To what new tune my veena plays today,
To what a fleeting new rhythm …
As I woke up this morning, the Tagore song about the season of creation and fertility floated in from the park opposite our house. A group of about thirty men and women had gathered around a square arena in the park and were singing merrily. There were some more-than-competent singers in the group, it was wonderful choral music. The sparkling morning sun and the cool breeze of the spring seemed to have decided to join in, to lend their voice to the chorus.
The group had people ranging from seventeen to seventy years of age and most of them were wearing yellow t-shirts, kameez or saris. I thought some of the faces were familiar, I had often seen them walking round the lake in the park. But it was only a guess, I could hardly identify them as they were smeared with gulal. It’s Holi today.
But clearly, they did not belong to a group of close friends. They were strangers or near-strangers who had decided to come together in the spirit of the day. In the process, they created a bit of happiness and warmth and perhaps came a little closer to each other, besides exhibiting a fine grip on the best of the local cultural traditions. Does this small thing have any significance? Or should we think it was just “one of those things” and pass by?
Normally, the morning is a terrible time for me, and I guess for many others too. It is impossible not to open the newspaper, but all that you read in papers is reports of murders, rapes, robbery, frauds, and of course, monumental callousness, stealth, and inefficiency of our masters. There seems to be no escape, or is there?
Occasionally hope is rekindled when a fresh politician comes to power, when we think, okay, things have bottomed out, it can’t get worse. But future holds funny surprises; every new dispensation introduces us to new depths evil governance. The messiah of Dalits metamorphoses into a queen of arrogance. She constructs a shamelessly gaudy palace with her ill-gotten cash close to the hovel where she was born, although “her people” continue to live in the same hovels, surrounded by the same filth. One who comes to power with a promise to re-establish the rule of law quickly decides to crush laws and sheds all the trappings of decency for perceived political expediency. The learned men and women who fought against earlier misrule and showed us the way now show us they are really spineless creatures of clay. Their counterparts on the other side, who were silent when their political masters were killing people, suddenly find voice to protest against political murders now.
Even that is tolerable. Repeated instances of political and administrative mischiefs have blunted our sensitivity; we no longer react to political skulduggery. Much more grotesque is the change that is happening in the psyche of our people. Everyone for oneself, if I need to kill someone to achieve my goal, so be it. It is a fierce world where I have to survive and prosper, where everyone else is an enemy.
A little boy kills his teacher because she was strict. A failed lover kills his beloved’s father and the killer’s family accompanies him in the crime. A young mother is taken off a train and raped in open fields. The chief minister of the state says it was only a concocted story to malign her government. News means an endless procession of horror. Every passing day dims our optimism further. The situation in large parts of India today is worse than the rule of mafia in Conan Doyle's Valley of Fear. We are in a valley where common people are turning into Mafiosi.
The men and women who sang in front of my house this morning are swimming against the tide. They are trying to come together instead of drifting away, without an eye on anything material. They are trying to make the world a better place. Thank you all, you have rekindled my hope … yet again. You should make headlines in all the national dailies tomorrow.
Let there be a lot more colour around us. And in us. Wish you a wonderful Holi!
Kolkata, 8 March 2012