Saturday, January 10, 2015

All So Long Ago

When I think of studying Sociology in Miranda House in the 1970s, my memories are really of the Emergency, and how cowed down we were by it. We did not have a students' Union, and we came to college and lived restrained lives, primarily because we were middle class kids, who were happy to toe the line. Every evening we had to present ourselves to our parents, and they would know if were stoned or keeping bad company or whatever. So life was regulated every day by the stern injunction to live orderly normal lives. Obviously we went through everything with a devil may care attitude, and the day was ours, it was delightful to be 16 years old, and on D.U's green and delicious campus. Food was easily available, at the Coffee House, where even my parents had met in the early 1950s on romantic rendevous, and the MH canteen was known for its hot samosas and sweet tea. St Stephen's College had its need for bit players for their mainly men focussed Shakespearean plays, and I landed a part as Iras, handmaiden to Cleopatra. Shashi Tharoor played Marc Antony, and Meera Nair was Cleopatra and they were both quite noisy as actors, delivering their lines to one another very flamboyantly. The forty soldiers who I hung out with were decent gentlemen,  and there was never a moment's anxiety, or clumsiness, so one was never very bored, and Amitava Ghosh, a slave in the play, like me, was good company because he was amusing, erudite and detached. Shashi was a loner, but while he seemed to have no friends among the other actors, he was always linked by some rumour about being associated with some intelligent woman or the other.  The term for that kind of behaviour was 'professional romantic' and no one paid any attention to it. He was busy climbing some social and academic ladder, and no one noticed anything untoward about it, other than that he did not quite fit in with the merry atmosphere of backstage conversations.
Rumours however have the terrible intent of creating a persona where there is none. When one looks at the media attention that is paid to politicians, actors, sportspeople, novelists and poets, terrorists, criminals and models, one is startled. Rekha was once asked by a tv interviewer why she was not in the news, and she replied very intelligently."Why should I be, if I am not doing anything?". Media blitzkrieg is the dialectic between the viewer and the subject under the glare of the camera. Yes, people love watching TV, because there is nothing to do, other than get through a complex day at work, and at home. Segmentalised social relationships mean that its legitimate to do things in part, be available for short durations of time, hurry on to something new, and always be on call. As a result, tv is about the only stable object that stays as a continuum of events, which monitors the actions of others who have visible persona, but the computer logs how much time one has the tv on, and on which channel. Since there is surveillance on everything, people get unselfconscious, and permit the State to watch them, because there is a certain triteness after all to human actions and emotions. Sunanda Pushkar dies over and over again, the white objectified parts of her body appear on screen endlessly, and Arnab Goswami and Subramanium Swamy completely endorse the visibility of their views which may or may not be accurate. What are police and judges for, and why do we presume people to be guilty. Composure ofcourse is not the safeguard of the innocent, and terrible things have happened in the history of humans, which remain a secret, but murder will out.

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