Friday, February 19, 2010

The Revolution of the Mayfly

The Mayfly’s Revolution

Mayflies are insects which belong to the Order Ephemeroptera (from the Greek ephemeros = "short-lived", pteron = "wing", referring to the short life span of adults). – Wikipedia

I steadily crawl towards my destination – a place that levitates over the ‘X’ marking the middle of nothingness. My arrival there shall transform me into that mythical creature – the average Indian.

My efforts to get there have been persistent and focused – I have played cricket on the streets in a statewide bandh, I have stubbornly allowed someone else to go vote in my place ever since I’d been eligible, and I have bought the token Che Guevara bandana and worn it on Sunday mornings.

But in comparison to what I was to be party to on the 15th of December, these efforts now seem limp and meaningless. What took place was not planned, making it far more real, more unsettlingly visceral. It was no dog being wagged on a television screen. It was a scene played out in flesh, blood, fire and bamboo. On this day, I was to witness my first effigy immolation.

It was, fittingly in Bengal - the cradle of our independence, where this nation of mine planned its first hesitant steps after deciding to learn how to stand.

“West Bengal is the obvious place to start an Indian Revolution. During the independence movement, Bengal was the only state where the British faced a serious threat from terrorism” – Mark Tulley, No Full Stops in India

I had gone shopping for jeans. I stood at one end of the Alaknanda bridge, waiting for a ride back to the hostel. And then I saw them – fifty of the nation’s best and brightest, assembling the other end like lemmings who’d been read the Manifesto. On the surface, they were like me – my age, mostly students just as I was. Yet they were in truth so different – though we breathed in the same air, when it sieved through their fiber, it emerged changed, redolent of insurrection. When they walked, it was with a bellicose purpose alien to most; they dragged the future and dreams and revolution along with them. I was not like them. I was, like most of us, a pye-dog tagging alongside some such imposing army or the other, hoping to live off whatever scraps of reform and resurrection they’d throw my way.

The clubs with which these boys were to attack our collective lassitude arrived in the back of an auto-rickshaw, driven by a visibly proud, fat hairy man. To my delight, and further self-belittlement, I saw these young torchbearers turn those clubs into actual torches. An presumably important and extremely busy looking man with a goiter and a Gandhi cap set them alight. So were the birthday candles with which our tomorrows would finally be illuminated in firelight and seen clearly lit. But the cake hadn’t been iced yet.

Nay, the hyperbolic, hollow climax of this act of existential fisting arrived in the back of an auto-rickshaw all its own. Greeted with an unlikely mix of reverence and hatred, the idol that would serve as the epicenter of this storm of insurrection was led in – It was a bamboo cross dressed in an impeccably white, crisp Kurta. A lime-slaked water pot had been planted on top as its head, and someone who’s true calling clearly lay not in art, had adorned the pot’s face with a nose, a pair of spectacles and a squint. I presumed the disfigurement was deliberate.

The figurine was poignantly surreal, an unsettling statue fashioned from everything hideous, confusing, counterfeit, and worth renouncing about our past. It could have just stood there cross-eyed, and looked empty and positively stupid. But instead it reared and spat and frothed at the mouth. It pointed invisible incriminating fingers at me. It burned through the back of my skull with its imaginary fiery glare. It blasted bullet-holes in my being with unheard questions and belittling assertions.

By now, the pick of this pantheon of our nation’s finest held the effigy aloft, and was leading his tribe on an angry march down the city’s busiest road. They roared slogans which reinstated their own faith in their fire - slogans about violent change, about fiercely free ideas which had to be planted in the warm loam that lay in young skulls all over the country. This was what the freedom struggle must’ve been like. I felt so small, so unimportant, like so much of a dodger.

They finally reached the main crossroad, and after having halted oncoming traffic from all sides, hammered through the asphalt and made a hole in the road. The effigy was made to stand erect there, its base in the hole. A speech was made in Bengali on the stage that had been waiting for them there, but clearly no-one was listening. They didn’t need to. These words were already etched onto the insides of their hearts and souls. They craved to burn!burn!burn!

The moment that the mic clicked off was a catharsis. Skinny brown Bengali boys exploded towards the mannequin, quibbling amongst each other like freshly spawned fry, vying to be the ones who’s cigarette lighters would set it on fire. There was no music. But as the fire grew, they began to dance, twitching their arms and legs to a rhythmic, primal howling.

My pulse timed itself to their rhythm. My feet quivered and strained at mental chains. The sweat that beaded out of me would lubricate the passageway of my breakthrough – I had to be a part of this. I couldn’t hold back. I leapt towards them. Towards their fire.

My cocoon had cracked. I was in the revolution; I was part of the solution. I had ended the old life.

And then I saw the placard around its neck – it bore the name of the Chief Minister of Bengal. All around me were flags of a political party, and most of the slogans bayed for someone or the other’s death. Something inside me deflated. I wasn’t in a dancing mood anymore.

My revolution had molted and was now dead.

The lifespan of an adult mayfly can vary from just 30 minutes to one day depending on the species – Wikipedia


The Red Queen said...

and so the young blogger returns. Lovely piece :)

The Red Queen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ashutosh Ratnam said...

It's and ancient essay, written some 3 years ago at the fag end of my internship. I don't know why I posted it today.
You've been active haven't you?

TSO said...

good to have you back.

Meera Vijayann said...

Ashu, you write so well..!