A Way of Living Lost In ‘Selfie’ and ‘WhatApp’
By Garga Chaterjee for Alal O Dulal
Our neighbour of many years, Ananda Santra, died yesterday. Anandda kaku lived in our apartment complex in the Chetla locality of Kolkata (Ward Number 82 of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation). Theirs was flat number W-1/3. We lived in W-1/5. He formed a part of my father’s new ‘para’ (neighbourhood) circle since 1989, after he had moved out of his ancestral para. They became fast friends. Some of the apartment complex inhabitants tended to look down to Ananda kaku for his lesser formal education than the middle-class pen pushers who were in the majority in this apartment complex.
His work made him ‘sweaty’, not out of heat, but also of exertion, which was not the case for the pen pushers. Baba, who worked for many years in a wagon-manufacturing factory, may have understood the ‘pen pushing’ versus ‘sweat’ divide. Ananda-kaku often was the man to go to, when in crisis; it was like getting the emergency transport for an ill person at 1 am in the morning. Ironically though, in those times the ‘pen pushers’ kept their contempt aside and sought favours from him selfishly.
A few days ago, while strolling on the para road, Baba heard from the youths that Ananda-kaku had just passed away. In a broken voice, Baba called my Ma. Baba and Ma rushed to his house, soon after hearing this news. In the grief-stricken house of Ananda kaku, Ma looked after the cooking responsibilities. Many, would find backwardness in this gesture – why did Ma, a woman, assumed such responsibilities? Which, I guess, she thought was her duty as a conscientious member of the para, and was naturally embraced by her human and neighbourly qualities.
It is easy to attribute a ‘false consciousness’ to others. It is handy to put others down and to avoid accountability – and not only in ‘gender’ debates but in other issues. Those who reject social value systems at will, specially and conveniently after extracting a lot of social privilege and benefits, do that perhaps to escape into a hedonistic realm. However, post escape, they invariably make claims of being ‘self-made’, of rising ‘above’ the ‘narrow’ bounds of societal mores, celebrations of individualism, ascent to cosmopolitanism and other fashionable appendages of celebratory rootlessness.
Today, a Sunday morning, the newspaper recycling man pays us his routine visit. He buys old newspapers and used bottles in bulk from the homes of our neighbourhood. He has been doing this for years. When he heard the news from my mother, he started crying a lot. Your ‘independent’, ‘free’, ‘radical’ individualistic life in Noida, Gurgaon, Rajarhat and Delhi can have many ‘cool’ aspects: a set of 4-letter English swear words flow as ‘naturally’ as water, you can ‘break free’ in long drives along the highways, you can have a thousand ‘parties’ and ‘hangouts’, you have the money to order 500 Rupees worth pizza late at night after getting high, and everyone can ‘sample’ everyone else in your small, rootless, incestuous circles, your gadget filled life can be very rich in ‘Selfies’ and ‘WhatsAap’.
But the walls of your homes have no pictures of gods or ancestors. If you die, no newspaper recycler will cry inconsolably. Your maid will probably cry if she has not been paid for the month. But the word going around is that your species will win the coming days, you are the future. Yet, the children of the poor newspaper recycler will have also grown up with yours. Their next generation may or may not be newspaper recyclers. They are young, just like you, albeit minus your the 4-letter swear-ability.
Their ‘self-made’-ness has a different truth and meaning to it. Their teenage rebelliousness is not your door slamming, hair-experimenting, food-throwing, head-banging, body-piercing, ‘no one understands me’ kind of privileged joke; but something that you fear and despise at the same time. They will not give you a walk-over. Your win over the rooted may not be as easy as you think. Modi or no Modi. Even Modi cannot save you if the rooted rise.
Garga Chatterjee is a cognitive scientist and a columnist in newspapers in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. He is a member of the Alalodulal editorial board. Twitter @gargac