Rabbi Shergill Column: When the world was upright
"In a world that really has been turned on its head, truth is a moment of falsehood."
Has the world really been inverted? Was there ever an upright world? When exactly? Isn't an 'OK world' as fantastical as Plato's perfect sphere?
My answers to the above would've been utterly abstract had they been posed to me in the 90s, when the natural world had somehow been spared thanks to the hopelessness of our blue-collar worker and the constant breakdowns of the urban Indian crawl.
When you could just drive out of Chandigarh and be greeted by whimsical streams and dancing peacocks. When tales of a dog eating a leopard or a giant python floated in the various truckers' joints littered alongside the NHs.
When infinity was only an hour's drive away. When maidens threshed wheat stalks under the traffic's wheels outside Una on NH 503. A pretty young mother, an infant perched on her waist, cone on her head, would walk out of a Sobha Singh painting into your rear view mirror to scoop up the grains you just helped extricate.
But now the answer would have to be different. Now when that same stretch is lined with rows of irregular concrete horrors jostling shoulders to first-breast the NH. Which in turn is fringed by dug-up earth and debris strewn faithfully by the road construction crews as part of an ancient Indian ritual. Now my answer would be direct, unambiguous and shamelessly nostalgic: 'Yes. Yes. The 1990s.
I should explain: the 90s India was my unicorn, my perfect sphere, my shahtoosh shawl. Or hyperbolic thereabouts. Before you cast 'poverty prepossessed', 'grime gourmet' or 'affluence apologist' my way, let me explain.
Before the 90s, we didn't exist. During the 90s, we got the feeling that we were no longer the dregs of the world: our industry had coughed out Maruti, a massive improvement over HM, Padmini Motors; Tata was making an international-looking Sierra, NIIT was opening doors to Uncle Sam; our passports got thrown with much less malevolence around the world's immigration departments; the whole world seemed to mock our accents a little less; although we were hopeless in most sports, in cricket we had Azharuddin--dazzling every now and then but nervous as hell. In hindsight, he defined us.
And then, a certain Sachin Tendulkar too had made his advent and together when they were on song ...
God! They made fools out of demons and parrying dragon-fire look easy as punch. That stand in the second test in Cape Town, 1997 is exactly what schoolboys’ wet dreams are made up of.
It was a time when the world hadn't gotten to us fully. When conformity hadn't totally swallowed the spirit. When native India, like the prickly brush in vacant plots in Delhi colonies, somehow survived the onslaught of globalisation . It was a time when we suddenly knew all we could have and all we'd have to give up for it. It was a Lakshman Rekha. A plot point.
Ever since, the world's been on a complexity overdrive. A vice has gripped and squeezed it. Contradictions, multiple moral axes, blurred lines abound. And there's no one you can turn to for advice. The older generation has little experience with the scale of ramifications of present choices. Between Constitution and tradition or prosperity and nature or individual and society or for that matter us and them, no one can help us.
How I miss daarji . My clockwork farmer father. My banyan tree. He didn't have an answer to my problems. He had silence.
His silent shade gave me the space to pluck out the answers that were blowing in the wind. Maybe I'm mistaken I caught any but at the very least I became aware of the case for empowerment of the 'I'.
The 'I', seems to me, is perhaps the processing of the sum total of information distilled from the immediate and larger world by the reasoning faculties. For informed decision making, trust in your sources is a must. It's the very foundation of the individual and the society. Take it away and you have nothing.
What is the 'I'? Not in the metaphysical or ontological sense but in a purely cognitive one. The 'I', seems to me, is perhaps the processing of the sum total of information distilled from the immediate and larger world by the reasoning faculties. For informed decision making, trust in your sources is a must. It's the very foundation of the individual and the society. Take it away and you have nothing. It is this very anthropic foundation that a shrill, profiteering media, a cabal of power/money hungry evil wizzes are out to destroy.
Where I have only my neural processes on my side they have a hundred satellites and legions of Godzilla anchors arrayed against me. How can I, a tiny organic entity match up to the might of this army of digital terminators? Freud was right. Global civilisation. Global neurosis.
There's no one giving me unbiased news. No one who doesn't want me to consume more. No one not selling me soaps, cars or Pepsi. No one not invested in hollowing out earth. No one outside 'their' aegis. Apparently, the sum total of human analytical ability has surrendered before the Federal Reserve Bank and its minions.
Money from an instrument of cooperation has become the instrument of control. If pure information and means to act on it are lost, human spirit can't survive much longer. If you can trust nothing. You can do nothing. Your life is nothing.
For God, our spirit and that of our kids', these banks will have to be challenged . Media and profit, media and complicity with corporates will have to be separated.
The only thing standing between our lobotomised selves and denouement is repressed guilt. Guilt is your friend. A messiah even. It's also built up a critical mass, and is bubbling under the surface. We just have to acknowledge it and it'll do the rest for us. There may yet be redemption. We'll have to find that last smidgen of strength, that last gasp of air , that ultimate shred of humanity to unplug ourselves.
We’ll have to do it for the species. For our souls.
Rabbi Shergill is a singer and music composer. The views expressed here are his own.