Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Oh how much our national conversation has changed


Ratnakar Tripathy

'Dialogue Des Sourds (Dialogue of the Deaf)' by Isabel Miramonte
Try an experiment – google for news pages from your favourites daily from four years ago and place them along with pages from today, and you begin to get an idea of how far things have changed in these years. The basic concerns of the people may not have changed that much really but the topics of national conversation reflected on our media platforms are now radically transformed. We are now a nation and society constantly talking about kosher food, appropriate clothing, and the permissible things to say in the wider society. We are very concerned about our sexual mores and the liberty to meet and interact among young boys and girls, about the right dose of reverence to be shown for symbols like the national flag and the anthem, about the due respect for major gods and minor deities, and about myriads of things that were earlier left to the individual, the family and the immediate community.

Not anymore! I suggested the experiment not because I believe that people haven’t perceived the enormous changes and I am the only guy around who has his eyes wide open. The reason I suggest this is sometimes the enormity of change in its incremental dosages gets split into many days and weeks and one may end up staring hard at yesterday’s pile, forgetting the larger mounds crowding our courtyards and street corners. No one I spoke to in recent times claimed that things have remained more or less the same since the last few years.  Of course, men and women from varied backgrounds differ when it comes to making sense of the change. There are those who wear a glint in the eyes and speak in the language of hope but are mostly unable to specify or pin down the exact contours of this hope. There are those who see a great danger and decline but are saddened by what they perceive as lack of political alternatives – it is depressing to talk with such people these days because every alternative posed in front of them is shot down with a cynical finality that I find highly disquieting. These conversations invariably end up with references to analogies from different eras and parts of the world, as if the chosen historical patterns are waiting to replay in India all over again. But I find the boldness of optimism far more oppressive. I am not sure I understand this hope very well but it seems to be more of a wait for a series of miracles than something substantial. I find it strange that after so many years of habitual dismissal of promises made by politicians of all sorts during the Congress era, we now have a climate of easy, no, completely facile hope. I feel this hope is based mainly on a sense of executive vigour and a rhetoric so virile that it seems to guarantee that a time for decisive action has come. If the voter decides that the proposed ‘decisive actions’ have been drawn from his own dreams and agendas, or even related to them at all, it is difficult to douse his raging wishfulness. There is no denying that we are dealing with a rather widespread pathology except there is no telling exactly how widespread it is. But I find it wrong to assume that the metastasis is complete. I do intuitively feel that after the big high we will see a phase of depression and extreme anger. It’s just that we cannot predict the moment when the tide of anger will come rushing in and the grinning faces will begin to gnash their teeth in fury. Just now I see a very thirsty populace rejoicing at the sight of a water tap and even admiring its beauty. It is reluctant to turn the tap to make sure it delivers water in the fear that the hope may turn out to be a vain one. So we are in a state of tense wait hoping that a na├»ve child will step ahead and yell out an appropriate label for the emperor.


My main question is do we have a government or a system of representation where the chosen leaders seem to care for the citizen or our democracy is just based on the skill of luring the voter into a five year trap of self-inflicted suffering?  These days it has become rare to talk of suffering, even as the magnitude of real pain mounts at a fast pace. We are going through times when the language of the victor has taken over completely and wars are being fought on the behalf of the common man on several fronts – food, attire, religious faith, sexuality, sundry opinions on personal issues, all of which featured in the media quite rarely till recently. Whether and for how long the voter will continue to tolerate or endorse these battles is what will determine the future of our democracy, of course.          

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