burn holes in my shirt. Smile. I step into a corner, feeling rather like a rat. Smile. Scanning the crowd, I begin to recognize faces, smiles. Manju. Mohan. Nirmala didi. Sajad. Reena. Deena. Heart rate slows. I recognize people from videos, silently checking names off my ‘final CC list’ excel sheet. Kashmir. Bangalore. Sundargarh. Uttarakhand. Latehar. Raigarh. I was looking at what is possibly India’s largest community media network. Over 170 ‘community correspondents’ representing some of India’s most marginalized communities.  In the group, I can identify various social movements and occupations - farmers, daily wagers, manual labourers, theatre artistes, social workers, tribal, dalit, Resident of Backward Area, Pahadi, Primitive Tribal Group, religious minorities, sexual minorities, think of the combinations, they were all here. Districts and addresses, jan andolans and networking partnerships start spinning circles in my mind, when Stalin steps onto the podium. Sudden silence. In a single, near coordinated move, more than a hundred cameras rise to capture the moment.

Your perception of me is a reflection of you

The UnQuiet One recently introduced me to ‘Rick & Morty’, a bizarre cartoon show where grandpa Rick, drags his grandson Morty into parallel dimensions in pursuits of things of supreme irrelevance. In one episode, the family dog, Snuffles’ intelligence is enhanced. He realizes the cruelty of human beings and creates an intelligent dog army to take over the human world. Morty always loved Snowball, and was his friend, and so was spared from being caged, leashed and punished for peeing on the carpet. Snowball slowly spirals out of control, Morty’s illness engineered by Rick snaps Snowball back to reality with the epiphany, ‘We are not them!’ He uses Rick’s dimension diving galactic door to transport the intelligent dogs to a kinder, more compassionate one, where pet insurance is mandatory. (I kinda wanted Snuffles to take me with them.)

Since dimension diving isn’t really possible, I guess not being them is our only option. It takes a special kinda courage to channelize anger and frustration to recognize and acknowledge a more compassionate way out of every situation. One of the sharpest lessons I’ve learnt while working with this network of correspondents has been to be who I want the person across me to be. If I expected a professional working relationship strengthened with mutual love and respect, I’ve had to open my soul and reveal my true self to the person sitting across me. I’ve had to be willing to hear their strong, unfaltering voices narrating death, violence, starvation, torture. I died a tiny death, skipped a small breath, every time they enumerated children who disappear on a daily basis. They tell us of those who are beaten, raped, abused, on any goddamned accusation. Their eyes burned, steadfast gaze, holding eye contact as they spoke of people being cheated, robbed, bombed and burnt, because they are who they are. And when they told me of the price on a local guerilla’s head, (25 lakh INR, no less), I fumble with frustration, because I know the region this guerilla operates out of hasn’t had access to clean drinking water in three decades. Yes, three decades. Caught between the guerillas and the benevolent state, this community is confused – if their government can afford 25 lakh INR, why is there no clean water yet? I would imagine the community would have taken up arms, or done something ridiculous, desperate, radical. With the help of their local correspondent, they documented their struggle for water. They built roads, documented organic farming. They proved, that they are not them.

My reaction to you is an awareness of me

Having spent hours lying around in the grass marveling at clouds racing across the sky, or reveling in the explosions of colour below my bare feet, the mysteries of the human mind no longer bemuse me. I no longer question, or seek to understand the billions of bizarre things human beings indulge in. The origin of this universe has to be one of the greatest unsolved mysteries ever, and humankind is nothing but a tiny, irrelevant speck on this planet. And just as ‘the moon is a souvenir of the violent collisions of a thousand stars[1]’, we too, are souvenirs of multiple hurts, agonies, wounds and suffering we encounter. In our daily dilemmas, many of us forget our origins. We are made of star stuff. Exploding stars release the oxygen we breathe, the calcium in our bones, the iron in our blood …it is upto us to channelize the stardust of our souls in the correct way, with courage and compassion.

“True resistance begins with people confronting pain... 
and wanting to do something to change it.[2]

Standing with the Community Correspondents, in the midst of all the coordinated chaos, I was inspired. Again. I was standing amongst individuals who have accepted the challenge of changing this world. I was shoulder-to-shoulder with activists who’ve shut down firing ranges, stopped child marriages, risked their own lives to film mob violence, acid attacks, police brutality, rampant corruption and caste based violence. These activists have set aside personal lives & challenges to change 1.5 million lives, and amongst them, have created more than 500 stories of change in their communities, taking a stand and changing things right where they are.

I found myself standing right beside the man who, when he had first met me years ago, truly believed that women had a designated place in society – the kitchen. We’d forged a deep friendship over two weeks of incessant arguing about gender and society. Seeing me beside him, he gently twined his fingers with mine, knowing I am afraid of large crowds. He whispered he’s glad to see me. I smile; squeeze his fingers gently. I feel empowered. I am again able to believe in the possibility of peace. I think of the wild creepers of the Goan monsoon, always stretching, straining for sunlight.

So, my little Sungta, violence isn't the answer. You are never alone in your anger. What is important is how you assert it. 

Never be afraid. Rise up. Resist. Tell the truth. Fight for freedom. Always stand courageous, always be compassionate.

[1] Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.

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