04 Mar 2019 21:40 IST

About anger and mixed up emotions

Just because history repeats itself, should we do nothing about what is palpably unfair and unjust?

Aeons ago, I enrolled for a course in mass communication in a college in Bombay. As a non-resident of that city, and with the number of seats in the college hostel being limited, I had to look elsewhere for accommodation. Through the friend of a friend of a friend I was introduced to University Settlement, a general hostel for women, in Bombay Central, close to the Maratha Mandir cinema theatre. My mother and I waited in the corridor to meet the hostel warden. Eventually she arrived, conferring with various people along the way, and walked past us. We sat, waiting for her to be free to talk to us.

Suddenly, she retraced her steps, stood in front of us, and started berating me. For a few seconds I didn’t know what was happening. Then, slowly, I began to piece together what her diatribe was all about. She was angry because I hadn’t stood up when she had walked past. She called me rude and uncouth and undeserving of her attention. At which point I’m afraid I became rude and uncouth and confirmed to her in so many words that not only was she undeserving of attention, she was undeserving of respect too because I had simply been waiting politely and quietly for her to finish her business before raising with her the question of my admission to University Settlement. That literally took the words out of her mouth. She walked away, and went into her room. In a little while, we were summoned and I was given admission to the hostel.

Losing one’s cool, and the consequences

But as we waited — I was sure I was going to be turned away unceremoniously although I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what I had done to deserve such a verbal lashing — my mother, a bit of a spitfire herself, turned to me with a pleased look and said, “I thought you would never get angry. Finally.”

Frankly, I had surprised myself too. Up until then, I had never lost my temper more, possibly, for not having had the guts to do so, nor the appropriate vocabulary. Sometimes, too, I was just plain scared. What if my friend doesn’t like me any more after that? What if the relationship breaks down? What if it ruins the chances altogether? What if there is retaliation? What if I get into trouble? So many what ifs? In fact, I had always admired people who could speak their minds regardless of the consequences, particularly if they were unconcerned about the possibility of losing a friendship or affection.

Artist Chandralekha always comes to mind in this context, and I know I have spoken about her in these columns. She always said a sense of indignation was crucial to our world view. She didn’t say anger, she said indignation: she was making a fine and important distinction. Anger can make you lose sight: of logic, of good sense, of the issue itself, and the solution. Indignation, however, helps shine a light and can illumine a path to answers. Indignation has the power to raise questions, counter indifference, defy injustice and find solutions.

Room for dialogue

This rumination over anger and indignation comes in the wake of the recent wave of powerful emotions that have been whipped up following the attack by Jaish-e-Muhammad terrorists on a convoy of CRPF personnel that led to India launching an attack on JeM holdouts in Balakot in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. As with everything in life, one thing led to another, resulting in dangerous sabre-rattling. For political and other reasons a truce appears to have been called. It no doubt helped that Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman conducted himself in the best traditions of a disciplined air force officer, and everyone in India is hugely relieved that he is back home safe and sound.

Still, when all the noise dies down even if the acrimony doesn’t, and we reflect with cool heads, what did scoring firing points achieve for us as a people and for the neighbourhood? Was there absolutely no room for dialogue? True, people say one thing and do something entirely different. Still, isn’t talking always the first and best option? History has shown that nothing lasts forever. It has also shown that the wheel gets invented over and over again. A peace treaty will last so long as it is violated, or the ceasefire is broken. But attack is never the best form of defence, not when lives are involved, not when there’s so much collateral damage.

Will the Kashmir problem ever get resolved? Not likely. But that doesn’t mean you don’t keep trying, you don’t keep talking. Will the cauldron simmering in the eastern region of India ever cool off? Never, so long as we view each other as belonging and not belonging and we know that at different times in history different people will be considered to belong and not to belong. Will the Dalai Lama and his people ever be able to move out of Dharamsala and reclaim their homes in Tibet? Not in our lifetime, that’s for sure. Sometimes, things move so far on that’s there’s no going back. Israel won a nation for its people, but it left the Palestinian people homeless. Myanmar wants the Rohingyas out, but neither Bangladesh nor India have the heart or the will or the possibility of embracing them. In fact, the Rohingyas themselves don’t want to go anywhere, they want to remain at home. Meanwhile, their young are filled with frustration and despair as they stand before a hopeless future staring them in the face.

Indifference to brutality

But can we turn our backs to the sufferings of fellow human beings simply because they recur time and again? No. We cannot stop being indignant. We cannot stop recognising injustice and fighting against it.

Talking about the little talked about situation prevailing in Shillong, Meghalaya, over the years, since the time it was the capital of a larger Assam, artist Mahua Sen in an article called ‘Chronicles of a Death Untold’ writes, “I have reached a position where what happened in Shillong is less important than how the world chose to ignore it. Eventually, brutality will always be outplayed only by one other thing — the indifference of others towards that brutality. As descendants of refugees are bound to ask, who owns the land more than whom, and why?”

I would like to ask: When there was nothing on this earth and life was only just beginning to take shape, who owned the land on which today I have built a home and am calling it mine, paperwork and all?