In praise of non-conformism

Consider the implicit and often subtle tyranny of the society around us: the unquestioned supremacy of an economic order that in heart of hearts tolerates and even justifies lack of equity; the form of governance, and the politics that design and direct the same, which puts up with and sometimes protects intolerance and incarceration of virtually any minority position or sensibility, including sexual orientation. Think of the rules and regulations to which an individual has to conform, the plethora of arcane laws and legal provisions one is supposed to know and abide by, the conventions, customs and traditions that one is expected to respect. More often than not the government and its various organs, the society and the polity in the form of explicit groups with one or the other identity markers or some abstract ethnic, cultural, religious, nationalist or sub-nationalistic allegiance, which one is taught to imbibe since childhood, appear as an oppressive presence in an individual’s life and mind with a latent menace for anybody who so much as dare even think of a transgression.

In a song (penned by the acclaimed lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi and sung by the legendary playback singer Mohammed Rafi) picturised in the classic 1957 Hindi movie ‘Pyassa (The thirsty)’ directed by Guru Dutt, a poet or a writer’s sense of oppression at these myriad binds that manacle a free mind, destroy his creativity, indeed, his very physical existence found a profound expression. The song, coming as it did close to the denouement of the film, begins like a funeral dirge for a soulless society of the rich and the powerful who have the virtual hegemony over the actions, decisions and behaviour of the majority of powerless ordinary and relatively innocent people, while the latter ironically are, figuratively speaking, dragging the hearse carrying this dying edifice.

Yeh Mehlon,Yeh Takhton,Yeh Taajon Ki Duniya,
Yeh Insaan Key Dushman Samaajon Ki Duniya,
Yeh Doulat Key Bhookhey Rawajon Ki Duniya,
Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaye To Kya Hai.

The poet says in disgust: even if one were to be bestowed this world of palaces, the throne and the titles of power, an invitation to be part of this glittering society that only promotes an insatiable craving for wealth to the exclusion of the humanity and on the other hand insensitively follows and protects the bulwark of old, outdated customs and traditions, will it be of much worth?

Not much seem to have changed since 1957. Fundamentally. Here in India and probably elsewhere.

Is there a way to deal with this? Is there a way out?

In the last stanza of the same song the poet gives a libertarian clarion call:

Jala Do Isey, Phoonk Dalo Yeh Duniya.
Mere Saamne Se Hata Lo Yeh Duniya,
Tumhari Hai Tum Hi Sambhalo Yeh Duniya,
Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaye To Kya Hai?

Burn down a world such as this
Take it out of my sight
Take care of this prized possession of yours
Even if I were bestowed this world
I couldn’t care less

It was implied in the Pyassa song, if we can focus clearly through the convective glare of the righteous anger, that sanity demanded that one would do well to reject the offer of being co-opted by Mephistopheles of our time. With firmness and resolution tempered in an implacable fiery spirit. To put an end to the blasé status quo. Challenge the ‘Greed is good’ credo of the self-obsessed, the compulsive need to acquire, possess and exercise domination over the possessions of material and human capital. Last but not the least, stop the cynical rationalization (with or without ‘scientific’ pretensions) of every bit of evil men are capable of unleashing on their fellow men and on the environment, indeed all that is wrong with this world (‘Yeh Duniya’) that fill many with nausea, melancholy and an unquenchable thirst for change.

And we have to win this Faustian joust at all cost. For the sake of the survival of our environment and the biodiversity, harmony with the nature and the ‘otherness’, the ‘unlikes’ within or without our communal and other imposed boundaries, and most importantly our common humanity.


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