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