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Ghoora [घूरा]:India Gate at my village Ghoora: and Ghoora at India gate!

 By Ratnakar Tripathy

Democracy: at a cold moment!

Democracy: at a cold moment!

I feel very blessed for where I live in Patna. No, it’s not a posh colony or a gated limbo of a  software community. The reason I feel lucky is on my right flank as I write, is a gynecological hospital, where babies keep getting born all the time. I get woken up by the forceful and healthy cries of hours-old babies demanding attention dictatorially at 2 AM. They sound like someone appealing urgently through my ever open window. The scolding cry of the helpless!

There is human future on the right.

On the left is the big wide lane that leads to the cremation ghats. The dead bodies are often accompanied by singers equipped with loudspeakers, harmonium and tablas who announce the futility of life and the vanity of the survivors with the gusto of hopeful rock stars. The idea is to make the living feel guilty for being alive. But I thankfully see expressions of great relief for being spared by Yamaraja among those who march behind the dead. The funeral processions of common men, have you noticed, move in great hurry unlike the VIP bodies in Delhi that seem to crawl with an earth-hugging reluctance,  they would like to be remembered for.

There is the past for you.

Poverty, corruption, class, illiteracy, mental and physical handicaps, addiction, HIV, illness, chronic family quarrels, land reforms, environmental degradation – these were the common problems one was supposed to worry about, if you wanted to remain politically correct[Political correctness has been the one chief poison of the thinking Indian minds, whether on the right or the left or the middle, for decades now].

But suddenly rape is now at the centre of the national conversation. The media has been busy reporting every incident available, hopefully not rigged or invented. My first reaction was disgust at the opportunism. But my considered reaction is reverence. And I stick to it now. Media is after all the busybody family maid-aunt, such as Manthara from Ramayan, who gossips with great earnestness, but will want her due in cash as ad revenues! So why hold the TRP and profit against Manthara auntie or Arnab uncle?

To come to the outcome, rape is now something we can now talk about. The word is utterable! 2012-2013 has been a great year for democracy in India. First, thanks to Anna, conversation about corruption is not boring, anymore. Thanks to the little girl from Balia and the press, we can talk about rape. These are two reasons I feel India has a chance at the kind of democracy the west never did enjoy. And not because we are spiritually special, as Asaram Bapu or Vivekanand would claim, along with Muslim, Hindu and Christian channels on the TV these days. Or because, the memories of ancient democracy of Vaishali come wafting over my Patna home from across the river!

I

First, let me go back to the village Ghoora [fireside] and the little matter of corruption. Last month, I had some disturbing conversations in my village over the Ghoora. Disturbing, but very raw! To give an example, an argument broke out between an aging uncle and his son over local politics. The son went on fulminating against the village mukhiya and his corrupt ways, trying to warm up his mind-body system, perhaps.  Finally, the wearied father froze him in mid sentence.

‘Why should anyone become a mukhiya if he doesn’t get anything out of it,’ he asked. The son was speechless and rambled on incoherently, till he predictably uttered the much awaited ‘but, so much corruption!’ As if the quantum of permissible corruption must be defined formally in our constitution.

But this I believe is a question democrats have evaded throughout the history of democracy. They tend to hide behind a notion of ‘democratic system’, floating a hundred feet above us flesh and blood humans, in an abstract space, it seems, hoping it would tame our present and future Modis and Thackerays. This is self-deception, not hope!

Systems and institutions need constant support, and not perpetual leaning on!

Which is why, I believe the congregations against corruption at India Gate and Jantar Mantar are a massive upgrade on the ancient republic of Vaishali. And I don’t mean Anna’s or Kejriwal’s utterings.  I mean the milling masses of face-ful people, who seem to ask and answer the question asked by my cynical uncle at the Ghoora in Champaran boondocks.

‘Why should anyone become a mukhiya/CM/PM if she/he doesn’t get anything out of it’, is a question that needs response, answering, debate, analysis, soul-searching and well, movies, stories, and jokes – all in a dialogue between the voter and the candidate.

II

The next time in recent memory when India Gate got packed by men, women, boys and girls, it was about rape, violence, and man and woman relationship. Among strangers and non-strangers, the family, the neighbourhood, the nation and abroad as well as the nuptial bed, not to mention mythologies from all ages. Including Bharatmata!

Nudged and rebuked by a terse but polite comment from my friend Akshay Kumar, currently at the University of Edinburgh, I was made to rub my smug nose over the fact that feminism and women’s struggle have been reduced over time to a front by us, just one more issue like poverty, illiteracy, Pakistani terrorism, HIV or fight against floods.

The fact is like the grouse from my uncle, the question of man-woman relationship lies at the core of modern civilization and democracy. It is not a front, a border, a peripheral site for thought and action or lack of it.

In brief, if you are a democrat, you simply have to face both these questions – what do you do with the power you have, would like to have, would agree to pass on to an elected representative, whether Modi, Rahul, Nitish or Kejriwal? And as a man or a woman too, what is it that makes you uncomfortable with the power of a hard-working young girl called Nirrbhaya out on a romp with an aspiring boyfriend?

Even when we don’t ask these questions, life goes on. It does! Babies born on the right, and dead bodies carted on the left.

I feel a strange compassion and fellow- hood for people on both the sides. Ones on the left need not ask the burdensome question – what is the meaning of life?  And ones on the right, asking with much excitement and ardour, the same question!

What, what, what will be the meaning of my life, as they grope for the security of the parental contact?

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