Saturday, January 26, 2013

Just let me be

On every republic day, the government of India comes out with a list of honors.

For many years, no one has been awarded India's highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna (The jewel of India). However, just down a notch, and a couple of more notches, there are plenty of awards to go around. Known as the Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan, and Padma Sri, these awards make up the "next level" of recognition in the eyes of the Indian government. Since all three have the Sanskrit word "padma" (lotus) in them, I like to think of the recipients of these awards as the lotus eaters of India, but that is a completely different discussion to have, on perhaps, another day.

Like it happens every year, some people did not like the fact that they did not get the award, and some, thought that they deserved a better award. The nicest thing about awards, is that you can make people fight over them. Perhaps that is why, governments like to give them out.

And every single year, I wait for someone to take the high moral ground and decline the award, making a statement such as, "I don't  deserve it", or, "There are better people than me, who deserve this award", or  even better still, "The very idea of an award is wrong, so, please do take it back, will you?"

In fact, a few years ago, when the Nobel committee sprung a surprise by awarding Mr. Barack Obama the Nobel peace prize, I had hoped that Mr. Obama would decline the prize with a "Thanks, but no thanks" statement. No one, including Mr. Obama, had a clue about why he deserved the prize more than a lot of others out there. And no one understood why Mr. Obama decided to just keep it.

Every time these awards are handed out, I think of  the greatest existentialist philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre. Monsieur Sartre, as far as I know, was the only person in the history of the Nobel prize in literature to decline it, with the simple explanation that "a writer should not allow himself to be turned into an institution."  I keep wondering how many others were out there,  in the world of literature, who would have trampled over M. Sartre, to see if the prize could instead be awarded to them.

And that, brings me to India's largest literary slug-fest. Of, for and by the people, who write with both ends of their pens -- words -- which seem to come out of both ends of their alimentary canals. The Jaipur literary festival is underway again, and that, primary means that no one has shut them down yet, or, that they have once again managed to attract a large force of gullible "litterateurs". Perhaps both.

A certain sociologist known as Mr. Nandi, who otherwise seems to be a very balanced thinker on late night television shows has become the latest victim to the foot and mouth disease that seems to be plaguing India. He apparently made a remark about corruption and certain castes in India which was apparently taken out of context and given an apparent political twist by the people in power, who thrive on such things, apparently. Yes, I know, I shouldn't be using the word "apparent" so many times in a single sentence, specially, when the great Jaipur literary festival is in session.

But apparently, people can now take me to court for speaking my mind in the democratic republic of India, specially, on republic day.  A day, on which, the constitution which guarantees us freedom of speech, is celebrated with a parade of guns, tanks and missiles, which can protect that fundamental of all rights, that I have come to cherish. Apparently.

Sartre comes to mind, once again. For the simple existential approach to the philosophy of life that he and others tried to put forth. An approach, which among other things, said, "Just let me be, please?"

It seems that in this sixty-third year of the republic, when we keep fighting over awards and words taken out of context, or not, we should perhaps do the best thing that republics and democracies are famous for. Let us leave people alone, and they will figure out the things that really matter to them. And, to the rest of us.


  1. Nice one Sir.
    While on Sartre, i am reminded about his essay on collaborators where he describes them as people who have turned so docile that they have even given up attempting to change things that ought to be changed.What IS is good enough, while what OUGHT to be is no longer worth the pursuit,,,,

    Ashis Nandy, i am afraid, just ended up blowing the mask of pseudo-ness from right off the collective visage of so called intellectuals and liberals. Such bankruptcy of thought, and such corrupt intellect - to think that someone like him could rationalize corruption [an "equalizing force"], was almost like a punch in the gut.And then the vultures moved in,,,,as vultures are conditioned to. Dalit vultures, political vultures, neo-liberal vultures, media vultures,,,a whole lotta whorin going around, if i may say so.

    I leave you with the exact quotes from Sartre: "a docile attitude towards a future one has stopped trying to shape" and an inability to undertake something "in accordance with principles" and "undertaking without hope and persevering without success"

    p.s: found my way here thru a comment u posted on Firstpost, where i blog once in a while, and comment frequently, with gay, free-spirited abandon. Nothing and no one is sacrosanct - if something or someone needs to be tonked, well, it needs to be tonked. Including myself :)

  2. Well said, Mr. Shining Path!

    Your pseudonym reminded me of Alberto Fujimori for some strange reason, and the fact that he eventually had to flee to his country of "origin". I have a strange premonition that we are going to see something similar here, very soon.