Saturday, September 20, 2008

Vande Mataram

“Please sign here, thank you,” said the jailor, visibly amused to see Ram signing the entry register in his jail. “By the way, what have you really come for? To plot another Naxalite strategy?” he remarked caustically, which was replied to by an iron stare by Ram, shutting his mouth and wiping his smile off effectively.

The havildar took the register out of hi hand, as another led the way for Ram, who had come to ___bad Jail for the first time. The prisons of this country are a legacy of the Raj that we had suffered under, which they ruefully demonstrate. The walls are dark and desolate, and they emanated a variety of odours which may incite an ordinary frail human being to throw up at its mere recall. There is no natural lighting in these jails, and for a garden or “green space”, they usually have a square meter sized patch that has some wild grass growing on it. But that’s another story unto itself, and of no concern to us.

Ram walked behind the havildar, who led him towards the “garden”, as he looked around to see people in their cells, appearing half dead. They were victims and criminals as well; criminals for their crime and victims of the slow and tortuous movement of the wheels of justice. And yet, there was very little that the administrators of this country saw. Their brethren would be somewhere in some of these jails, but living in cells that have been converted into five star hotel suites, what with the air conditioners and the refrigerators and filtered packaged water coming for them, even as the other ordinary criminals make do with the water mixed with sewage as drinking water. He sat down on a bench that had been “gifted” to the jail by an “eminent citizen of society”, as he waited in the bright sunshine under the shade of the only tree that covered this bench with his eyes closed, as he waited patiently for events to unfold out.

“So, you did come, after all. I was not expecting you to come at all, considering the manner in which you left us five years ago.”

Ram opened his eyes, as he realized the tone of sarcasm lacing the element of surprise filled in that voice. That voice was definitely him; it could not be anyone else.

“I had to Prasad. I was pleaded to by your agents to meet you here, in this jail, as you had something important to talk to me about,” spoke ram, even as remained seated, but saw Prasad walking from behind his back to in front of him. The policeman was asked to leave, who did so quietly, without making any noise, but with all eyes in them, were they really alone.

Prasad walked about in the green patch, and bent down to have a look at the flowers, which were at full bloom. “How are you, Ram?”

“I am fine, thank you. But did you call me here to exchange pleasantries with me,” said ram, who also sounded a bit irritated now.

“And what are you doing nowadays?”

“Helping the people of my country out, in the way that deems best to me, and especially those who need it the most,” spoke Ram, as he wagged his leg, and looked around the jail boundaries, to see a number of uniformed men and women moving around on duty, armed to the teeth. This is going to be a long affair, thought Ram, as he prepared himself for the upcoming mental onslaught.

“Help,” spoke Prasad, as he got up to come under the shade of the tree, even as he smiled, while taking a good look at Ram. “You’ve changed a lot, I must say, what with the glasses, and an even thinner body. Why, you look like one of those pseudo-intellectuals that keep barking on television on those hollow debates and talk shows.”

“But you have not changed even an iota,” remarked Ram, as he looked at Prasad, a crooked smile etching across his face at the same time. “Still look the same, though you have lost a bit of hair, I must add, and a lot darker too.”

“Running around in the sun does that to you,” replied Prasad, even as he now sat down on the bench, and watched Ram stand up, and lean against the tree, with his face directed away from him. “Age removes the hair, you know. It’s strange how much has happened in the last five years, isn’t it?”

Prasad took out a cigarette from his packet, and began to smoke, even as Ram kept on looking at him with a watchful eye. His hands had not changed one bit, neither had his entire physique, save for the hair, but he had changed a lot. He could read it in his tone, in his eyes, and everything that reveals a man’s personality and the effects of life upon it. There was a strange arrogance, an unknown rudeness that had permeated into his character, and Ram could not fathom why it was so. Yet, he was there, behaving as if the entire world was in his hands, with a conviction so strong it could not be shaken at all.

“So, how is life? What’s new with you?” asked Prasad, as he lighted another cigarette, and puffed away absently, even as he now stared at Ram, who, while not looking towards Prasad, felt his stare.

“Its okay, I am managing for myself somehow,” replied Ram, as he reseated himself on the bench to stare back at Prasad, who was staring at him with a smile.

“Managing? You made the __ Motors agree to a better compensation in Murshidabad than what they were offering earlier along with alternative land for farmers or a job guarantee. That too with your non-violent methods, is it not?” commented Prasad, as the tone laced with sarcasm struck a chord somewhere in Ram’s heart. But it did not reflect on the face at all, as Ram replied, “Yes, that was the case there, alright. We had to struggle a lot, but in the end, we got support from the common men and the middle class people from the cities as well. Hopefully, it will not all go in vain.”

“It will all go in vain, let me assure you my friend,” spoke Prasad, as he extinguished the stub in his hand by pressing it into the tree bark. “This was but an exception, and people will keep gloating in its glory, and conveniently forget and ignore any such other event in their lifetime, and even start criticizing these movements as ‘anti-industry’ very soon. You’ll see, it will happen in your lifetime.”

“Till I am alive, it is my sworn duty to help my countrymen, especially those who need me the most for what I can offer to them, which is a voice that will be heard loud and wide. I wish you did the same, but then, you cannot have all things at all times now, can you?” spoke Ram, as he got off the bench to stroll about in the tree’s shadow, with the sun’s inclination increasing with each passing minute of the day. “It will be my failure, and my country’s failure, if these voices are allowed to be forgotten by the people of this nation of ours.”

“Nation,” snapped a visibly irritated Prasad softly, “the nation is full of brainwashed people and fools, who think that there is no problem in this country. You call this a nation? Half of it has been eaten up by the termites called politicians, and the rest is already a hollow clamshell. If it were a nation, why is nobody happy in this country, save for a few, who are among the filthiest rich of the entire planet? And you tell me that it is a nation? You must be joking,” spoke Prasad, whose bitter sarcasm was at full swing, and which ram recognized as the weapon that he used to brainwash people easily.

“Why do you not tell me, then, what a nation is?” asked Ram patiently, as he stared at Prasad, who was constantly shifting from one point to another. “Perhaps you understood it better than most of us. After all, you are the intelligentsia, aren’t you? You are the ideologue. And your ways might help me understand my own country better with a set of fixed assumptions and theories.”

“You still think that way, don’t you Ram? You have not changed one bit, since that fateful day that you quit the People’s Army” spoke Prasad.

“Have you?” retorted Ram, as he stared at Prasad, who was now again leaning against the tree. “When you could not, how can you expect me to change? I too, after all, am a fundamentalist like you, except for the fact that my fundamentalism stems from the basic premise of respect for human life, unlike yours, which sees a human being as more of a robot than a living creature.”

“Huh, you cannot convince me with your weak arguments just like that, and you know that fact very well Ram,” spoke Prasad sharply, with a bit of anger too reflecting in his tone, which was absent, however, from his face.

“I did not come here to try anything, Prasad; its you who has insecurities in his mind, because of which you refuse to see the realities of life, and this has made you adopt a strictly fundamental stance about everything. You invited me here, so let us get to the point, and for God’s sake, hurry up please. I do not have all day,” spoke Ram, as he looked at his watch to realize the quantum of time that had passed by in playing this strange game.

“God-you believe in that nonsense as well now, don’t you? I see your pictures everyday, going to every place of worship that exists in this country. Tell me, does He come in your dreams and give you guidance in matters of everyday life?” mocked Prasad with a laughter coming out of his mouth. “Does He help you buy food, and does he help you to get a house, and a job? Does He have any identity proof? What is his address?”

“What God is for me or any of the millions of the people in this country who believe in Its force is beyond your understanding, Prasad. In this country, that is the only support structure they have; it is their only way to lead a difficult life. You have no right to question anyone’s faith, if they cannot question yours, or rather the lack of it. Does your ideology not teach you that? How to respect life? Oh, I forgot; it does not,” taunted Ram, as he now sat down, looking visibly irritated at this game of sheer frustration that was going on. He was regretting the decision to come here, but now that he was here, he had to face the music as well.

Prasad seemed a little taken aback at this sudden outburst. “My my,” he remarked, “So you found a tongue. I had heard about it, but to be in its august presence is surely a delight beyond comparison. But it repeats nothing but worn out words that have no meaning to them for anyone. They can offer nothing but hollow assurances which will be betrayed by the actions that shall follow it. Has any revolution ever been brought about by the use of the tongue? Look at the world around you, and you will realize that true power belongs to the people only when they picked up their cudgels to fight for their self-respect and honour.”

“Perhaps it’s you who has to take a reality check Prasad,” spoke up Ram, who was visibly irritated by the rhetoric he had so often heard. “Power to the people has come only when there has been a will to give people what they want in a peaceful manner. Have the LTTE achieved anything but more violence than ever? Did the Shining Path gain any inch over anyone by convincing them about all that happened? Have the militias of Africa helped anyone at all? Only when these people went to the people to represent them by the power of the ballot have achieved anything substantial. Look at yourself. What have you achieved after so many decades of violence? A handful of forests that you called liberated zones? People who fear you? Kids who shudder with fear at your very sight? Is this what you call revolution? I don’t think so,” mocked Ram, with a sarcastic smile etching across his face, even as a stunned Prasad now looked at him, surprised at the manner in which Ram had just burst.

“Look at this country, Ram. What do you see? Nothing else but hunger for children, pain for women, anger for farmers, humiliation for the tribes, and a force of hungry politicians that have eaten the country up like termites. And what have pseudo-intellectuals like you achieved for this country? Nothing but some amount of petty media coverage, when they are bored of covering such myriad range of issues like weddings, snakes, ghosts and movies. That is the extent to which this country has been brainwashed Ram, and sadly you are a part of the force responsible for it,” spoke Prasad, whose pitch kept rising with each passing minute.

“What are you offering instead? Child soldiers being sacrificed to violence for achieving nothing? Tribals being forced to join your army if they cannot pay your taxes? Violence begets violence, but an eye for any eye will turn the whole world blind, and that is all that you can achieve. It’s you who want to brainwash the people into submission, which does not make you very different from the very people you are fighting. You have reduced people into nothing but modern-day feudals in your liberated zones and the state is a banana republic, where your vigilante courts and instant justice run large. Your writ of violence cannot serve anyone. And how do you justify your contacts with those terrorists like the Islamic fundamentalists, the LTTE, and their likes? Is that not anything less than treason against your own people?”

“War demands that you take extreme measures that may not be the best but are necessary Ram. We are at war, at war with the dummies that the imperialists in this country have set up to counter us, as they are too afraid to actually face us, and talk to us about our demands,” spoke Prasad coolly, with a hint of tension creeping in on his face now, as he turned away his face so as to avoid the angry glares from Ram.

“At war with whom, Prasad? Against the very people that you claim you represent? These very imperialists are ruining this country, but then so are you equally culpable of this homicide. Brainwashing people into becoming mass murderers are nothing less than criminal, Prasad, and you know that, because of which you can actually not face me.”

“Ram, you do not know the number of people who are coming into our folds to support us. People from the best of institutions of this country are enlisting themselves for this war. What do you have to say about that, now?” asked Prasad, with a strong challenging tone evident in his voice, even as he continued to stare in another direction.

“Those people are bored with their lives, and want to have some adventure, Prasad.  Power is a powerful intoxicant; look at the manner in which these very people have been behaving with people of the lower classes. Is it not reminiscent of the Thakurs and Zamindars of UP and Bihar in their current avatars? How different are your ‘intellectuals different from them? You just want to replace a set of feudalists with another, but which exhibit their ‘leftist’ leanings on their chests whenever asked for.”

Ram appeared furious after saying all that he had. What was the point in having this debate on ideology, he thought, and what was Prasad’s motive? They had discussed this so many years ago, and the results had been disastrous; Ram had left the force there itself, and turned over that chapter in his life. But Prasad re-entered to create a mess all over again, and this time, Ram was prepared to fight for what he felt was right, not for what others had made him believe foolishly.

“Ram, we would like you to join us again,” said Prasad in a half-hearted manner. “With your support on our side, the people of this country would instantly rise up to help us defeat these imperialists. But looking at your conviction, I do not see this happening,” spoke Prasad, as he had started smoking again, with swirls of smoke engulfing his face in the evening sun, which was now a brilliant orange, soon to be extinguished by the night’s darkness.

Ram was stunned a bit. “So,” he spoke, retaining his composure, “You actually think I would be stupid enough to join you people again, after having now seen your true face. Let me tell you Prasad-your revolution’s days are numbered. People will rise against you; and against those imperialists as well, but it shall be through the power of the ballot and not the bullet. Hurt this country a little more, and you will see nothing but bullets against you from the very people you believe you represent. May God bless you Prasad, and give you some rationality,” spoke Ram, as he got up with his bag to leave.

“See you soon, Ram, and hopefully, by then you would be convinced,” spoke Prasad cheerfully, as he saw Ram walk out with his back towards him.

********************************************************************

Ram opened his eyes to notice that it was already evening. A lot of time had passed, as he had been sleeping in this chair of his office, and he saw that evening had arrived, as he walked up to the window to see the world being drenched in a red colour.

Suddenly a member stormed into the office loudly, surprising Ram to the extent that he turned around to see.

“Prasad has been killed,” spoke the exasperated member, even as Ram’s face bore an expression of utter surprise. “How did it happen?” he asked, even as he turned on the news channel.

Amidst the television’s cacophony, he was narrated the raid cum jail break that the Maoists had conducted just a few hours ago in ___bad, and how in the cross firing Prasad was killed.

Ram turned numb, as he pondered over all that had happened a week ago. That was the last time he had met him. Prasad was now dead, as he thought of all that was happening and what would happen soon.

“Vande Mataram,” he spoke to himself, and sunk into his chair, even as other organization members now were coming in to hear the news on the television set.

 

 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This debate is time immemorial. History has witnessed so many versions of similar arguments. I don't know what motivated you to write this story, but it reminded me the Signur-Tata episode. An old but good plot.

Check my detailed comments in IAW :)

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