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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 9

Desire for Sameness

Saturday 16 February 2008, by Surendra Mohan


Raj Thackeray’s campaign against people whose forefathers arrived in Mumbai from Bihar or Uttar Pradesh has its roots in his bid to win the battle of the Shiv Sena’s leadership from his cousin Uddhav Thackeray. Since Bal Thackeray made Uddhav his successor, he has refused to ally himself with the hate propaganda of his nephew, Raj. Those leaders of these States who have been touched on the raw, should have shown forbearance and patience. Whatever that be, this episode exposes the desire to suffer no differences in respect of religion, language, region or caste. The RSS and the Muslim League were the strongest proponents of this desire. Both saw to it that Hindus and Muslims gave up their centuries-long tradition of territorial fellowship and composite culture.

The consequence was the partition of the country. Linguistic division based on the Pakistani rulers’ desire to impose Urdu on the Bengali- speaking populace backfired and led to another bifurcation. Moreover, these unfortunate developments were accompanied with harrowing tales of atrocities. For a few days in Mumbai also a mini-drama of the same nature was on view. The appeals for sanity issued by the Union Home and Agriculture Ministers helped in dousing those fires. We, Indians, have yet to learn the value of respecting differences. The linguistic States were also created in our country after some bloodshed which, in Mumbai’s case, was truly horrendous. In Punjab too the creation of the Punjabi-speaking State was ushered in after some bloodshed. Now that another redistribution of Sates, particularly the larger ones, is being demanded, hopefully that would come about without bloodshed.

It is not only a question of the type or nature of prejudice that is used as a lever to separate people from one another. The underlined feeling is the same: that differences of any kind cannot be countenanced. Fundamentalists preach it in a big way in the name of ethnicity, whether national, religious, tribal or any other. This desire for exclusiveness is common among all of them. Somehow the market is also geared to the same objective, whether in a deliberate manner or otherwise. The same kinds of durable goods, foods, tastes, life-styles and cultures and civilisations are coming up because the market and the media act in unison to create a homogeneous world. Consumerism is completing all the necessary formalities. The World Trade Organisation, established by the rich countries with a view to controlling the economies and natural resources of the poor regions, have contributed no less to this process. It is really fascinating to see the merging of two very different processes of two very different ages in world history. Fundamen-talism was the raging sentiment of the medieval ages, while the present globalisation is so very modern.

IN art and literature also, the growing homogensa-tion can be seen easily. Books which appeared to hurt fundamentalist sentiments have been proscribed. Authors like Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen and a painter like M.F. Hussain have been threatened of punishment or are already facing threats. The Pakistani poet, Habib Jalib, was hurled in jail sixteen times for linking Islam with the provision of bread, employment and shelter. Apart from the rage of the fundamentalists and those in power, the artist or writer today requires a publisher for bringing his or her product to public view. Those in the know of things tell us that the writer today must submit to the current taste of the market, for he or she has to sell his or her product. The publisher, in particular, has the obligation to earn a profit in whatever he invests for these publications or the production of the works of art. He therefore imposes strong restrictions on the originality of the writer-artist which could be rejected as freakish. The market is the sole arbiter of these goods as well. Since this phenomenon is appearing in Europe and the USA in a strong way, therefore, it is the product of a writer or artist from the preliterate societies that have come to acquire the centre-stage. Even the claimants for the Noble Prize are now mostly writers from the South. Another phenomenon that has arrived is the respect that antique goods enjoy, for they provide diversity. How long this new curiosity among the common people in the West will continue, nobody knows. If there are no new or original thoughts emanating from the upcoming generations, which would be a natural result of the homogenisation of culture and life-style, then the sterility of life can be well visualised.

Will a time come when the world of ideas will become utterly flat and desolate? Will there be no different colours, smells, paintings, descriptions of humanity and nature? Poetry will then have fled away from our lives. How much livable will the life of that kind be? The perpetrators of hate and violence and the monopolists of the whole world will happily find it worthy of their cherished desires. No protest, no dissent, and no difference will bother them at all. Now, these who believe that human beings are thinkers and creators, freedom lovers and achievers will denounce such a prophesy and strongly assert that the natural spirit of humanity cannot be curbed. There are others who have found human consciousness to be the most pliable thing on earth. Whether man is a tabula rasa or a factor of change has not been settled as yet, though the defeat of the authoritarian and totalitarian regimes has shifted the balance in favour of the latter.

Human history has recorded several episodes when these free minds have not only yearned for change or dreamt of utopia, they have struggled for their ideas and motivated change. Possibly, no change could have occurred if they did not have the courage to stand up and be counted. They willingly paid the price for their beliefs.

Democracy will be a natural casualty in such a world. Not only that. Variety of any kind will be outlawed. In case we still remember the Darkness at Noon, we would recall that the rulers might allow some innocuous fun which is not subversive of their regime. They will, however, create situations of war in perpetuity so that the necessary propaganda will continue to rouse the feelings of the proles below for good, a la that novel’s heroes. It will also sanction all the intelligence and secret service that they will employ. At the same time, the people will be led like herds of sheep and any one sheep raising its head or slowing its march will immediately be hit from above or behind by some strong hammer. The principle of ekanuvartita, that is, there is only one leader whom all others follow habitually, will be the governing norm or value.

It would be interesting to speculate how many brave spirits will have to be put in prisons by the authorities. We have contemporary examples of such prisons from the descriptions of Solzhenitsyn and the Diary of Anne Frank. The prison of Abu Ghraib will also be an appropriate example. Possibly, these instances of insane brutality will grow as more and more persons feel it an obligation to resist. Or, simply, the urge to create, fabricate, write or produce will lead them to such prisons. But then it will only show that man is no tabula rasa, and that the natural instinct of freedom will assert in quite a big way. A prospect of this kind inspires hope in the face of the twin challenges of the ‘open’ market and the fundamentalist’s gun.

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