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Anna’s ‘Second Azadi Movement’ via Satyakam and Rang De Basanti

August 24, 2011

At first Anna reminded me of this very unreasonable, uncompromising, ‘dry honest’ (a delicious Indianism, I guess) character of Satyakam in the eponymous film created by Hrishikesh Mukherjee in the late Sixties. He is so pathologically and pathetically honest that he does not even borrow the chair from the office downstairs when his boss, Sanjeev Kumar visits him. Dharmendra climbs stairs to meet Sanjeev Kumar at his residence only after having finished his work.

Transposed in the current scenario, the equation would be something like this:

Sanjeev Kumar = any one of us; Anna = Dharmendra. Historically of course we know that only Gandhi could be Gandhi, and not even Nehru could ever aspire to that special position in the people’s hearts even while we remind ourselves that a whole mass of little (good, bad, ugly) Gandhis contributed to the making of the one and only, most famous, Gandhi.

The discourse on milaavaT and giravaT in this country is boring, and a dampener for any innovation, my friend Jeebesh Bagchi tells me, and I tend to agree, but what we both overlook is the deep roots of the critical moral reserves from which this discourse has continued to sustain and renew itself. Warren Hasting’s case is legendary, as is Premchand’s immortal story ‘Namak ka Daroga’ in Hindi-Urdu literature. Shrilal Shukla’s Raag Darbaari does not remain a bestseller to this day for nothing. Let us add Rang de Basanti to the list. I find the three different resolutions in these three ‘texts’, at three different points in time, across the three registers (legal/literary/ filmic: colonial/national/post-colonial) fascinating. Hastings had to face a long trial but he was finally acquitted (the debate on which acted as a cover on the larger scandal that empire itself was: Nocholas Dirks), the Daroga in the Premchand story is first dislodged and finally rewarded by the culprit himself, with a private job and a higher salary (Gandhian change of heart as well as private appropriation of a publicly trained officer), and Rang de Basanti’s lead characters are killed in a bone-chilling, ruthless spraying of bullets at  the hands of the ‘faceless’ state’s black cats, also because they try to take control of the media.
Corruption is the running theme, but of late India Gate has become the place where you go to light candles in an India-shaped protest map. The candles’ luminosity sparkles more than shining India. Of course India Gate (of Tikait-and Mayawati – and anti-Mandal rallies) been part of our imagination but we are talking about the post-Dil se, post-Rang de Basanti, and let us admit it, post-satellite television India Gate.

Coming back to Satyakam, we know that Dharmendra’s engineering college roommate Sanjeev Kumar, even though he was not as good a student as Dhim (both upper-caste, Hindu, we should assume), has climbed up in career because he is a pragmatist and Dharmendra is continually looking for jobs because he picks up fights with his employers the moment he sniffs something fishy. The story begins in 1947-48, when Sardar Patel is trying hard to integrate the 600-odd princely states into India and one such state is trying to beat time for extracting minerals before the Indian Government takes over its territory (Bellary!). Hired as an engineer and kept in the dark about the actual project, Dharmendra is flummoxed by the instructions to use tools for an underground survey and makes his displeasure known. He does not drink while all the villains do! Another crucial subtext is introduced by the character of Sharmila Tagore, an estate  retainee, who is raped and impregnated by the local prince. Dharmendra could have saved her, but he  prevaricates as he is a purist, afraid of the female body and perhaps because he feels duty-bound to marry a woman chosen by his Sanatani grandfather (Ashok Kumar).  Kalidas’ shlok  about the woman is related to us in Sanskrit, ‘no translations required’, to take an aside on linguistic discrimination as far as self-censorship goes, re: English and Hindi versions of Delhi Belly).

So when he finally goes out to save her, it is too late and out of guilt and a sense of justice he commits himself to marry her and in due course gives his name to the son from the violent union of the black night. But his life is tough, in fact unlivable and dependent on friends’ help. As Anna Hazare told everyone who are pretending to be ‘I am Anna’ at the Ramlila Ground, “I do not want you to become Anna. My life has been a long walk on the edges of the sword. These guys would have finished me off if there were an iota of blemish attached to me. (Jyon ki tyon dhar deeni chadariya: Kabir) I have lived a pure life, that is why I can challenge the might of the government. Do look after your life, family. All I want from you is a few hours of your life.” So, Anna is after all not such an absolutist as we thought he was. We the middle classes, happy with the middle paths, can sleep easy!

In Anna we have a middle ground between Dharmendra and Sanjeev Kumar. He is offering us a middle path, but he will go to the extremes. He wants us to walk the democratic, constitutional talk, while he is prepared to walk the last walk. Yet, Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Shekhar Gupta and others took so long to understand this. Let us not even talk about the third rate, arrogant Blackberry poets in the ministry, who believe they have conquered the Mahabharata by hoodwinking a certain Baba. Manish Tiwary said, I dare Anna to fight from Chandni Chowk. He forgot to tell us when was the incumbent MP going to resign. A constitutional requirement, I suppose. Or do they think they can bribe people and get away, like they did in Peepli Live?

Frankly, I am not surprised to find that even the big media is scared of irrelevance. No surprises either in a  Constitution swearing left being cast in stone, frozen in God-knows-what principles and time. But I do want to understand the distinction between the English and Hindi print media. Why is the Hindi media more with Anna? I seriously want to understand the difference between an Ashok Vajpeyi and a Pratap Bhanu Mehta.

I am scared too. Of the fate of the Rang de Basanti martyrs. Shehla has already been headlined, because she lived in an unsuspecting Bhopal while we can continue to feel safe in a media-covered democratic Delhi. Ramdev got scared and he became RanchhoR ji from history, even though we know he worked hard.  But there are so many other names: So many deaths at the RTI altar.

I am scared for my students who come back from a few years in civil services to tell me, it is so difficult to be honest, but we are trying. The issue is, are we going to create a space for people who want to be honest or are we going to stay focused on 9% growth rate, for which even corruption can be justified as necessary? The issue also is: do we feel any pangs of contradiction in calling ourselves a deeply democratic as well as a deeply corrupt country? What the hell is the relationship between corruption and inequality? And I am not sure if ‘it is the Dalits’ or women’s turn to be corrupt’ is a good answer.

And as Kejriwal said, it is not about Government alone, this movement is about us as well. Time to replay Satyakam to understand where we stand vis-a-vis the huge moral challenge posed by Anna. Time also to remember that it is the fallen woman who ultimately stands by the absolutist principles of Satyakam, simply because once he came down his high purist horse to rescue her. What a lovely name for a film – truth and desire rolled into one, but colliding with each other all the time: Imaan mujhe roke hai to, kheenche hai mujhe kufr….

Hopefully we will also have occasion to discuss whether Anna’s call of ‘Yeh azadi jhoothi hai’ rings as true now, to people who shouted this the first time.

P.S: Anna disarmingly revealed somewhere that he used to drink while in the army, he worked there for twelve years, after all!

7 Comments leave one →
  1. boseaniirban permalink
    August 24, 2011 3:19 PM

    अंतरावलोकन को प्रेरित करता आलेख

  2. August 24, 2011 5:35 PM

    Nice analogy i liked it , well written piece it was like a breath of fresh air in all the media circus and frenzy , your write up not towing the line from main media and stats truly kafila style , keep writing …..

  3. August 24, 2011 8:05 PM

    ‘The discourse on milaavaT and giravaT in this country is boring, and a dampener for any innovation, my friend Jeebesh Bagchi tells me, and I tend to agree, but what we both overlook is the deep roots of the critical moral reserves from which this discourse has continued to sustain and renew itself. ‘

    Deep rooted critical moral reserves? On the contrary, the examples from the 60’s you invoke flowed from a tradition of timid Babu satire- giving itself an sentimental alibi with the Puritanical older generation which still called the shots- and arising out of a servile literati’s ever increasing frustration, impotence and relative impoverishment.

    Once Bollywood managed to smuggle nihilistic Violence back on to its palette, by pretending that it’s ‘angry young man’ had something to do with the Young Turks and the 5 Point Program and so on, Dharmendra didn’t have to his love interest pre-raped by the bad guys. He could beat seven types of shit out of everybody and still give his sweet-heart a darn good seeing to on the honeymoon night.

    From Violence came Sex and from Sex- its glorification on the screen- came a new sort of Youth who could take pride in their libido. Vastly better economic opportunities for the young (at least a section of them) meant that something approaching a Youth Culture became a possibility. But, it also meant they had more to lose. Many could look forward to becoming property owners, not on retirement, but within a year or two of the commencement of their careers. Why bother burning buses while at College- unless you’re on a Party pay-roll and will get a petrol pump out of it- when, by studying a little, you could be owning your own car, your own flat, in a few years time?

    Rang de Basanti, like the self-indulgent Hazaron Khwaishien, were exercises in nostalgia for a vanished Campus culture.

    German Romanticism too was about impotence and frustration. You got your degree, couldn’t get a job, became a tutor to a Merchant’s family, fell in love with his daughter, she flirted with you but then married some fat slob in dry goods- what could you do? Go mad like Holderlin or become a prig like Hegel.

    You write- ‘The issue is, are we going to create a space for people who want to be honest or are we going to stay focused on 9% growth rate, for which even corruption can be justified as necessary?’. I fail to understand you. A space does exist where people can be honest. They can do software coding or work in B,P.O or teach or go into geriatric care. Kejriwal was an engineer from IIT. He CHOSE to go into the Revenue Service. He wasn’t creating any Wealth, merely redistributing with high ‘excess burden’.

    If the Janata Govt. hadn’t rescinded the Constitutional right to property what land-grabbing could occur?
    If a country’s laws and mores are just plain stupid and bad then, certainly, the struggle to be honest has that element of impredicativity which renders it an impossible and ironic project. But, India doesn’t have to have stupid laws and mores.
    The truth is, the real struggle in India is to be productive- for many, all too many, it has meant, if not immigration, then a sort of ‘acharabrashta’ loss of caste where by if a formerly unproductive person becomes productive, by cleaning toilets, tanning leather or(like the Butcher in the Vyadha Gita) providing meat or fish- he or she in fact is considered unclean.
    The problem is not brashtachar of the lackey but this lordly notion of ‘acharabhrashta.’

  4. sudeep permalink
    August 24, 2011 9:36 PM

    Ravikant, yatha naam, tataha karm. :-)

  5. prabhat permalink
    August 25, 2011 4:08 AM

    I felt that I am reading an article written by a person who is a part of an unapologetic middle class intelligentia and is ready for a critical self-introspection from the same vantage point only.
    A student of the author who is not into civil services!

  6. August 25, 2011 7:10 AM

    A friend wrote the follows after reading this article, “In 1969, the year Satyakam was released, my father almost got suspended from his job due to a corruption frame-up by a corrupt contractor who, pissed that my father impolitely refused bribes several times, forced some cash in my his hand and having pre-informed cops, got my father caught red-handed (the word red comes from the chemical that colours the fingers red if one has touched new notes). This happened in Bastar, the heartland of Maoists today.”

  7. sadan jha permalink
    August 29, 2011 5:26 PM

    liked the write up. I particularly loved, “Manish Tiwary said, I dare Anna to fight from Chandni Chowk. He forgot to tell us when was the incumbent MP going to resign”.

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