Air Repair:

A journey to the end... of this year

A RECAP OF THE ATROCITIES THAT OCCURRED IN 2020

27th December, 2020

Written by Aarushi Z

Artwork by Suryansh Srivastava

Oh the mad coupling of hope and effort

In which we emerged and despaired…  

-Pablo Neruda, A Song of Despair.

 

That is the time we are currently seated in. Swaddled in the midst of viral pandemics and sensational social, political, ecological, economical, and personal epidemics, hope and effort seem to be the bedrocks we have become most acquainted with.

 

But Hope wears thin and wears out. What then?

Effort too looks for momentary stillness, pacified by fatigue and exhaustion. What then?

 

Before we turn to look out the window, at these emotional metaphors to find an answer regarding what to do when society has been left dry and helpless, let us trace the source of these drainages and famines.

To quote Spanish philosopher George Santayana’s memorable adage-

‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’

2020 and the decade leading up to this year of post-20teen turbulence has been a long-haul flight with a stopover through how generations are being handed down organisational amnesia, receiving second-hand erasure of pasts we keep uncannily re-living. Our real knowledge and capacity for holding inclusive understandings and advocating for palpable change seem to be at a dire loss. It is one of the paradoxes of our age that, while new information technologies have provided us with the ability to store, retrieve, manipulate and communicate more data, our memory often holds only that which is deemed ‘double-tap’ worthy.

In this moment, real empowerment, disruption, liberation and change are all an Instagram share away: accessible, yet also easily disguised under the aesthetic, consumptive abilities of it being a clickable gif.  

Let me take you on a journey then, one you will hopefully be able to indelibly stamp onto the document of your minds. This trip will ensue the same way the majority of you have travelled for most of this year – through your screens. For this read, my words are your pilots and time travel is not out of the question. But, be advised, in case of an emergency – in the possibility that you believe these discussions to be unrelatable, unbearable or secondary to invest in your knowledge fund, use the masks of rethinking, remembering and re-learning. You too can make a difference. Just keep in mind you have to keep yourself afloat on the life jacket that is cognizance of what is happening around you.

 

The leaflets in front you can demonstrate how multiple independent studies, books and researches today, delve into movements of corporate ‘wokeness’ or the need to be ‘politically correct’ in spite of not being truly politically aware. Consumer culture in our capitalist neo-liberal states, depends only on economising on people’s protests. Twitter user @artofreya manages to eloquently summarise the hypocrisies of our lived realities. They address Indian celebrities specifically in their tweet, but can be directed toward young silent influencers, a majority of privileged students/ bystanders with blinders strapped to their heads. 

 

‘...a country where they failed to speak up when Kashmiri lives didn’t matter, when Delhi police was complicit in making student lives and muslim lives not matter, when the government made migrant labor lives not matter. When will people stop using political consciousness as a branding tool?’ 

So, while stating the Dove soap ad campaign, ‘My beauty, My say!’, one assumes they know how to disrupt unjust hegemonies. While changing their brand name to ‘Glow and Lovely’, one appears to support the fight against deeply entrenched bigotry, misogyny, racism and more. 

And with these illustrations of failure and caution, do beware of the possibility that on this flight of learning, we may attempt to direct you towards a destination of understanding real empowerment.

 In this moment, real empowerment, disruption, liberation and change are all an Instagram share away: accessible, yet also easily disguised under the aesthetic, consumptive abilities of it being a clickable gif.  

 

But, sharing information, even through your favorite memes of fictional characters irrelevant to the cause, can help you equip yourself with the safety of knowing how to help those around you. 

So, let us take off to the dawn of when the pandemic hit our country. 

When bras were still to be mandatorily worn and food not needed to be mandatorily ‘Take(n) away’.  The sun was brightly shining before the full advent of a nationwide, homebound, agonising lockdown.

 

On our way up to a peaking height we reach the period between March twenty-fifth and May thirty-first. 1,477 complaints of domestic violence were made by women in that span of time. This 68-day period recorded more complaints than those received between March and May in the previous 10 years in the country. Those are just the recorded and registered complaints, barring the faceless, voiceless, and powerless complaints hushed behind curtains. 

 

Look outside your window, how does it feel to see the homes and stories and lives reduced to simple dots and numbers in their own corporeality? 

Harsh winds of turbulent pandemics make us hold onto our seatbelts a little tighter. These viral winds are discriminatory too because they learn from their hosts – us. Thus, the economy seats feel more violent jerks than those lying supine with enough room to be safe and comfortable.

 

But, you can turn your attention to our top-rated in-flight entertainment section. It offers you the truths not shared by other airlines’ ‘media-entertainment’ sections - 

 

10 years ago, a woman from the north-east was gang- raped by 5 men near New Delhi and left at the side of the highway to fend for herself.

 

In September of this year, we lost a 19-year-old Dalit girl to ashes and dust. She was gang-raped by 4 upper-caste men, her body burnt to obscurity by the policemen of the state of UP. As if she was unworthy of deserving the dignity and care a humane body would bestow on another.

 

No amount of notebook-poetry can soliloquise the degree of closeness reflected in these cases. No overflow of tears can soften the blow of truth exposing how the marginalised communities in our country are further violently obscured and diminished with ease and brutality.

Silenced before they learn to speak. Condemned even before they can learn what it is to be loved. Their being only notably referred to as a  victim, as an all-encompassing term for their identities.

Take your time, digest that.

 

It is now time for your in-flight meal.

Shall we see what our local kisaan is offering?

“We are being failed at many levels. Governments are built on the trust of the people, but they have failed us.’’ says Karandeep Singh, a farmer from Punjab. The police have used tear-gas and water-cannons on the congregations of these peaceful farmer protestors who wish to be heard, to be given the importance they deserve. Our current Central Govt. has passed farm laws that might be detrimental to their lives and livelihoods without their opinion or consultation. 

 

Apologies, that may not be clear enough, let me rephrase what I am trying to say. 

 

More than a century ago, at the time of British colonisation, the farmers felt threatened by acts the colonisers were implementing and propagating, without care and concern for their lives and livelihoods. So, the electric ‘Pagrhi Sambhal Jatta’ (Take care of your turban, O Jat/ Sikh) rebellion was born.  

Lala Lajpat Rai addressed a gathering of protesting farmers on March 3, 1907, Banke Dayal, read out his historic composition ‘Pagrhi Sambhal Jatta’ to an assembly of protesting farmers.

 

What is the difference, you ask? 

Over a 100 years ago, the movement managed to successfully have the laws rebuked. But, today, 4 and a half months into these large scale protests by the very hands that feed us, the government is still relentlessly refusing to right their wrongs. 

‘‘We know our rights and we will demand them in our language and yours,’’ roars Harvinder Gill, a farmer from Rajasthan.[xv]

Multiple independent studies, books and researches today, delve into movements of corporate ‘wokeness’ or the need to be ‘politically correct’ in spite of not being truly politically aware. Consumer culture in our capitalist neo-liberal states, depends only on economising on people’s protests.

Whatever language you speak, on this word-borne journey, we only warmly serve an extra packet of peanuts and pretzels to those who can converse in humanity.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead was once questioned about what she believed to be the earliest signs of civilization in a culture. She goes on to state that according to her, it is when  a femur (thigh bone) breaks and is then helped to heal and recover. 

 

“No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal. A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts. We are at our best when we serve others. Be civilized.’’

 

This country’s farmers have taken a step away from toiling at the lush green you see passing you through the pill shaped windows next to you. They need their voices amplified, their demands heard. They don’t need your initiatives and willingness to help, tucked in the overhead cabins or lost under your seats. 

The land whose soil and base you claim is your democratic home needs you to pause what is playing in front of you and look to these movements as more than moments. With the oxygen masks of your words, with your ability to share and talk, educate and create, find a way to learn to stay afloat.

 

 ‘Rise up and be born with me, brother. From the deepest reaches of your disseminated sorrow, give me your hand…’

Before our pilot chooses to land safely on the stable plane of their concluding ideas, we have another long stop-over. Hold onto your tray tables because this will go way back when…

 To the last mass pandemic India was plagued with – influenza in 1957.

If you turn your reading lights you can see an India sneezing and nauseatingly living by, waking up to Guru Dutt’s seminal and sensitive movie, Pyaasa. Listen to the prayers carried in one of the poems it houses titled ‘Jinhe naaz hai Hind par wo kahan hain (Those who are proud of this country, where are they)’. The soft whirring you’ll hear is the sound of its words encased in a heart-wrenching tune and achingly voiced by the legendary artist-singer Mohammed Rafi.

Sahir Ludhianvi, the lyricist writes,

 

‘Someone please call the so-called guides, leaders of the country.

Show them these lanes, show them this miserable scene.

 Call them, those who say they are proud of their country.

 

Where are they now?

 

Where are they?

In this trip that can be called 2020, Covid-19 has left us deserted. Our bodies are eager to feel and touch and live a life careless, dumb and free. But, smoking is still not permitted on this flight. The world around us is melting, getting engulfed in flames, being shot at, being sold and traded at a bargain, disregarded for, her children all made to bear her burden and destruction unequally. That is the unsaid candour behind the pilot’s addresses to you, passenger.

Bikis Bano, the 82-year-old grandmother (lovingly also called Bilki’s dadi), who endured her meditative protest at Shaheen bagh, has risen from her seat when acts like the CAA have threatened to undo peace. The woman who sat beside her, the students who were jailed, carry the power in their voices and their silence both as tools to breathe freely even in the belly of a caged bird.

As you approach the lavatory and only see occupied bleeding at the door in red, think of the red tapism, inequality and blatant cruelty prevalent as 83-year-old priest Father Stan Swamy begs to be released from jail, in the midst of illness and disabilities.

When just days ago, in Uttar Pradesh, young Rashid and his wife were arrested, harassed and scrutinised under the very constitutional ‘anti-conversion’/ ‘love-jihad’ law. Think of her pleas, her voice standing ground, saying it was her choice as an adult, to be with the person she loves, all violently flushed away from creating havoc.

As we approach our final stop, you might briefly see the tallest monuments of the 32 powerful figures accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case, all acquitted on the grounds of no evidence. All symbols of spreading brotherhood, fraternity and preventing violent divide amongst those around them. 

Sangeeta Kamat, who is a public policy professor at the University of Massachusetts, compares our current dismal state to when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had declared a state of emergency, curbing civil rights and imposing censorship in 1975. But says what we are traversing through, is far more dangerous because it is an ‘undeclared emergency’. 

Please fasten your seatbelts.

 

All of the above have been signs flashing with cautious light and neon-hope to lead you safely to an exit. Quickly click and share what you can before it becomes mandated to turn your opinions and your voices on airplane mode. Jump away from turning a blind eye to the reality of a crash landing, jump before this journey obliterates everything around you. 

Make sure your life jacket and of those who shared the hand rests with you, is filled with a considerable amount of truth to keep you safe from being swallowed by falsehoods. 

Make sure it is light with the airy buoyancy of a fierce will to overcome choppy waves of the disruption you will be in after fleeing the disturbance you wish to flee.

Remember to tighten the straps of an indestructible drive, to make it through even this Titanic-iceberg crash sized year.  

 

Thank you for choosing to travel aboard this hastily constructed article.

I have been your pilot and fellow panicking individual, have a safe journey ahead.

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