Congress leader Rahul Gandhi during the party's 'Bharat Jodo Yatra', in Panipat, Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. (Photo: PTI)
It is time to say it out loud: We, as a people, have been reduced to putty in the hands of the powers that be. Voiceless and spineless. Malleable and mushy. Happily groveling and sucking it up, while those "mysterious" powers that control our lives remain nameless, but not faceless. And the Grand Plan seems to have entrenched itself so deeply in our consciousness, we no longer think it strange that an entire nation is on permanent mute. Nobody speaks up, much less speaks out. Against anything or anyone, unless the prickly issue happens to be sanctioned by the authorities, and the chosen few are encouraged to trash the targets publicly -- the targets being the silenced minorities, who dare not protest or challenge the oppressors. Even while keying this in, I’m feeling pretty foolish, knowing full well nothing is likely to change in the foreseeable future for "people like us" -- already condemned and dismissed, often by our ex-colleagues and the few contemporaries one respected in the past, but who have hopped on to another bandwagon and have no qualms about running down those with whom they once shared the same dreams and ideals of a vibrant, full-throttle democracy, pushing ahead erratically but surely, believing in freedom and personal liberties. What were we thinking? Freedom? Mad, or what? How weird! Such an alien concept in today’s mired environment. But does that mean we give up? Meekly surrender? Roll over and play dead?
In this, the first week of a brand-new year, I asked myself: "Are you a well-trained, obedient pet Golden Retriever? Will you happily play fetch on demand?" For me, the answer is clear. There are thousands like me. "Anything can happen", those who fear instant retribution say, looking uneasily over their shoulders. What is that "anything’’? Nobody specifies, but everyone believes there is a monster, a rakshas out there, and that this creature is capable of unbelievable and total destruction. "They" can come after you. "They" can get you. Is resistance worth the price demanded? Stop being so paranoid, say well-meaning friends, it can’t be that bad, surely, they mutter. Who decides when it is "that" bad? Or just tolerably bad. Or unbearably bad?
Confession: I am on the verge of becoming a full-fledged, card-holding, bona fide member of the Darpok Party myself. I am plain tired. Fatigued. I have lost friendships, lost faith, lost much more than I care to acknowledege, by not being a Golden Retriever. But the one thing I haven’t lost is faith. In Mumbai, "people like us" occupy a brittle space, in which everything is "temp" -- commitments come within a set time frame. Yet, not so long ago, even cocktail party chatter -- superficial as it often is, had a few interesting subtexts to keep lively debates going.
Nothing too "bhaari’’ but thought provoking enough to trigger out of the box ideas worth mulling over later. No longer. Lips are zipped. Mum’s the word. Any attempt to start a discussion on what is ludicrously labelled a "controversial’’ (matlab -- not in sync with current dispensation) issue, is instantly discouraged as people hastily move away and focus on neutral, non-threatening topics. But what the hell is non-threatening anymore? I am thinking of the recent, very abrupt ban on a blockbuster Pakistani film (The Legend of Maula Jatt), and wondered aloud whether this made any sense, given that it was planned as a December 30 release in India, and had generated a great deal of excitement amongst cinema lovers, who were waiting to see Fawad Khan back in desi theatres after a long hiatus. The film is being projected as the highest-grossing Pakistani film of all times and has raked in $10 million since its October release. Fawad Khan, 41, had called the announcement of the film’s release a "great way to hand shake", describing the significance of the moment like this: "It’s kind of like those sweets and delights we send across to one another in good times and on Id and Diwali." Such a sweet and charming way to put it… but he’d spoken too soon. Little did he know what swiftly happened after political parties got moving to stop its India release, even though Zee Studios had acquired the rights and were expecting the film to do well. In other words, this was no sneaky, clandestine entry into India. It was official. Despite that, threats from an insignificant political party were enough to cancel screenings. What about the rights of cine goers? Those who really don’t care about political decisions, but are keen to watch good movies from across the border? Even asking such a dumb question is "wrong"! It instantly makes one a "traitor", an "anti-national", pro-Pakistan "agent" -- possibly on Fawad Khan’s payroll! The low level of engagement on sensitive matters is what disturbs me the most. Anything can be conveniently converted into a political missile, a nuke, and aimed at the person who dares to question the right of local political outfits issuing dhamkis and assuming this level of control over mass entertainment.
Our very own Khan (Shah Rukh) has his share of woes to deal with, now that the second song from Pathaan is under attack. But is anyone from his tribe standing shoulder to shoulder with a colleague and presenting a joint front? Naturally not! Because most are savvy enough to figure that it’s not about a song. It is about an individual. The signalling is powerful enough to deter others from expressing solidarity and also from getting on the wrong side of the mighty. Playing footsie with those in power has become a national past time. Nimble footwork a la the legendary Pele, who redefined football, is what darpoks spend time on. Soon, I will get there myself. Unless, of course, I follow my heart and conscience and join the Bharat Jodo Yatra soon. Not because I think Rahul Gandhi is the alternative. But more because I would feel better about myself as a citizen. No matter how "weak" Rahul Gandhi is made to appear, no matter how many mean memes featuring RG as a dimwit we share (I do it frequently), unlike most of us, sitting around and bleating about injustice and repression -- he is out there, walking the talk. And us darpoks???