Monday, October 30, 2006


Writers against Terrorism
Protest against the attack on Lebanon
Petition online against X
March against Y

What happened to FOR?

When did we stop fighting FOR what we wanted? When did we become a people against War, not a world FOR Peace? While we were pushing FOR healthy workplaces, working FOR good marriages and sustainable relationships, FOR safety and freedom and independence, FOR respect and civil behaviour, FOR love and tolerance; while we thought standing FOR the good stuff would change the world, there was a growing group already in the driver’s seat swinging the AGAINST demolition ball to strike down the entire edifice.

It’s pretty successful, the demolition squad. The structures are crumbling; however, not always replaced by anything at all. Or perhaps by an ambiguity that allows for every freedom pretending to be encased in an assertive façade which means nothing, because it stands AGAINST much, but it seems to stand FOR nothing – it feels hollow inside. Like one of those movie studio lots. Leaving me to wonder, can we as an ‘instant’ generation raze foundations and immediately build a value-added world that includes our history and culture, the collective learnings of generations, some values forgotten, some strengths ignored?

Suddenly we’re so sure of what we don’t want. What do we want? Our larger society gets reflected in our vocabulary, our little groups, in our media, in our actions and our aspirations. The young ones protest with ‘no way’ and ‘whatever’, words that spell their take on life. But are we not searching for a way and some definitive?

An author wastes my active time telling me why he is against the way I work with authors. I don’t even work with him yet. A group I belong to is vocal about why they are against formats of critical feedback. Women I know are against the reactions they evoke in men. Employees are against employer practices. I could go on – the world is against the world at large. Besides ‘against’, other popular words are can’t, as in ‘they can’t do this to us’, won’t, as in ‘we won’t tolerate this’, (sounds a bit of a Bush-ism, but Bush-isms are only a reflection of a larger malaise); not, as in ‘the government/ school/ my parents/ my children are not doing what they should’. Why aren’t we thinking of what we Can do to make them do what they are not doing; what Will work in place of what is currently intolerable; how should we make them Do and say Yes to what is right and good and honourable and useful and joyous and progressive and free.

Sounds idealistic? It is. Didn’t we stand for ideals? The same ideals we seem to think will be preserved by fighting against something. The rights of any human being to be free and be treated with respect – women, men, children, marginalized members of society, victims of abuse in any form; the responsibility of communities to create opportunities for their members, the right to freedom and accepting the consequences of the way you treat those freedoms. We stand for core values associated with respect and perhaps, with respect, we need to find ways to fight FOR all these wherever they are trampled.

Before you get the wrong idea, yes, I realize that when we stand up against something, we are also standing up for the opposite. But standing against has often proved costly to human life – qualitatively and quantitatively – we have enough historical examples to suggest that. And we aren’t out to bring about the fall of a civilization and wait for the birth of a new one. We aren’t that patient a people. We really have to work with what we already have, don’t we? As we work we need to search for solutions to fill the holes, ways to change thinking, remedies to cure damage, because we have to build and not destroy, we need to cement together and not pull apart, to create change and not pulverize. Isn’t that why when Indians stood For the Right to Information it worked so well as a step towards accountability; whereas all our rants against corruption per se haven’t really gone anywhere?

Before you get the wrong idea, I do not intend to generalize. There are wonderful people everywhere fighting for life, and doing some remarkable work in many areas. But there are so many more ready to criticize any constructive work, that my mind space is filled with the negativity and the fight against life, as it is. And I want to like what fills my mind space.

(This was written in response to many recent protests, helplessness while trying to assist some support groups working in the field, and as an attempt to begin addressing some major issues – an address which will hopefully follow soon. – Anita V.)


At 11:04 AM, Blogger zigzackly said...

You rock.

At 8:15 PM, Blogger Batul said...

Anita, Yes, we can all do with more positivity in our lives. I start my mornings depressed, with an overdose of newspapers, and you've put a finger on the spot. I agree totally with you.

At 11:24 PM, Blogger John said...


This is good, I can only admire the reasoning of a very balanced mind, unlike mine, unfortunately. I wish I could have your understated style, which contrasts with my raving style. But my blog also labors on with my rants and raves, as usual.

Have you posted this on the board? I would like the wider audience to read this brilliant piece of writing, as always.

I may be coming to Delhi shortly for a final try for my two books. Do visit for an unedited version of the travel book I have written on Kerala, which I hope to sell.

Also, I am trying to hawk the novel to any willing publisher. Bahri hasn't yet responded. HC and Penguin seemed interested, but don't know.

Best wishes


At 6:15 PM, Blogger Suresh said...

Even though you've said, "Before you get the wrong idea, yes, I realize that when we stand up against something, we are also standing up for the opposite", I think it makes to sense to make it obvious in my response.

What we don't want more or less indicates what we want (ex: when we don't want inequality we want equality). Or even to take one of your own examples: There cannot be a society for peace unless it's against war (assuming that all wars are against peace). Isn't that an obvious logical correlation?

Each structure that is "demolished" need not be replaced with something. There are lots of values that need to be just crushed down, if not obliterated. The "demolition", several times, is an end in itself. The fact it stands against something is in itself a purpose that it serves and that's what it stands for (again, a simple logical correlation).

{{The young ones protest with ‘no way’ and ‘whatever’, words that spell their take on life. But are we not searching for a way and some definitive?}} - The young ones? Who are they? Is your take on them based on what you've assumed to be their take on life? Leaving aside the validity of the assumption or the epistemology that grounds it, their take or anyone's take on life is applicable only for the way they perceive life at that moment. The idea of "young ones" and their "take on life" are both transitory. Neither of them is definitive and so is the "search" that happens within those realms.

{{how should we make them Do and say Yes to what is right and good and honourable and useful and joyous and progressive and free.}} - Of all your assertions I find this one the most problematic. You're making judgments about the significance of certain values that are themselves highly subjective. What is "right"? "Right" for who? "Right" for what? The same goes to "good", "useful", "progress" and "free." It's the Maoist conception of revolution. It doesn't sound idealistic; it sounds judgmental; it sounds constrictive; it sounds dogmatic.

{{because we have to build and not destroy, we need to cement together and not pull apart, to create change and not pulverize.}} - There's no construction without destruction. When something takes a form some-other-thing loses it. Forgive me for dissecting your metaphor: cement doesn't just exist, you "pull apart" mountains, dig down earth, "pulverize" certain compounds and finally mix it all in varying proportions to get the final product.
Destruction and construction take place simultaneously. ‘What is what’ is subjective. There is no universality here.

{{Before you get the wrong idea, I do not intend to generalize.}} - What matters? Intention or action?

I agree with your concrete points, though few. It's your abstraction of ideas that I don't quite agree with, especially because the post is mostly abstract and in some areas, vague.

At 12:11 AM, Blogger scribe said...

Suresh – I’m glad you wrote in.
A lot of what you wrote is true and hence, as you've realized, I’ve had to qualify what I’m trying to say. And yes, that is what I mean when I say I realize that when we stand up against something, we are also standing up for the opposite. My issue is not really about wanting peace as opposed to not wanting war. My personal issue is about how the thought of wanting something positive / building something, lends to a positive attitude and productive creation. It may arise from a wish to destroy what exists and in its place create what you want. But unless you want to create the opposite, sometimes the wish to just destroy leads to voids and inactive anti-climaxes. Yes, there are lots of values that need to be dispensed with. But no, I don’t agree that you can survive as individuals or a community with nothing else in place. I work with young adults (counselling) and I work daily with the voids, the futilities, the destruction of what they don’t want, the craving to know what they want. It goes beyond what is usual to that stage of life, it goes beyond a phase, beyond a search. I’ve been a part of that phase or that search – all of us are throughout our lives. Right, joyous, progressive etc. can have completely individual interpretations or community interpretations – it doesn’t matter – this is not political. It is about replacing destruction with what is creation for YOU or your community or your society. No, destruction and construction do not always take place simultaneously. It’s a great theory and you will find natural parallels but I’ve lived too long to believe it exclusively. Destruction sometimes leaves vacuums and voids. Destruction sometimes is replaced by values that are again the type that need to be obliterated. And for that very reason, I wish we could change our thinking to FOR and not Against, however much the against lies inherent in the FOR itself.

Beyond that, the dissection of the metaphor of pulling apart to put together etc. is irrelevant. If you can catch the wee core of what I am trying to say, the rest is language! And the reason I say I do not intend to generalize is because beyond my limited experience, there is always a world that acts apart from my observation. That is something I have to continue to remember all my life. I deal in my writing only with what I face.


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