Of the mad man & the flag that shattered many dreams
“While our townsfolk were trying to come to terms with their sudden isolation, the plague was posting sentries at the gates and turning away ships bound for Oran… From that day onwards one had the impression that all cars were moving in circles.”
~ The Plague, Albert Camus
Image: Albert Camus
When Dr. Rieux was bathing in the moonlight, and the hot sultry Oran depressingly breathed a sigh for the cruel heaps of death to pile up the next day on its streets, he realized that ‘a loveless world is a dead world’; that to understand from the core of our being, its essence is not to be forgotten, its essence is not to be cursed, or humiliated. Dr. Rieux, through his intricate records and with the help of Tarrou, realized how we are there, right there, in that moment of distilled suffering, doubtful joy, repressed laughs; in all our entirety, every moment of our lives, as vehemently distinct individuals parallelly running with the entire honeycomb of human imagination, from the painting of AltaMira to the Wright Brother’s Age of Reason to the equation of the atom bomb.
Yet, the zenith of human imagination has also made room for violent desires to harbour. Imaginations of snatching freedom away, cruelly evicting thought from language, changing its form, rewriting it, and by extension rewriting history; engines running with hands of men stuck between the spokes. But, the engine must run, mustn’t it? To what end? To what end, you ask? The engines must run, the whips must whip, the guns must gun! And the engines ran. Everyday. The flesh of the yesternight and the stench of the nails that are just beginning to rot; the person with a missing finger is told he lost his finger in an accident. But, even after years, when the pain did not die down, but the man did, it all came back to him. Yes! The machines ran that night…
There is a very thin line between remembering and replacing memories. With the mastery of the master’s language, this thin line can be erased over the centuries. Erased till the man would doubt his memory even at the exact moment when his fingers are getting cut because remembering often forces us to seek out new languages, the ones that were buried under the tectonic shifts of regime changes. Yet, just like the plants of the Mesozoic Era, these languages seeded deep into the belly of the unconscious, continued to show themselves in raptures, in madness, in civilization. In resistance.
Yes, the language of empathy is the language of resistance.
The language of empathy is the coal that has washed itself through the terrifying and phenomenal events of nature and presented to us its beauty. It is said that the first few instances of human civilization can be found in empathy. A broken femur that was healed. But why are we talking about Camus, human imagination, allusions to the capitalist society, language of resistance, and how it seeps into the unconscious?
Perhaps, because all of them are coming together to haunt us in our respective periods of sleep, or waking sleep. Perhaps, because all these words echo the somber tale of the desire to belong somewhere met with ripped off dreams, torn up nations, and broken tongues. Perhaps, the very act of belonging demands respect and a peaceful acknowledgement of the narrative of existence, emanating from history as experienced by an individual or a collective. And this is exactly where all the concepts of the first few paragraphs may intersect to ask the conglomeration of state machineries (not to be read as political parties) within and outside the nation: ‘Where do we belong?’
Do we exist for the state, or does the state exist for us?
Before we move on to the usual tropes of such discussions, and while you are still interested, I would want to ascertain a serious point here which a diseased and numb population has not taken into account properly. I too am a part of this diseased population, and in no way I mean to subtract myself from it. We are blinded by a semblance of choice. Semblance is the operating word here.
Our blindness is numbing and terrifying, much like our silence. But when the world is boiled down to a cacophony of symbols, it becomes a monochrome world of classifying 'differences' as 'sins' and walking the miles of the beautiful world planning to cannon it all down.
Image: New Delhi on Republic Day
Yet, at the dawn of the Republic Day of 2021, the tillers of the land championed the symbol of hope and placed it high, high, high above, where the highest and most splendid of the nationalist flags couldn’t reach! To what end? To what end, you ask? To the end of the largest roar that drowned the whole world.
Beauty exists even if we fail to appreciate it. For the flag that was hoisted rippled in the beauty of the hearts that beat under it, and vehemently opposed the verbose narrative of the purification of history by the Brahmanical historiography. Would we be made to believe that it is an act of terrorism, pronouncing the silent question in our minds that strikes almost instantaneously would mean treason too? But, we were made to believe so! However, the irony persists because if planting a flag amounts to terrorism, the inspiring picture in our minds is terrifying, isn’t it? Where do we belong then? Where do we belong if not in the molten lava emanating from establishing our existence? Where do we exist if not in the fires of the burning tyres too tired to roll but cannot stop? Where do we exist if not in the freedom of our scream of all those deeply buried ancient symbols that echo the hiraeth?
Yes, the farmers showed the entire world that day. We belong in our dreams, we belong in translating them to reality, we belong in meeting the eye of the oppression that chained our freedom and called accepting the reins, ‘Independence’. It hid the murky barbed wires beyond which there was a desert without an oasis, and had millions of people crossing imaginary borders in lands riddled with mines. On 26th January 2021, when the world was reeling with a pandemic, the farmers demonstrated that given a chance a union will survive the challenges of the times, and that life with all its weight of burning symbols means so much more than the fear of death. For death is the removal of the veil of language and embracing the real, and life too means embracing the real, but while breathing through the symbolic twists of language. Let the two meet within the natural course of our existence, devoid of the virulent urge of men to prove a point.
On 26th January, the hotly contested debate, which had been carefully silenced and glamorously ignored by the shrieks and bugle of the army that fought in the Siachen, refused to accept the burden of silence any longer.
Hinduism, in all its forms, had been met that day with an alternative: a leap of faith presented against the elaborate universe of the division of caste.
And that is what rattled the powers that be! Because it was established by our very own farmers whose fight for existence has been going on through the drudgeries of forgotten histories, through the drowning sounds of the corporate sharks who had marched their lands for centuries, the shadows of the vultures looking at their next pray as one tiller dies of debt, and the other tiller died of thirst, while yet another died because he was denied water.
Water has caste in these lands and like impenetrable sheets of iron that separate classes apart, water too can be categorized, consolidated, and legalized when held by the mighty shackles of ancient fear, the fear of godlessness.
Farmers, distilled through time, their very survival becoming an act of rebellion, marching the streets of the cities built on the labour of their forefathers, challenged the dominant narrative of division with every step they took!
Perhaps, Manto would have rejoiced and so would Toba Tek Singh, the man who kept standing for 15 long years; a mad man stuck in an asylum stuck in an ever-present doubt about the location of his asylum. Was it in India or in Pakistan? When did the land get divided in the first place? Toba could barely remember. But, as the sun continued to burn and the stars resumed their collisions, he ran one day. To what end? To what end, you ask? To his death. Close to the border, the asylum stood with blinding indifference and witnessed the death of a man slowly getting absorbed in the eternal confusion of belonging.
Image: Sa'adat Hasan Manto
Had Manto lived to see 2021, he would have rejoiced exactly the way he did when he granted redemption to Toba by killing him in the final few words of the earth-shattering story!
Toba ran and died on the no man’s land, the cratered and broken lines that differentiated India and Pakistan, which is also the only piece of land that retained its originality amid the barbed wires of imaginary divisions and invented freedoms.
The no man’s land was all that remained.
The no man’s land was all that was free!
Toba died and, over seventy years later, his madness, his patience, and his forgetful longing have fused into an energy that sublimates and nullifies the carefully structured narrative of the oppressor. Manto would have rejoiced because by killing Toba he had found the mirth of heaven, that cluster of the land of freedom between the barbed wires.
Manto realized that the enormous wound that has been mechanized with so much plan and ferocity can only be met by something as warm as remembering, as gentle as a violent tempest, and as shattering as the first kiss!
Remembering is healing, and by Toba dying on that patch of land where no man goes, Manto remembered.
And so did the farmers who walked that day and held the flag and established their existence!
It is through remembering that we can come to collectively denounce the histories forced down our throats to manufacture consent. It is only through remembering that you will be convinced to throw the stone at the army personnel, because with remembering also comes the void of suffering. Because with remembering also comes the memories of the times when you had the wind in your hands. Because, with remembering, you know you have to pick up the gun in one hand, and the pen in the other, and that very shrewd men pit the two against each other. Because, with remembering, you realize you are remembering because you love. With remembering, you recall the warmth of the times you ran naked through the fields of passion, and the woman beside you trusted you blindly. With remembering, you will also break down, and learn to accept yourself.
And with remembering, you will embrace the world that seeds in your dreams, and then maybe, just maybe, you will hit the stone with the mightiest swing, because that stone IS freedom! The stone IS the world beyond.
And that flag is the history that this freedom narrated! Long live revolution! ‘A loveless world is a dead world.’
This Night Owl Original has been authored by Bishwadeep Mitra. A content writer from Kolkata, Bishwadeep holds a Masters in Film Studies from Jadavpur University. Yet to find out why he exists, his passion lies in researching the unknown historiographies and unique perspectives of looking at the events of the past that continue to shape the events of the present.