Thursday, August 20, 2015

In which she is forced out of her delicious (self-imposed) write-irement to show solidarity with what she saw at FTII

I simply haven't the nose for rain. Or anything else, come to think of it. Not since I broke it on someone's forehead 18 years ago, but that's another story for another time. Someone who does though, is my father. He can smell it from hours and miles away. And my friend Jyo, who is in Poona today, and scheduled to do a session at the FTII. Which is where I was yesterday. Now, I'll admit that's a shady segue. But it'll do.

There's probably nothing I can tell you about the ongoing strike (we're at day 70 today) that you haven't already heard. Depending on your political predilection and curation of news sources, it'll likely fit neatly into one of two possible sweeping narratives, one of which will paint the student protestors as lumpen elements who sit around smoking copious amounts of weed (which, just for the record, can never be a bad thing in and of itself), treating the strike as one long holiday, and not actually being invested in resolving this (non)issue which they've precipitated and forced onto themselves in so many ways. The other one, the one I find closest to that shape-shifting slipperiness which masquerades as the idea of 'truth', is the version where the government, in a continuation of its avowed agenda to rewrite the script that India will proceed to play a starring role in (even as it recasts the long shadow of history to better fit its tenor and give heft to its exercise in cultural engineering), fucked up. It fucked up badly when it appointed dimwitted pracharks whose only claim to the positions they were gifted was their connection to the people doing the gifting: no one can accuse this government of not being a generous friend, at any rate. The chairperson and new appointees to the FTII council are laughable additions to an institution which, tiny and resource-starved though it might well be, has continued to churn out some of our finest film and television practitioners. This is saying a lot.

But what draws me to FTII - I am a moth to its flame (because tired metaphor to banta hai) - is something quite else. The moral and intellectual legitimacy of their claim is one I can get behind. This is vital. This is a given. What isn't apriori, however, in this increasingly atomised space that is life in an institute of higher education in India today (I should know. I work in one, and have for several years now) is the curious spectacle of solidarity cutting across class, caste, gender, programme, student-faculty and other lines today. When FTII speaks, it speaks in one voice: there is heft in their message because they have managed to cobble together (at least ostensibly, to an outsider - which is what I am on their campus) a solidarity which is iterated and reiterated by the student body as a whole. Am I suggesting that this solidarity bespeaks some kind of a utopian experiment in true democracy? That every voice within this body is countenanced? I don't know the answer to this, but I would imagine it cannot possibly be. What every voice is, though, is heard. I sat with them all evening and late into last night, first hearing Satchith and Vikas, Ameya, Yashasvi and others bravely stand their ground in the charade that plays itself out on countless television channels relayed into millions of homes nationwide each evening: You might know this better as the News-Hour or a minor variation on this theme in terms of the presenter/channel telecasting it. Structurally, the shrillness and agenda-setting at work in each and every last one of these programmes is the same. The same. You heard it here first, because the nation wanted to know. You're welcome. This, I should add, was after five of these guys had spent the night at the Deccan Gymkhana Police Station where they were being held, and a tortuous afternoon in court (where they were joined by the rest of the students named in that scam of an FIR lodged against them by their Director, who alleged they "gheraoed" ['surrounded' just doesn't ring with the same sinister intent, nahi?] and "tortured" him, thus making a mockery of what torture actually is, and those who have had to deal with its myriad functionings, all in one fell swoop. He sounds like quite the dude.) I digress. Anywho, the strikers went on air, tired, hungry, most of them without having slept in over 24-hours, and all this, to be shouted down between the ludicrous rantings of the BJP and Congress (and AAP! I mean, whatthewhythehowtheFUCK did that happen?) spokespersons, who insisted on playing their tired blame-games - when they weren't grand-standing - and basically diverting from every real issue at hand. The students reacted...passionately. They appeared cornered at times - they were - and they were angry. Angry at what they'd had to go through, angry because the institution charged with their well-being had turned on them so violently and virulently. This came through last night.

However, when it was all over, and they regrouped under that glorious space they call the Wisdom Tree (everyone everywhere needs to come and experience this space to understand why the FTII-folk feel about it the way they do), we proceeded to speak about modes of protest: this was why I was ostensibly there, after all, but more on this in a minute. When Satchith and Yashasvi were in Ahmedabad a couple of weeks ago, on a little tour of educational institutions to engage students everywhere on why the battle for FTII matters, they came to see us on our campus. They told us that solidarity with who they are and what they do can take many forms: musicians, artists, academics - everyone was welcome to come see the students and engage with them in any form they saw fit. I teach. It is a huge part of who I am - not just what I do - so I offered to come and talk to them about Gandhi and protests: if ever there was anyone who understood that to protest is to inform, entertain, engage and generate a spectacle simultaneously, it's our man G. It made sense to go give them an account of his 'best practices' to show that history is never 'finished' or accomplished: it lives and breathes in our midst and informs our present each moment. It was one of four 'engagements' with architects, musicians and academics they'd lined up yesterday, in a bid to "retrace freedom" as an overarching theme. The arrests and midnight crack-down on Tuesday and into Wednesday put paid to those plans. Or so I thought. I went to Poona anyway, to see for myself what the mood on campus was; to try and make sense of what the 'student-body' - that mythically united beast - made of the present moment, given their 'leaders' were in custody. Bapu and the marchers always had a plan B and a second (and third and fiftieth) rank and file, because movements need to be bigger than the protagonists they throw up to lead them. Thankfully though, the boys got bail, and by late-evening, the Wisdom Tree was abuzz with activity. It was, not to put too fine a point on it, electric. There were tears - just the wearniness and sobering reality of having lived *that* day, I suppose - from some quarters, hushed gently by other students going up to hug and hold - just hold - anyone who needed it. There was rage, while the television hosts relentlessly parroted their lines for the evening, their minds made up long before the students had said a word. But there was also laughter: we were live-streaming Arnab's shout-fest, and it was all we could do to not snigger and shout so loudly that they'd pick up the "halla" on Satchith and Vikas's microphones! There was tiredness, and much, much chai. There were cigarettes and protest songs galore. And then, late into the night, the students decided there might as well be some Gandhi as well. So we sat under the Wisdom Tree and we spoke of movements and marches and symbols which could rally masses and how protests were (and can be) nurtured and birthed. And it was glorious.

I then spent the night at Vijaya's place - we continued talking about the non-negotiable articles of faith for democracy to exist, how public movements cannot "wait" until what they need comes to pass before becoming gender equal, how movements need in-built mechanisms for the voicing of dissent, and the like: things that can only come of a mind and heart as wonderful as Vijaya's.

I've promised them I'll be back. I hope it's under a shinier, more auspicious star.
Tonight, and every night in the meantime, I'm going to think about how I can show solidarity with one of the most singular movements I've seen up close. Last night we spoke about the need to engage Poona. Then, the country. It is a moment that comes but rarely, and my friends, it is here. Halla bol, for FTII - coalesced here is everything we fight against. But also, in what these students are cobbling together each day, is everything we must fight for. So much more powerful, non? 

1 comment:

junias bhagat said...

this was hard for me to understand... though i enjoy... with help of google ...

i can learn lot of english from you...