(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, dated 13th December 2008)
Maybe it was Rang de Basanti that started it all. But research has indicated the sale of candles has gone up dramatically in the past couple of years. Little wonder, when one thinks of the wonderful opportunities that have been created over the past thirty months for people to swarm out with candles and semi-forgotten, also-ran-a-few-yards erstwhile movie stars to make their voices heard and faces seen on national media. To say nothing of the campaigns that have been taken up with loud echoes all over the country, and the chain mails that have been circulated.
The strangest of these, though, was a picture someone forwarded on a social networking site, calling for everyone to tag their own names against it. The picture was one of commandoes climbing out of Nariman House after the operations, and the general public that had watched the terror strike like some sort of thriller on national television was supposed to express solidarity with the men who had risked their lives by, guess what, tagging our names on their faces.
“Why haven’t you tagged yourself on it?” an acquaintance of mine asked.
“What’s the idea?”
“We’re trying to show we’re all out there.”
Those are the magic words. ‘We’re all out there’. We must ‘be the change’. On top of it all, chain mails have turned into our Dandi March.
“Terror has hit all of us. We’re not going to wait for the politicians anymore. I’M going to fight!” said a group mail doing the rounds.
“You’re right!” a reply it solicited proclaimed, “it’s time we stopped taking a backseat!”
And so they were going to sign their names on to campaign placards and walk about on candlelight vigils. Some others are not going to pay taxes anymore, and others think they should pay the security forces instead.
Just as quickly as the terrified face of a man pleading for mercy became the face of the Gujarat riots of 2002, Baby Moshe has become the face of the Mumbai terror attacks. Channels have been appealing to viewers to “Cry for Moshe”. True, the picture of a baby in its green clothes, holding on to a ball and looking back with a tear-stained face, could arouse maternal instincts even in someone who has a lower quantum of those instincts than animals that eat their own young. But at some point, we seem to have lulled ourselves into the belief that crying, burning candles, signing cards and putting our names down on virtual space amounts to ‘being out there’.
Perhaps it is the comfort of having cushy jobs, roofs over our heads and high-flying lifestyles, where one can intellectually dissect what caused the recession over a meal at a five-star hotel, which has given these exercises in burning about twenty calories, the veneer of proactive frenzy.
One wonders what would have happened if those people who fought for Independence did the same thing. If M K Gandhi had called up Jawaharlal Nehru and said, “let’s hold a candlelight vigil outside the East India Company day after. We should be able to get to Calcutta in a couple of days by train.” Or if Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukh Dev had decided they should sign a placard outside a police station, protesting against Saunders hitting Lala Lajpat Rai with his baton. Or if Subhas Chandra Bose had decided he would cry for the futility of the freedom struggle.
I’m not suggesting we should go around walking in lines up to terrorist camps and daring them to shoot us, or go around shooting people or start training at counter-terror camps. But perhaps, we should admit at first that we’re in a state of suspended disbelief, and the situation hasn’t changed much since the Mumbai train bombings or the serial blasts in Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Bangalore and Guwahati, or the siege in Mumbai. Perhaps we should realise holding these vigils does not amount to much more than our leaders ‘condemning’ the attacks.