As in The Plague by Albert Camus, the epidemic stays, never goes away. Most of its deadly stuff stays embedded in the political and aesthetic unconscious of the mind- like brand new clothes inside ancient trunks. Unlike love in everyday life, or the lack of it, it never really says goodbye. Indeed, there is no goodbye ever in life or death. It’s a kind of bonding and bondage- a human bondage.
In The Human Bondage, Somerset Maugham tells us that all protagonists in search for the meaning of life will never find it. Nor will the answers to the questions which stalk our eclectic beginnings of tortured self-discovery: why are we born, why should we die, what is the meaning of life.
Perhaps, as in the end, which is always and eternally the beginning of this or that, you or me, us or them, the answer perhaps lies in the Persian carpet: the meticulous, skill-full, intimate, painstaking, rigorous, creative and aesthetic, nuanced and subtle, spoken and unspoken, hand-woven, the craftsmanship, the silences in the long hours of crafting it, the invisible and expressed joy in its final and full creation. That is perhaps the only meaning of life.
And, then, after the making, the exhaustion. Oh, the exhaustion. What now, pray, is the question. What is to be done, without a question mark or exclamation.
This is because it is all a dream, this reality. Everything is ephemeral, even the crafting of the carpet, which stays, and endures other loves, ejaculations and passions. It is once again the same familiar corridor of Gaston Bachelard, the poetics of space and time, when you enter a corridor, perhaps the same down campus corridor of your young, heady, eclectic days; perhaps a different one, like in a Guru Dutt film with a sultry Waheeda Rehman leading the actor into myriad by lanes with her unabashed intelligence and sensuality.
And you at once realise that you have seen the corridor, that you have been here, there is something which is simmering here like an erotic moment, or a moment of undiscovered revelation. However, the fact is that you have never been here. This is the first time. And, yet, it is so familiar, why, and then again, there is no question mark.
This is like a Zoltan Fabri film. An Unfinished Sentence. There is no rain coming as redemption and revelation, soaking you in the mud amidst the back to nature syndrome, whereby even nature seems so angry and refusing to heal.
There is no Solaris and no ending like Solaris, not in the cinema of Tarkovsky reinterpreted in our times, nor in the fantastic, restless poetry of his great father poet. There is no diya under a peepal tree, no flickering lamp in a laterite temple, no meditating dragon fly on a rainy pond, no lush green landscape, no train journey into the heart of the Santhal folk traditions, which can heal. There is no healing.
There is only despair, and the will to survive. To look for new corridors, new friendships, new familiarities and strangeness, new smells in your rough cotton shirt, faded with time, like wine, washed a thousand times, like hands, sanitized, or souls and inner cores, sanitized.
We look at the past, and the past looks at us. Don’t gaze too long at the past, because it then might become an abyss, and an abyss is no good for the mind or the eyes. Light or brown or black or blue or green eyes. There are tears in a million eyes, and the saline waters which flow through them are invisible. It is good to cry, though. A cry makes you feel better, and salty waters from the eyes melt inside the softness of your soul and gives us relief. Makes us stronger and calm. So let us cry.
Never before has the plague in the mind come like this. To preserve sanity against insanity, and basic calmness and courage against depression and loneliness, is perhaps a revolutionary theme in the current times. This is because howsoever despair comes, human beings will learn to adapt and survive. The only question, will they become better, as human beings, as minds, thinking minds, critical minds, passionate minds, and will their heart beat in the same manner as before. No question mark again, because this is not a question. It is a deep surge. Like in a quarantine near a sea between two fishing villages.
No one knows. To predict happiness is stupid. The people who are fighting are not predicting happiness, they are stealing and seeking happiness in living resistances and struggles. From the mothers and sisters of Shaheen Bagh, to the huge multitude of farmers in this freezing cold in North India, to the great living, legendary memories of the Black Lives Matter, and great struggles everywhere, people have defied the despair and the disease to collectively seek justice. A new history is being written everyday on the borders of Delhi of ‘seva’ and service to humanity. A new language of politics outside power has been shown by the farmers. Indeed, there is so much to learn from them in terms of giving, sharing, care, compassion, dignity and stoic resilience, that one life is not enough.
In this winter of discontent, the farmers, like the mothers of Shaheen Bagh, all over the country, have yet again shown us the way, come what may.
One thing is clear. We are not virtual reality. We are not actors in Big Boss. We are not RIPs and Happy Birthdays only. We are sharing deep feelings on social media, and it is deeply beautiful in the absence of real contact. However, let us not accept this as the final reality of our existential meaning of daily lives. There is nothing like the reality of an embrace, a warm hug, a physical sharing of pain and joy.
This is the only meaning of life, even while we celebrate solitude, or are grappling with condemnation and exile. A man who cannot love, cannot create love, is an impotent being, a non-objective being, wrote Karl Marx in 1844.
So, let us remember that black and white picture, or many pictures unearthed in recent times as defiance to fake news or post truth. Kaushik Base, economist, has found a picture of Rabindranath Tagore, surrounded by admiring fans, all very serious, surrounded by Sikhs and others from different communities, including little beautiful Sikh children, in Shanghai, in 1920. There is a picture of Jawaharlal Nehru with Charlie Chaplin and a young Indira Gandhi, walking through a landscape somewhere in Europe. Chaplin, the great, came over to meet another great man of his times.
Let us remember and meet those in jail, young scholars, women activists, great intellectuals, poets and human rights activists, as we remember the long years Nehru spent in jail, many more than Gandhi. Or Nelson Mandela, for his three decades of condemnation in a prison. Or hundreds of Indian freedom fighters, and revolutionaries, and Ghadarites, now and then, who went on fast to demand prison rights, fasting like Irish freedom fighters, dying and living, and dreaming of a free India. Those who chose to be hanged when so young. Ashfaqullah Khan, Khudiram Bose, Ram Prasad Bismil, Rajguru, Bhagat Singh and so many of the young, their pictures and writings in black and white still will remain embedded in Indian history, and they can never rewrite it, come what may.
So many people have died to make the world a better place. They died for the future generations. Like the farmers in the borders of Delhi. Those who are alive and in their comfort zones, must think about it.
It has been a hard, difficult and tragic 2020. Our prime minister seems to love peacocks, ducks and sundry birds. One wishes he loves his own people in the same manner. With his manufactured photo-ops, driven by his PR agencies, it seems well-nigh impossible. Not in his life time. Not in our life time.
Happiness is a priori for all humanity. Calm, compassion and sharing too. If that goes away, pandemic or lockdown, then all hearts are shut.
Let us open our hearts like our great farmers. Like our mothers and sisters of Shaheen Bagh in Delhi and all over India. Like our students and fighters in jail.
Hardnews wishes all its readers a year of calm, courage and compassion. Let us not fear. Let us be brave and beautiful. Let us reach out to others in despair or joy. Let us together mourn for the dead. Let us pay tributes to those who deserve it. Let us celebrate knowledge and the adventure of ideas. Let us sing and dance, on the borders with farmers or indoors. Let us stand together.
This is because, comrades and friends, we are in the same boat brother.