Wednesday, June 20, 2007

On Dissent

Pune, Maharashtra

"In India, the word 'public' is now a Hindi word. It means people. In Hindi, we have sarkar and public, the government and the people. Inbuilt in this use is the underlying assumption that the government is quite separate from the people. Even today, fifty-nine years on to the day, the truly vanquished still look upon the government as 'mai-baap', the parent and provider. The somewhat more radical, those who still have fire in their bellies, see it as 'chor', the thief, the snatcher away of all things."

I am a university student in Pune and I do English. There is very little for me here, in the din and hurly of dusty city life. Sometimes chance odd jobs come to me, in writing or reading and speaking, in moderation, and I let in. They are not much but they make me a quick buck. I used to think about the media here, and their glitzy tabloids. But the closer I got, the more trenchant the truth I found. They do not speak for us or write for us, or to us. They only pay loud, stentorian lip service to the elite, who lap it up like greedy men from their lackeys. It makes little use of me, armed with an English honours degree, to do much; it makes me the most useless member of society.

On most of these regular days, I love drinking tea and I love cycling. I'd bike to the cafeteria, and see what blends they have. My bedroom contains boxes and boxes of tea, and I am always happy to have new brews with which to concoct more original combos in my teapot. I am supposed to be preparing for my exams in the subject, but whatever happens I know I will skip them, go out on some pretext or other. I am too concerned with other things. Sometimes I take speed 'blues' - little blue tablets - to keep me awake, but they make me depressed, they make my skin shrivel up and I keep thinking I am going to have a concussion or something. So I usually sip spicy tea and listen to the player all night. I prefer the tuneless: Murdoc and the rest in Demon Days.

One night, chilly and in winter, the Enron factory went up in flames. It was apocalypse.

Mighty, white corporate America came crashing down on our little town; it was very strange in a way. They were so potent, so well off and we so poor. A wasted effort of retribution; but how wild and wanton it was. Nothing ever seemed the same again. The public struggle, though long and hard, was by no means magnificent.

The collared men retreated. But the local elite stepped easily and elegantly into the shoes of the corporate imperialists: a deeply impoverished, essentially feudal out-town, overnight became a modern, independent polis. The factory is now empty but now and again, they still come to collect taxes.

Nottingham, England - John Tween

'I love this bag more than I love The Clash', reads the pseudo-messy script on a young girl's satchel. She has no idea how deeply I was moved by this sentiment, by the contradiction inherent in the statement she was making. Those who truly feel that the movement was significant still hold 'Punk' and its ethos in high regard. The country's voice, as always, simply laughed it off, turning it into a pathetic fad as it burned out, its main protagonists eventually locked up or simply dejected, The Clash among them.

It is not even her fault that I am angered by this. In fact, a small part of me feels that I shouldn't be angry. If I was to confront her, she'd tell me that she liked the design, an honest enough conclusion. We're all bred in the same way round here, in the acceptance that to go against the grain is to immediately make oneself insignificant. To go against those that form the country's voice is futile.

The old town centre still stands the way it used to, but with recognizable plastic and glass brand names smashed into the bottom of the wonderful Victorian buildings. Those who once left for the suburbs have returned to the city centre, albeit five floors above any garbage that hits the ground. Those who venture into the centre that used to house a thriving marketplace, whether to shop or to socialize, are engulfed by logos and wonderful, bright, bold patterns.

Not so much the consumer, as the consumed.

And so we head to the brightest beacon in this gigantic high street and pack ourselves onto some form of transport for a break. Take a holiday, it costs just 6 months' wages, the slogans blatantly proclaim. But we always come back. We fear leaving these green and pleasant lands for too long, lest we be forgotten and pushed into insignificance. We all, like the girl who defiled punk, are bred to accept. Though in my mind I may see myself bringing down towers with no more than rage, even I will give in to the wasteful distractions of the world, accepting their frivolous nature and indulging myself in it.

Here, we could, but we don't.

The voice has always spoken to me. When I was young it escaped with ease in prank phone calls, small fires and soft drugs. The youth here escape when they feel insignificant. Then, gradually, social sensibilities overtake the senses. We are left as grey men, floating between our small, fifth-floor flats and our dull, still occupations in amongst the startlingly bold, beautiful colours of our city, where committees discuss ethos, ethics and alternative markets.

Not so much the sell-out, as the bought-out.

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