Politics is personal might be a big phrase to flaunt. But what does it really mean?
Are we only saying that the choices we make are our political statements? This is a very superficial way of looking at it, externalising the personal. Over the last decade since starting this space, I have met a wide range of people from across the world, traveled a bit, and worked with most of them – usually in the setting of theatre, where things get really personal (I mean sweaty bodies and emotions on loose strings). I have seen politics (beliefs and principles relating to governance of society versus real situations) affect people’s bodies and minds to a great extent – on both sides of the spectrum. I have seen people get healthier and people lose all their health. As time goes, I seem to be part of the latter more often.
When I was around 14 years old, there was a month-long campaign across India against communalism, very specifically BJP-led Hindutva and the India Shining Lie. I was one of the youngest in a crew of thirty people who made pit stops to meet various communities dialoguing the real issues that was going on with everyday people and to dissuade votes for BJP. This essentially meant garnering votes for the INC. As a teenager, with excited curiosity in history and political science, I found the argument of choosing a lesser devil baseless (Is Emergency easy to forget?). I was not born into any religion. So, I didn’t care much to be born into a country or a politics. I preferred to ask my questions however silly and often got into trouble. Also, I travelled most of the time to places in the country where I did not speak the language and managed to connect with people simply through eye contact and silent listening. I did not vocalise much during the whole trip though as a collective we were extremely vocal.
While the group perceived me as a child who was often falling sick and needed care, I was dealing with the base predicament of going on a campaign quite clearly pro-INC, though far more vocally anti-BJP, and quite a bit of emotional, physical and sexual dangers. In the heart of Gujarat at Vadodara, we were finally blatantly attacked by a large group of saffron goons sporting lathis and testosterone. There were also of course many funny moments like a fellow traveller asking Sonia Gandhi at a brief meeting if she ate pasta or rice daily.
This apart, I got a strange glimpse into how and at what level different people need to and prefer to connect with the political climate of the country. The glimpse was extremely personal. I returned home thin as a bag of bones as having refused to eat rotis and terribly idealistic about the win against BJP that year. When you are 14 and such a thing happens, you truly learn to believe that you have changed the world for good.
However, that feeling lasted barely even a year. School took me on a different set of trips across the country and exposed me to fights for the Sarvashiksa Abhyan, RTI, EGA and so on. I began to learn that most of these fights are long-drawn and I would have to keep engaging to figure out what it is I can do in this soup. The idea was not to get a job, but to find my context in this world and just do something at all. And so, I chose to study history.
This decision put me inside an educational institution purely because my parents were nostalgic about that space. The Scots and the 70s Communists had left that compound a long time back. A dilapidated Karl Marx House stood opposite it and I watched tea kadai thaathaa who had fed me many meals in his house lose his shop to a flyover there. Even my favourite professor, for whom I chose to study history there, retired in a few months. Depression began killing me. The standard of education and the absolute farce of student power in the internal credit system pushed me to begin any or some kind of platform where I can engage with people meaningfully – something as fluid as a tea shop, where people can walk in and out and I can engage and keep making/doing something at all. As the cause and effect pet of the historian, this blog led me to dabble in theatre and I went for the throat of the Establishment right at the beginning.
When I began engaging in this space, my mother wrote me a small letter asking me not to get nihilistic. My dreams were big. But post the Koodankulam protests that is exactly what happened. I did not feel that high of having won against the establishment. I instead watched public discourse fizzle out. The nuclear power plant still stands there. The people there are still fighting for their right to health, right to life. And as goes, Koodankulam in one such place on the globe.
I stopped going for gatherings, marches. I found no use in petitioning. Even when Jallikattu Protests happened, I used my daughter as an excuse and basically landed up for just one long visit. And so, for most of such said causes over these years.
Every time I got the chance to make something for stage, I harnessed the power of the collective and went for the throat again. Against urbanism, fascism, genocide… Spurts of vocalisation. Spurts of anger. Spurts of how much this was hurting me.
Here is what happens. We believe vocalising is to have an opinion about everything as and when it happens or this is what I perceive by scrolling through metres of social media. Today, XYZ has won the elections. Does this make me angry, sad or jubilant? Then, there are some cry-outs once in a while when a flood or an earthquake happens where people we love live.
There are however very few people vocalising that which is happening within them. For instance, what it feels like to fight against the tide and the authentic self to pay bills and meaningfully engage with the world. Drawing patterns against the various disasters and talking in overall terms about disaster management. Looking at the connection of how fascism is at a rise across the world, and not just here. No, it’s not fine to make a blanket statement like this once in a while in our engagements.
This election and its results are not the end or the beginning of a world. It is the way things are moving in a cause and effect fashion – a result of a process – the failure of left? Zizek’s audacity to vote for Trump comes to mind here.
You can take a pill today so it does not hurt, but what is going to heal the world of this base philosophy of governance? The game does not end at the day you cast your vote whether or not the ideology you chose won the throne. My half-nihilist-half-idealist also known as the manic depressive self, tonight finds enough energy to rant. Tomorrow, it might cook about this. Day after, it might march about this. Every day, you are already doing something about this, but are you doing what you want to do?
– sam pc.