Saturday, March 06, 2010

Two Minutes Older: Mile Sur Mera Tumhara

For the last three months, I have avoided all talk about the one subject that is on the minds of even – if reports about human chains or suicide are to be believed – school children: I am talking about Telangana.

Then nearly a month ago, a friend visited. He was doing a project on federalism and wanted to research the Telangana movement. Having arranged all kinds of meetings for him, I thought it only right that I also be present as he spoke to lawyers, ideologues, students, activists, bloggers, dissenters and experts of all kinds including the friends I had gathered together at a dinner one evening. As he conversed with these people, I watched from the sidelines, occasionally asking a question or two to demonstrate that I was actually listening.

On the basis of this very scientific collection of narratives, I now have an opinion on Telangana that I am going to share with you.

The way I see it, Telangana is like Akira Kurosawa’s film, Rashomon. If you haven’t seen the film and know nothing about it, it is a complicated story-within-a-story. As the film begins, two people relate the events that took place a few days before. Their story is about a travelling samurai and his wife who are waylaid by a bandit. The wife might have been raped and the samurai is certainly left for dead and is found by a woodcutter, who is one of the two narrators of the story.

The film itself is a reconstruction of the central events, at the trial following the murder of the samurai, by four people: the bandit, the wife, the spirit of the dead samurai and the woodcutter. In each narrative, each of the characters displays different motivations and events play out slightly differently each time. It is not clear who one is supposed to believe or why.

The parallel is obvious. Listening to each of the people we spoke to, it was clear that everyone believed passionately in their perspective. There were those who believed in the spontaneous and democratic nature of the Telangana movement, its history and necessity. Some talked of the cynical wheeling and dealing that was taking place behind the scenes. For some the protests were a performance and the visible players were merely puppets for others holding the strings and biding their time. Others were convinced that statehood was one way of making sure that a different set of people got to make money. There were some who had travelled and spoken to people in every district of the Telangana region, and who told us of the different and differing smaller agendas that had brought people together under the umbrella of statehood.

Every one of those narratives only made the picture more perplexing. The comparison with Rashomon also made it clear to me that what I hear depends not just on who is saying it but who they think they are saying it to.

They did not know it, but at least one of those listening was (and remains) a resolute fence-sitter. Since no one has so far considered such a perspective on an important issue, I am here to offer it (unasked).

A year or so ago, another friend sent a link to a YouTube video. Since so much wisdom is to be found on the internet, I followed it like the sheep I am and found something called The Complaints Choir. The Complaints Choir is a group of people who gather together and sing out their complaints in perfect harmony. In the video I watched, they sang about toilet paper, jobs and neighbours.

In the spirit of providing a dose of humour to overheating sensibilities, here is my contribution to the Telangana issue: just as human chains and protests have their value in the political process, I suggest that getting things off one’s chest in song is equally invaluable.

I propose that those for and against Telangana get together and make a list of complaints they want to sing. They can rehearse until the Telangana Complaints Choir achieves vocal harmony even if they agree on nothing else. All the resulting levels of irony will make Rashomon seem like a simple story for children.

(An edited version of this in Zeitgeist, the Saturday edition of The New Indian Express.)


Yes, it's a not very serious take on Telangana. There will be another post to talk about other things that came up in those conversations we had.


kuffir said...

'and who told us of the different and differing smaller agendas that had brought people together under the umbrella of statehood.'

had talked of that, i think, in my posts. of innumerable smaller agendas. i think i hadn't thanked you earlier for the chat. it was helpful, thanks.

Space Bar said...

kuffir: thanks! i was beginning to worry that i had successfully offended *everyone*!

am doing one, last, follow-up post. would welcome your thoughts on that as well.

and thanks for your posts from various angles on T - it's clarified my own thoughts over the last couple of months. (and for that chat!)

Falstaff said...

Difficult political issues involve a multitude of perspectives and agendas.


km said...

I'd always wondered why you'd never blogged about Telengana :)

You say "it's clarified my own thoughts over the last couple of months". Mind sharing them? (Even if it's sung in Aramaic in nine-part harmony.)

Shweta said...

It's funny you know but I just heard it this morning; the choir I mean. It comes in the form of the Mysamma variety songs, neated recorded and freely (I think) distributed.
I felt a distinct prickle of patriotic fervour, travelling in a 7-seater towards a village near Ghatkesar. The speaker directly behind my ear repeatedly asked me:
Mana batukeppud maarthado, bidda?
To which the obvious answer is:
Mana Telengana wachinappud, bidda.

Varali said...

There is also the Church of Stop Shopping

Space Bar said...

falstaff: that's a very useful contribution.

km: new post.

shweta: hmm. telangana as universal panacea?

varali: thanks for the link.

aditya dev said...

spacey, this was a long aalaap, a build up to something deferred, your post was merely adjourned -- and yet the set up, using the choir fantasy promised us just such an adjourned, deferred, hamen dekhna hoga, hame sochna hoga rajiv gandhi traipse around the countryside.

i sound impatient? it's not that i have particular skin in hyd/tel/ap, but i have thought a bit about federal partitions in other regions of india, and the general principal appears to be that greater division --> better administration and more pointed, accountable, effective governance.

looking forward to your future discussions of this and other arguments on all sides of the proscenial divide.