Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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I think therefore I suffer

Echoes of Agony

Maya Angelou, acclaimed memoirist and author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings states that there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. Edith Hamilton who authored her first book The Greek Way when she was sixty-two and who held that one of the reasons why Greek civilisation flowered was the “intelligent conversations” that it honoured wrote that there is no dignity like the dignity of a soul in agony.

Agony for this author stems both from the inability to narrate the tales that have been haunting him since he first came face to face with consciousness as also because he felt—quite like Hamilton—that recounting them and consequently getting rid of the agony of having to bear them inside oneself would be less than dignified. But an inner battle between hypocrisy and honesty was eventually waged and won—and in the end the poignant tales were told. This author believed that unravelling them in a public domain might render him less vulnerable to agony and, therefore, the tales are eventually being narrated. This is despite the fact that such a “clearing-out” of distress might subject him to ridicule. In any event, the need to “relieve a mind” won the day and the agonies that this author have been enduring poured out, albeit in a manner that may not quite be both intelligible and acceptable to the reader. But the decantation exercise was undertaken more by way of a need to exorcise oneself of the agonising demons that have been a source of anguish rather than to proclaim to the reader that this author’s righteous pennants have been courageously hoisted. The confessional employment, therefore, has been one that has been driven by purely selfish motivations. If readers are able to seek out reality from among the shadows that continue to linger when truth takes ominous shades then it is because they have been able to comprehend that agony has many hues and cannot consequently be countenanced as an entity that has a solitary feature. It could well range from physical pain as a result of a terminal illness, financial want in the face of humiliating poverty to the inability to utter a truth that one has been harbouring among a pinion of unmanliness. This author confesses that he has encountered almost all the expressions that accompany agony in its unadulterated manifestations.

The writings of this author are, therefore, untold stories. But, as aforesaid, the reason for untying them was driven primarily to unburden a mind that is in agony. The tales, moreover, were not untold stories in the manner that Angelou characterised them to be. They have been told and retold a million times to oneself as also to others, perhaps in different tongues—quite like the song of the caged bird, and it is as a result of their being recounted several times in this author’s writings and speeches that have perhaps led to their loss of dignity in the sense that Hamilton sought to characterise it. Unfortunately for this author the option seesawed between stations of dignified agony and depraved comfort. He admits that he had to shamefacedly make a choice between silence and sound.

However, notwithstanding the decision to speak out, the agonies never quite left this author’s firmament. In fact, they have actually intensified, as if by way of a reverberating echo, fortified with newer agonies, returning to the place of origin to roost forever. But in the bid to rid oneself of agonies that were private, this author began to absorb the agonies of others, and a time came when the agonies were no longer compartmentalised. They just became agonies of the universe. It had many facets beginning with the birth of a sentient being in a system that is becoming more and more perplexing. It then took shapes that meandered through dreary life of an onlooker’s existence, of being witness to a system that has failed to fathom the agony of its parish, or by even a higher being—elevated to celestial eminence—that ignored propitiation perhaps because it did not quite exist, or is inaccessible. But the agonies have primarily been about this author’s experience that reiteration of the truly critical aspects of life and consequently of those who seek a life of dignity and correct ministration are being denied, and in the altar of a functional agenda that is based on false premises, most of which have been constituted only in order to subjugate. The writings of this author are but a means of conveyance—and there is a possibility that most of them would be mistaken as exclusive to this author. But that is not so. In a universe of discourse that encompasses agony in its fullest expression, there is a need to bracket out the concept of distress. Anguish, therefore, it was felt has a similarity of innards in every tormented being. Grief, if expressed even in isolation, has a way of making its way into a collective receptacle of angst. To that end, this author wonders whether a story, however distressing can remain locked up forever.

Agony in this author, of late, has also been giving way to anger. Indeed, they are gradually becoming interchangeable with rage and fury seeking to supplant agony in a bid to alleviate suffering. As a person who has customarily been a student of traditional security of contemporary India, the experiences of the times have been upsetting, at times to the point of unacceptability.  It is a great pity that in India of the day attempts for redressal has resulted only in humiliation. Experience is no longer a “Tower of Babel” and the multiplicity of voices that use to colour the nation when it was more accommodating has become a clutter of dissension—incarcerated into an ominous duality of “us and them”. Naturally there is agony—for the “untold story” can no longer be told, not at least in the quiet cadence which used to—in the past—accompany even its rebellious inflection, and could as a result be alleviated! Shades that accommodated every hue and sound have paved, nay have been forced to pave way to a single colour. It is this inappropriateness of the times that is beginning to spew forth greater agony, and as a result greater anger. This is perilous and it is hoped that there would be a comprehension that agony if unheeded can take several hues including ones that may hinder a nation’s natural growth and graduate to an upheaval that is not desirable. The plea, therefore, is for a dispensation that is gradually becoming deaf to become more receptive to the agonies of its citizenry.

Most of this author’s thoughts and consequently writings have been extremely private. For a less sensitive reader a few may even cross the thresholds of civility. Indeed, in the cover of darkness affability and politesse does take on lewd and sordid hue. This author has, therefore, not fought shy of revealing his gruesome entrails in his writings to their concluding extremities. But as has been sought to be explained privacy is but a fleeting phenomenon. However undisclosed an aspect that it may be expected to be, it will, one way or the other, find its way into the union that binds every being into a singularity. It is, therefore, important that even the most agonising of consciousness—however appalling an aspect it might be—be put to view.

Agony has yet another appearance. It has in its ambit the concept of nationhood and the manner in which its denizens live and die. India is passing through a catharsis. The chasm of vulnerabilities are widening and there is growing apprehension that the concept of an “Inclusive India” as it is being sought to be redefined by the new-fangled progression is in the process of incorporating aspects that seem to be alien to the mores and traditions of a nation-state that had established itself on steadfastness of a welfare state. Narrow domestic walls of religious intolerance and ones that have suspicion and mistrust are seeking to add to the agony of the individual, and consequently the nation. It even seems to be the case that those charged with the responsibilities of redressing grievances are beginning to ignore the imperative of the times, delegating only what suits a particular agenda to prominence. There is great peril in such conduct, especially if it is piloted from above. After a point of time there would be resistance and the outcome would be one that careens out of control. It is important that a course correction exercise be immediately embarked upon.

But the real malaise lies in social inequality across society. Religion is merely a feeble feature of a shared reality. Indeed, one of the questions that need to be asked is why Hindus converted to Islam or Buddhism? What was so agonising in Hinduism that made its practitioners leave its holy confines to seek faiths and succour elsewhere? Also, why is there a movement—among the tribal people of India (especially in the North East)—whereby a history which has no basis is being sought to be superimposed upon a people that have been living in harmony? Why is there so much frustration and anger—albeit yet not forcefully articulated—among the teeming millions of this country? Why are even the educated among India’s secular citizenry looking towards an alien discourse which is seeking an end-state that is fanatically puritanical? Close reading of history and analyses of the present inform that the answer is in class struggle and the manner in which man-on-man exploitation led to conversions of even personages such as the father of the Indian constitution, Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar who viewed Hinduism as an “oppressive religion”. In other words, had the upper class not socially and economically oppressed the lower class there would have not been—to a considerable extent—the problem that has erupted between religions that characterises present day India. Also, the fact that religion is being deplorably sought to be made the vehicle of such exploitative and sinister intent is a tale that begins and ends with a assertion that was never existent in India. The real attribution, therefore, is in class difference which has become the bane of present day India. It is in this context, that one is reminded of the Mahatma when he said that his mission in life was “to wipe every tear from every eye”. Indeed, to think of the poorest person one has ever encountered and query as Gandhiji had said, “ask if your next act will be of any use to him.” The immortal and unshakeable message of Bapu resonates in one’s ears even as the concept of an “Inclusive India” and the agonies that accompany its baptism are contemplated.

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