Yes. So? I don’t plead guilty to it. I am not guilty about it. The accusations have been piling up for many months now: I do not feel victimised and I am not looking for a shoulder to hold on to. This post is about me, so if you are not into me, you may skip it. But this is also about you. Betrayal was about you, the ones whose silences seek to coagulate in my bloodstream.

Before we get anywhere with this, let me tell you why I can take a stand.

There were emails, calls. It was an invitation to speak on a subject I have written about often. This wasn’t the first time. I don’t feel the need to flash it, especially since I mostly stay away, anyway. But today I will tell you because I am honestly fed up. I will tell you because those who want debates fall silent when it matters. I will tell you because when I talk about co-opting it means from anyone anywhere and the term itself can be broadly classified.

So when those emails came quite recently to be one of the speakers, and from people who are deeply involved and extremely respected, I paused. It did not surprise me, but unlike many people who would be glad to make the journey to another city in an all-paid-for trip, my instant reaction was: Why?

I called up a friend who is in, let us just say a security agency, but does not toe any line. “What would you do?” I asked him.

“Of course, I’d go and you should.”

“Where do they get the money from?”

“All NGOs are given some funds from government sources and then they have their well-wishers.”

“Who are the well-wishers?”

“They could be people who believe in this.”

“They already have speakers, so why call me the distance, and how will it add to anything?”

“I think your voice needs to be heard…”

“I write.”

“That is not enough. You need to understand that such visibility is important. It will be reported in the papers, and such things matter.”

Do they? How do my ‘ivory tower’ scribbles transform into an agent of change by just bellowing into a microphone? Although I believe strongly in the subject, I found it difficult to identify with the linearity of the proposed discussion, although this was the only way to highlight the issue.

I did not go.

I have too many questions. Where are the answers?

I share with you portions of email exchanges with two people; they encapsulate what has been said a good many times. The first is specific to a recent subject; the other is more general. I am omitting the praise that was in both of them.

From X

Note 1 (On the latest Binayak Sen piece):

Should we always be anti-establishment ? It makes one's job simpler, isn't it? You don't take any responsibility, you only criticise. I do not mean anybody in particular. I know you have taken sides, rationally, in just the previous article about Rahul Gandhi and Mayavati. But sometimes, when you are in the actor's seat.... What happens then ? (I am rather fond of that Hamlet character!)

What is wrong with Binayak accepting an advisory position with Planning Commission? I know that he is not guilty of the charges framed against him and I know how apathetic the system can be.

I know the various routes of co-option and allure of an easy life. Certainly I see the dangers ahead of this appointment. And I wholeheartedly endorse your view that there are innumerable tribals etc. who will not have access to such fame and international support. What should we do about them?

My reply:

I do not know Binayak Sen or anyone close to him to be able to comment. (The person is acquainted with people.)

I wonder if you have read my pieces in support of Binayak Sen, arguing the loopholes in the case. I still believe in that. However, one day his wife Ilina talks about seeking asylum in a "more liberal country". Next, she says nothing of the kind, they will stay here. She did not mention that she was misquoted. It was a change of stance, just like that. This bothers me.

I wish my current critique were read holistically. It is surprising that you say it is easy to be anti-establishment. Had the situation been different, we'd not have thought so. I keep talking about the anti-establishmentarian cliques that form their own System, with heroes in place.

Even though I dislike Modi, when there were murmurs about how the activist lobby tutored witnesses, I did want them to come clean. These standards apply to everyone. So, what does this mean…I am anti-anti-anti?

Meanwhile, the governments use such opportunities and we have people conveniently change their stands.

This is what is frightening. I do not think many people would have signed petitions had they known that a political party would jump in. And how many people are going to talk about this, anyway?

An actor is also a character. I like Hamlet, too, but where would he be without the ghosts?

Thank you for an engaging dialogue even if we disagree.

Note 2 (I am withholding personal references about people):

I know, Farzana. My response to your post was knee-jerk, and more on emotion than logic. Of course you are right (as usual!).

I was also bothered by Ilina's statements, contradicting her earlier stance.

Hamlet will be forever haunted by his ghosts, it seems.

Regards and best wishes,

P.S. I am sorry about that responsibility bit. Of course, for some of us action is synonymous with writing, exposing or highlighting issues we consider important. (Remember "Plebians rehearse the uprising" by Gunter Grass ?)

My reply:

Perhaps I am not right and just centred, even self-centred in the metaphysical sense?

It is curious but after I had written about the Anna Hazare campaign, a friend said, “This is the first time I have seen you so establishment!” What does one say to that? He understood what I was conveying, and here’s an important detail – he is part of the establishment, quite literally.

I am beginning to think that Hamlet is beyond ghosts and more about altered graveyards.

Incidentally, I do not resent intellectual engagement with the Sen case; it is the one-dimensional nature of it that makes me wonder about how crusty any counter position can get.

Talking of Gunter Grass, he also said, “Art is accusation, expression, passion. Art is a fight to the finish between black charcoal and white paper.”

What we get, alas, is black on black and white on white.

* * *

From Y:


I dont think I really understand half of what you write (and then I despair) but I love the way you write it. What you write FEELS right. My one, small, humble "criticism" (observation is a better word) is that...you're always protesting something...you come off as being very unsatisfied with everything around you. If that is your motivation to write thats fine...I just wish the dissatisfaction wasn't so...relentless? I would love to read your analysis on something that pleases you. I hope I havent offended you or made myself sound like a fool.

My reply:

Shukriya...even if some of it is a bit dense, it is mainly about feeling, whether right or wrong.

Yes, the latter is an important aspect of right, in my opinion. I am not offended by your remarks because I hear them often. I'd say I am not complacent. It does not mean those who do not come across this way are, but I take it to the next level. And, if I may say so, I have seen most of what I write at close quarters for long. My opinions are formed with this background and not as a 'seminarist'.

It always feels good to get feedback, so isn't this positivity?

* * *

Beyond notes:

So what is this negativity? Are not the things I write about/against negative, to begin with – anti-civility, anti-poor, anti-caste, anti-good sense? My motivation to write is not limited to expressing dissatisfaction; if that were the only reason I wrote, then why the poems, the musings, the sex, the other BS? I don’t even have a motive to write. I express and articulate and never claim to speak on behalf of anyone. It pleases me when I have written something that I feel about, that resonates within me.

There are dark corners, and I go there. It includes the dark corners of my own mind. If I go into a coal mine, it need not be to find a diamond or even coal but to look for the dried sweat of coalminers or to feel the soot in my hands, my mouth, my eyes. I am not Aesop’s Fables. Okay, even my poems are quite macabre, my doodles are just stuff I do when I am…angry? I don’t know. I am usually at peace with myself even when I am protesting. Maybe because I am not comatose. Maybe because when I shout from the mountains I am listening to the sound of the wind and not my own echo, forget other people’s echoes. Now you watch as they lie in wait for others to say something and then come out with their ‘original’ vision – a twist here, a twist there. Maybe after I have written one piece, I don’t lie back and watch the circus unfold, but follow up. Is this relentless? It is. Because every story that has more than one character is about many other stories.

I may be with one story, but what are those characters about – don’t they mean anything? Shall I just shut my senses? I have often said the real idealist is the cynic. If I am holding a thorn, it means I am darned well acquainted with flowers. Not the bottled essences and paper memories, but the ones that were still seeds and could well be nipped as buds.

“I shall speak of how melancholy and utopia preclude one another. How they fertilize one another... of the revulsion that follows one insight and precedes the next... of superabundance and surfeit. Of stasis in progress. And of myself, for whom melancholy and utopia are heads and tails of the same coin.”

- Gunter Grass

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