Sunday, August 30, 2015

On picking a side and getting into the fight

Will Durant, in his The Case for India, writes that we must all choose a side, and get into the fight, because life cannot not wait till the knowledge is complete. It is so much easier to say, "that's his opinion; he must have his reasons and what right have I to dissuade him"; or "his actions, however cruel, must be motivated because of events that must've made him what he is.  I don't have the authority to judge him because if I'd walked his path, I might've done the same"; or "there is no bad art. Different people have different tastes". All these statements arrive at the same conclusion. In a world which we're increasingly led to believe is subjective, it is almost impossible to measure and decide objectively what is good and what is bad. As much as one must make concessions for subjectivity and inherent biases, this seems like a cop out to me. Ofcourse, a cruel man must've become like that because of childhood traumas ( popular culture generates surface level sympathy in all of us and has turned us into a society of Stockholm Syndrome afflicted patients ) but that doesn't mean there's is no threshold a society can create to ensure others don't have to suffer because of one man's maladies. And yes, there is bad art. No, Marcel Duchamp's Fountain is not art. It is a political statement. As are 'Atharintiki Daaredi is a shit film' and 'Yakub Memon shouldn't have been hanged' ( No, by no means am I placing those statements on the same status but just making a case in point for everything being equally political ). Politics, and particularly Political Philosophy, is a Social Science where newer principles and ideologies go mainstream way more frequently than other fields of though. Everything ought to be respected, but nothing is sacred. Religion is political, Art is political. All of us must pick our allegiances, fight for our beliefs. About things as trivial (?) as Federer vs Nadal, or if sharing TV Series spoilers on Social media is ethical, to if anachronistic Government Censoring bodies should be allowed to exist in a world that's becoming more and more complex and fragmented, or if it was all Lalit Modi/ N Srinivasan's fault or we're equally responsible as passive consumerist bystanders? These are important questions and I'm sure they will lead to fantastic, mind expanding discussions but we don't have them, atleast not in public consciousness, because we're either intimidated by the mobs or we're too soft on each others opinions.

We are defined more by what we choose to oppose than what we accept. All our friends fall somewhere within the acceptance spheres of our likes and principles but it is our enemies give us personalities, make us draw territories and stand guard on what we believe is right. All the Hippie World Peace- No Borders shit is fine but real life is about opinions and allegiances, acceptance thresholds and intense beliefs, objective principles and conscious drawing of lines. I respect your opinion that you like Tendulkar but I can argue hard to convince you that Dravid was better. We might not be able to budge each other off our pedestals but I hope we can make the other person see from a different point of view and empathise. Cultured debate is the cornerstone of any progressive, liberal society ( After the Charlie Hebdo killings, Devdutt Pattanaik made a fantastic case for violence as a form of counter-argument against intellectual imperialism. I highly recommend it ). Harthals and mob actions are, very validly, forms of dissent and disapproval, and there is no need to look down upon them, but the consequences of their actions are final ( killings and physical mutilations ). So though sometimes justifiable, they are also barbaric and ill-tempered. ( Now, actually, that's a topic for a fantastic discussion )

I have been watching quite some standup comedy of late, and I love what these guys are doing. Consciously, or otherwise, they are raising questions that we, as a society, ought to answer. Questions about Freedom of Speech, role and responsibility of Public Figures, about habits and practices that are so deeply imbibed that we don't questions their fidelity anymore. True, they stereotype, and not all of them are political in the strictest sense, but they pick our most commonplace opinions and actions, and question them. They are, the very good ones, public intellectuals. George Carlin questions censorship and war, Bill Hicks questions authority of state, Nitin Gupta talks about such political things that no one in India wants to talk about ( except ofcourse Anurag Kashyap ), Danny Fernandes uses powerful irony to make us feel ashamed of so many of our head turns and blind spots. The others ( EIC, AIB, TVF ) stick mostly to films but they're acting as our questioning consciouses ( They ask the questions that we have deep inside us like "Why are we taking these shit films?", "Is this even art?", "Is the average Indian filmgoer so crass and unsophisticated and unlearned?" ) and they're doing a brilliant job of articulating. They might not be always right, like they ought not to be, but it is important to keep asking questions to move forward as a society. I believe the primary responsibility of an artist is to deal with his inner demons but by creating the art they they do, they question the audience and the society they're talking to- Is this acceptable in a society you want to live in ( eg: Female Objectification, Simple Moralizing ), Does art have to be so uninvigorating to be popular, Do you want to be passive consumers or active participants, Should news channels with foulmouthed idiotic anchors be patronized or not ( I try and avoid watching an Arnab Goswami or a Sampoornesh Babu clip, even to laugh, because that too is one form of engagement and encouragement. I don't want the scourge to know it is capable of grabbing my attention ). And I think we should respond to those questions, get into those arguments, complete those discussions, talk and write about it in all forums, big or small. What, and how, we choose to answer will either make our world a little better or not.


"Time and again, I’ve said this. I can’t change the world. And a book can’t change the world. But you bet I can try. I have no business to be around if I don’t try." -Kiran Nagarkar