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A date with a lynch mob
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prateek khobragade

 

Prateek Khobragade

prateek khobragadeTomorrow, I have a date with a lynch mob. The question is: should I appear or not? This question at this moment is as important to resolve for me as it is to breathe. For it is a question about, and has at stake, my existence. And my existence, I proudly believe, is what Camus would call an act of rebellion in itself. The handsome son, in his mid-twenties, of an illiterate housemaid, I again proudly believe, wouldn’t have been much different from me. Perhaps I can go on to become a rebellious writer like him if I choose not to give two fucks about the date with the losers. But the very pride, which is nakedly evident in the above two sentences compels me to risk a glorious future and appear before the mad men. I am one of those who would weigh their pride heavier than their life. I am a panther, I proudly believe.   

The kind of people who mistook a Bhagat Singh as a vainglorious man would certainly deem my assertion as another case of excessive self-pride. The very fact that I am comparing myself with the likes of Camus and Singh acts against me. I am perhaps not even an ounce of a revolutionary as Singh, but I assert – I love my politics as much as he loved his. My revolutions might be very petty, my battles very juvenile, the consequence of my actions very insignificant, but my claim is that, my politics is as unmistakably worthy of pride as that of the great martyr. Now, the only way I can prove this claim is by appearing for the date where my politics and my pride are both at actual stake.

These are the times of mad men. They have stripped themselves of their human garb and have unleashed their worst fascist selves. They are ruling us, they are lynching us, they are screaming over us in ‘debates’, they are policing us in the streets, and the least harmful of all, they are trolling us on the internet. Are we even realising how banal evil is now? The most devastating policy decisions and pathetic governance failures are only being laughed out by radical critical memes. Evil has either become banal or trivial. The personal is always political but now the political has become personal. There’s a difference between the two, that of directionality. I have particularly become intolerant of intolerance, increasingly so. I am losing my patience. The mad times are making me mad. My father perhaps got an inkling and brought it up over our phone conversation today.

Now my father is quite an interesting man. He has had a luxurious upbringing compared to me. My communist and lovely grandfather, the first generation after Ambedkar, landed a good government job and spent enough money on his children and their lavish marriages. The only point where he could be criticized is for insisting that my intelligent father take up a silly fitter’s job immediately after matriculation. My father has a sharp brain but is hopelessly romantic. He makes fiery speeches (a quality I terribly fail to imitate) but also generously cries while watching stupid daily soaps. The photograph where my father was roaring a speech from a stage chaired by Haji Mastaan, who was then campaigning for Dalit-Muslim unity, was torn by my Grandpa fearing police investigation.

He also went to the Yerawada jail briefly in one of the andolans. Now it is darkly funny that I feel a sense of belonging to the Yerawada jail. My maternal uncle, who was a super-rowdy and also a comrade of the now hopeless Ramdas Athawale, has spent the longest time there. His record could not be matched, even cumulatively, by the next generation (seven of my cousins) who are unfortunately usual visitors, but for terrible reasons. When I used to wait outside the jail to meet them, I used to calculate how roughly 80-90% surnames of the qaidis, announced on the speakers, were distinguishably Dalit and Muslim surnames.

One particular memory is of the release of my dearest brother, and the grand reception he received. The roads were blocked with scores and scores of motorcycles and jeeps and as I saw him royally coming out of the gate, his homies greeting him with cheers, the jail deceived me as though it were a palace. I romanticized it as a Bahujan bastion but truth is stranger than fiction. The reason why I call this romantic picture dark is because my brother was killed shortly after this. Although he was an outlaw, he taught me love and was next only to my father. And I sensed a familiar concern in my father’s voice today. He asked me to have more patience. His life has taught him enough. It has tamed down the inner panther; or perhaps disciplined it. Should I learn from my father, or should I wait for my own share of life lessons? I will not disclose just yet.         

My father was talking about a BAMCEF convention he recently attended where they were lectured about perhaps Kancha Ilaiah’s God as a political philosopher– he couldn’t recollect the name of the book. His emphasis on Buddha’s philosophy in our conversation was a conscious effort to drive me back to Dhamma. But I have perhaps betrayed Dhamma and the sheels. I have grown sceptical of ideology in general. But it is just such a terrible contradiction that there are nihilists who are at the same time, idealists. They know that everything about this world is doomed and still pursue a politics for an egalitarian world. They know that life is outrageously absurd but still seek meaning in absurdities.

Though I don’t follow the Buddha’s path, I find his thoughts immensely enlightening. He was the enlightened one, he was woke. Siddharth, to believe the Buddhist preachers, abandoned his republic to convince his people to not wage a war against the neighbouring state over the waters of river Rohini. And he succeeded. The war was never waged. Such an avatar of Vishnu he was- who waged wars after wars in his previous avatars. At this moment, to go for the date or not, becomes such a critical question. It torments my politics and its vulnerable contradictions. Violence or not? Use of force or not?

Sometimes Ambedkar himself seems to be divided on the issue. And the question of use of force is perhaps the most divisive in the post-Ambedkar Dalit-Bahujan movement. The first RPI split on the question of communistic means or democratic means. The Dalit panther split between the Buddhist Dhale and the Marxist Dhasal factions. Meanwhile, Kanshiram virtually unleashed his politics by thrashing his senior casteist officer (just a couple of miles from my house). I really wonder why a revolutionary outfit re-emerges from time to time in the form of a Samata Sainik Dal or a Dalit panther or Bahujan Volunteer Force or a Bhim Army in an ideology which has formally adopted Buddha’s way of life and as has been taught in school textbooks, his non-violence. People might remember Ambedkar’s explication of his conception of ahimsa where he rearticulates Tukaram and calls for destroying the evil. I often wonder what notes he exchanged with Periyar on the issue.

The biggest problem I identify here is the hegemonisation of violence by the Brahmanic religion. I vaguely remember Sen in his ‘Argumentative Indian’ portraying Arjuna somewhat like a Buddhist and reinforcing the counter-narrative of Krishna preaching violent means for Dharma. As Arjuna adopts violent means, it is portrayed in the liberal discourse as if Buddhist India suddenly transformed into Brahmanic India. Violence for Dharma might be a Bramhanic monopoly but violence for Justice is not. It is the most organic and most natural phenomenon of social existence. Indignation is very human, and one needs no Krishna to understand what is the most natural course of action in asserting and claiming one’s right. These thoughts were rapidly racing through my brain as I was asking my father -how else do I deal with fools who are not capable of a dignified reasonable conversation? I have come to believe that it is the rhetoric that triumphs before the truth can. And it is common sense to give back. It is a fact well known to all of us. Just to illustrate, (and also for fun) let me list down some verses from our popular culture. Please excuse the toxic masculinity in it and focus on the indignant confrontational spirit:

10. Aaj fir jeene ki tamanna hai, aaj fir marne ka iraada hai     

9. Aa dekhe zara, kisme kitna hai dum, jam ke rakhna kadam, mere saathiya

8. Hai agar dushman zamaana gum nahi…koi aye hum kisi se kam nahi

7. Duniya mane bura to goli maro, dar ke jeena hai koi jeena yaaro, yaro pe sada jaa karo fida, dushman ko yeh bata do dushmani hai kya

6. Zingai har kadam, ik nayi jung hai

5. Hum bhi hai josh me, bate kar hosh me, yu na ankhein dikha…kya bola fir bol re

4. Dham dham dhadam dhadaiyya re sabse badhe ladhaiyaa re Omkara

3. Kehke lunga, teri kehke lunga

2. Hum pahila dhakka nahi mare, ham pahila chaata nahi jade…..haatapayi haatapayi…khwoob kutayi zor kutayi

And finally,

1. Ik sar wale raavana, dus sar tu aaj utha, iklauta sher hai na tu, aa apna van bacha

One honourable mention of an English pop song category must be designed just to accommodate: show me how funky, strong is your fight, it doesn’t matter who’s wrong or right just beat it!!

Now if a charge of machismo against me is inevitable, I must cite only two examples as my source of this confrontational spirit and these are also the categories usually exploited by machos to abuse the other: mother and sister. Well, both these ladies in my family are much tougher human beings than my Grandpa or my Pa, or the timidest of the lot- me. Ours is a violent neighbourhood and usually when a brawl breaks out, the mothers of the hood go out looking for their sons while I kid you not, I am compelled to go look for my mother and bring her back home. I have heard stories of how she literally fought back to back with my rowdy-mama (her brother) against a bunch of wannabe rowdies.

She quite often gets herself into trouble and the last time I heard, she got her head broken and had to get some stitches (don’t ask what happened to the enemy). She is hitting her fifty, and still juggling between running vadapaav thelas and organising party-workers and defeating the MLA’s candidates and so on. She used to be a religious lady once upon a time but was exposed to western civilization as she spent four years in Spain working as a housemaid, earning and saving money for our education. When she came back, she disposed all the nuisance of god-idols and was politicised by the inspiration of Savitrimai. And my sister, oh she is love. I will only mention that she scared the shit out of the toughest guy in the house, Grandpa, as she almost landed a plastic chair on his head once. That was a revolt against patriarchal conservatism in the family and the tension was later successfully reconciled. Now there is more love than ever before. So we are not just a family. We are a family of panthers. Roooooaaaaars.

This is the lived reality of almost all the self-respecting families in the neighbourhood, in the community. A Zhopadpatti exists in a realm which political theorists hypothesize as The State of Nature. Ours is not a special case at all. It is just how real, alive people of flesh and blood are. When I saw Toofani in the very first scene in Kaala, I was like- where were you all this while? You are the first depiction of the real women I have grown amidst. Why was I bombarded with Simrans and Poojas and Anjalis. None of the women I have loved is any bit like these. They are simple, they are strong and they know how to love. While I am writing this post, I am sitting under an overbridge neighbouring uptown Ahmedabad, where an old man, who resembles very much my maternal grandfather makes spicey anda burji. This is quite a shady and also filthy place. Again I feel a sense of belonging.

The filth reminds me of Bombay- the city that taught me how to make love. That was needless to mention but I am just nostalgic and this is stream of thought. While I am just feeling a lot of love for the women in my life, let me also promise someone that I shall see you soon Marine Drive. When we meet, let’s talk about Gaurimayi’s kiss kiss, bang bang. Were you not a vegetarian I would have packed this anda bhurji for you. Anyways, the point was the confrontational spirit and I know for sure my father will understand. And I am sure my mother will disagree. Although she herself is an amazon, she has raised me up overprotected. I don’t know if that is good or bad. Just as I oscillate between extreme political empathy and extreme political apathy. Between two charming images of hothead political star Jignesh Mevani and pothead rockstar Jim Morrison.

Just as I don’t know- violence or not? And why would one resort to violence if one does not have a strong body. I am physically weak and smoking a dozen a day has done its damage. Now I have inspired a strong will, thanks to some friends, that I am sure I won’t take a drag this year at least. But I am slightly underconfident when it comes to the praxis, to the real time drama, where I am pitted against a few gym going douchebags. Of course I am not a Karikaalan and perhaps, at the end of the day I will be more physically damaged (perhaps writing this is meant to compensate for all the punches I cannot land) but a promise I make to all the cigarettes I have smoked that I will strike at least two meaty blows and will either take a jaw or break a nose. For another Karikaalan in another continent in another era had enlightened us to do it ‘by any means necessary’.

I’m thinking how would a Gautama react to this position. What is the madhyam marga here? Or shall we apply Hegelian dialectics.  Right now I am doing good enough in life and have great plans for myself including writing a Marathi song parallel to Lennon’s working class hero. In a couple of years I can possibly fuck off from Ram Rajya to a more reasonable country, get a good education and come back only to fight back the oppressors with more strength and rigour. Should I even engage with such worthless enemies? Or should I just let the schism take care of itself. There are only two ways: Either cut them loose, or confront them.

But my confrontation cannot be labelled as violence for there is a fundamental difference between resistance from the oppressed and violence by the oppressors. I choose to confront them; for the sake of my politics, my ideology, and my education. It is my idea of self-hood, my identity which has been questioned and which ought to be defended. It is not my corporeal self, but the value system I have come to embody. It is my history and for its sake, I shall appear. Brace yourselves folks and put on the rain-fight BGM.

Jai Bhim.

~~~

 

Prateek Khobragade is a post-graduate student from IIT-Gandhinagar and currently works at CEPT University, Ahmedabad.

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